x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Ajman targets bachelor housing

AJMAN // Rising rents and the municipality's enforcement efforts against bachelors sharing villas and apartments have led to desperate living arrangements for some residents and millions in fines paid by their landlords. Ajman has collected Dh6.5 million (US$1.8m) in fines from 1,300 landlords since March, when it began a campaign to stop bachelors from living in areas designated for families.

The campaign drew 700 complaints from families about bachelors living in their midst, said Mohammed Abdul Wahab, the chairman of the residence organising committee at the Ajman Municipality and Planning Department. In addition to fining landlords, the committee has cut off electricity and water to apartments where bachelors still reside. "Imagine, we have also found up to 13 apartments splitting rooms, using wood partitions in order to accommodate as much bachelors as possible," Mr Abdul Wahab said. "This is a very serious offence. How could it go unnoticed by the house owners?"

He also warned workers against sleeping in green spaces between roads during their day breaks, calling it uncivilised behaviour that discredited the emirate's reputation with tourists and damaged the lawns. While Mr Abdul Wahab played down concerns that there was not enough housing for singles in the emirate, forcing them to share quarters despite fear of fines and eviction, estate agents and bachelor tenants said otherwise.

A resident of Karama and employee of Hamriya Free Zone in Sharjah, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, had to send his family home and take on roommates after his rent abruptly exceeded his salary. In January his landlord told him the rent on the flat where he had lived for 12 years would rise from Dh12,000 to Dh38,000. "At first I panicked but my wife consoled me and said she would go back with our two children to Sudan," he said. "And then I had no option but bring in some other people to share the flat with me."

The man has not yet been penalised by authorities but he worries about the possibility. "They have raided some flats in our neighbourhood," he said. "I have urged my roommates not to move in groups as they may throw us out also. I don't know where I can get a decent living if I am thrown out from here. The bachelor accommodations are so crowded." Osamah Ahmed, of Dirham Real Estate in Karama, said flats had been rented to families only to be turned into bachelor accommodations. He said the phenomenon was something Ajman authorities had failed to grasp.

"We have ourselves received fines for some of our flats that inspectors found occupied by bachelors," said Mr Osamah. The occupants "had just sent back their families because of the increasing cost of living and called their friends to share the spiralling rent". "Once such a desperate decision is made by our tenants, we're never told about it." Another estate agent said the problem started when family houses became unaffordable and families began crowding into studio flats.

"But even in studio flats families were not comfortable, and many resorted to single life" and sent home their families, he said. "A studio flat in Ajman is currently given out at Dh36,000 or Dh40,000 a year. That is about Dh3,500 a month, a salary of a middle-class wage earner in Ajman." ykakande@thenational.ae