x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Dubai to crack down on villa sharing

Municipality to intensify its one villa, one family rule from next month with a Dh50,000 fine for violators.

Officials say that allowing too many people to live in villas is dangerous and unsanitary.
Officials say that allowing too many people to live in villas is dangerous and unsanitary.

DUBAI // Dubai Municipality will intensify its one villa, one family campaign next month, and warned yesterday that families and landlords could face stiff fines for breaking the law. Hussain Nasser Lootah, the municipality's director general, said penalties could hit Dh50,000 (US$13,000) for violators. Additional legal action might follow, he said.

"We made this announcement two years ago, and it was made very clear that sharing villas would not be allowed," Mr Lootah said. "Now we have given enough time, and there will be no more exceptions." The villa campaign, launched by the municipality last year, forced many families to move out of shared homes. Notices were slapped on the doors of some upmarket villas in Jumeirah as well as low-budget accommodation in areas such as Satwa and Al Rashidiya.

Water and electricity supply was cut off in some cases to speed the eviction of residents. Officials say shared villas pose environmental and health risks. The campaign followed a 2007 ban on bachelors renting villas, which forced many single men to move into labour accommodations and flats. The villa campaign saw protests as families appealed for a delay of the ban and more time to find affordable accommodation. The evictions and notices slowed by the end of last year, with no word from the municipality that it would be taking further action.

But Mr Lootah said yesterday that more than 5,000 households had been identified as violating the law across Dubai. Municipal inspectors also plan to target homes in areas such as Jaffliya, Satwa, Jumeirah, Umm Suquiem, Al Barsha, Mirdiff and Al Rashidiya. Although warnings may be given, each case would be handled on its own merits, officials said. Mr Lootah said tenants, owners, nationals and expatriates would all be fined if they were found in violation.

Meanwhile, property experts said the campaign may stabilise prices as renters look for new options. Jesse Downs, head of research at Landmark Advisory, a division of Landmark Properties, said: "People will start looking at other options besides shared accommodation because there are more affordable options out there right now. And in effect, if you encourage additional housing dispersion, you'll end having an increase in aggregate number of households. But of course each household will be smaller, lower-density housing.

"In the end, that will increase demand, and ultimately that will help stabilise pricing." There have been fears that the campaign could leave owners with villas they are unable to rent, but demand for smaller units could also rise, she said. "So you would see some prices softening on larger units, but price being supported on smaller units," she said. "That is both for villas and apartments. So if families are sharing a large villa, you would have demand for smaller units, smaller town houses, smaller villas, or smaller apartments."

Tessa Baker, from South Africa, who lives with her husband in a villa in Jumeirah, said there was no problem living next to working professionals. "I can see how it is a problem if I was living next door to a villa where there were 10 guys per room and cooking on open gas flames," she said. Mrs Baker knew of people who share villas but are not related. "It is so expensive to live here, and sharing seems like the only affordable option," she said. "It is also 90 per cent of the fun."

Kate Kennedy, from the UK, who lives with her three children and husband in a four-bedroom villa, said the fine was too hefty. "Even if it is the law, it is still a big fine," she said. "With 14 or 15 men to a villa, it is a problem, but why don't they change the number of people allowed to live in a villa; one bedroom per person? If there are more than that, then they should impose a fine." pmenon@thenational.ae