x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Compound residents say villas illegally subdivided

They say there is no electricity and they face a threat of demolition of their homes in Abu Dhabi.

Yousef Hassan, 5, plays in his room at a villa in Abu Dhabi Gate City yesterday, unmindful of the fact that his family may be evicted. Residents say there is no electricity and they face a threat of demolition of their homes.
Yousef Hassan, 5, plays in his room at a villa in Abu Dhabi Gate City yesterday, unmindful of the fact that his family may be evicted. Residents say there is no electricity and they face a threat of demolition of their homes.

ABU DHABI // Stephen Smyth thought it was bad enough when the electricity cut out as he was preparing his dinner. His next day was even worse.

That was when men with sledgehammers turned up to knock down the walls in his flat.

Mr Smyth and 41 other families who live in the new waterfront compound in Abu Dhabi Gate City are at the centre of a court battle that pits the municipality against a local property developer over the legality of the residences.

Municipality officials - who arrived at the compound yesterday morning accompanied by the sledgehammer crew - said the six villas in the compound were illegally subdivided, and the partitions needed to be demolished. The municipality ordered the utilities to the compound cut without notice, the tenants and maintenance workers said yesterday.

For Mr Smyth, a 24-year-old from Scotland who works in finance, the drama began on Tuesday night with having to abort his cooking. "At first, I just thought it was a breaker issue, but then I came out and saw all my neighbours outside. Obviously, something was happening."

His neighbour, Adam Ruttan, 30, a business educator from Canada, picks up the story with what happened yesterday.

"I went out this morning and when I came back, there were trucks lined up and police here. It was a surprise. I definitely didn't expect them to come the next day to smash down the walls."

A last-minute court-ordered stay granted the tenants a reprieve until March 1, when the Court of Appeals is scheduled to rule on the legality of the subdivided villas.

Tarek al Wikl, who manages the building for the developer Nevada Building and Construction, said he had only two days' notice that the partitions were illegal, and he immediately filed a court case. The power shut-off and demolition crews were a surprise, he said. "No way, there will be no demolition," said Mr al Wikl. "The partitions are legal. Everything will be OK."

The municipality was not immediately available for comment.

The move is part of the municipality's efforts to rid the capital of illegal subdivisions, which can cause safety and health hazards and are in violation of the city's building codes.

All of the Abu Dhabi Gate City tenants have moved into the compound within the past two months, and rent for the flats range from Dh85,000 to Dh130,000 a year.

Joel Ericson, a 31-year-old engineer from the US, said he had to use a camp stove on his balcony on Tuesday night to heat up bottles for his eight-month-old son.

"I don't know what I'm going to do next," he said.

Mr Ericson said his lease contract contains a clause that his rent would be returned to him if the municipality declared the flats illegal, but many of his neighbours said they do not expect to see their money back.

With less than two weeks before the scheduled court date, the tenants are split on whether to begin the process of moving.

"Right now, I have no water, no electricity, no anything. I am hungry, my baby is hungry, we slept using candles. I am tired," said Seham Hassan, a 31-year-old Egyptian. "But I have to stay only if I can live here in peace, because all the children here don't need these problems."

Mr Smyth and Mrs Hassan said they would stay until after the court case was settled.

Hossam Zidiam, the compound's maintenance worker, and Mr al Wikl both said they were confident the court would rule in Nevada's favour and urged the municipality to give proper warning if they return.

"We need notice, we need information," Mr Ruttan said. "There's a bunch of nervous people here; everyone's on edge. We had no idea. I didn't know a single person who knew anything was about to happen here."

A municipality official on the scene yesterday told tenants that demolition crews could return after March 1, if the court deems the flats are illegal.

jthomas@thenational.ae