x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Eviction threat hangs over villas

After citywide inspections, tenants in Abu Dhabi were notified that their partition walls were built without permission.

ABU DHABI // Families living in flats within partitioned villas in the capital are facing the threat of eviction as part of a clampdown on illegally converted homes. After citywide inspections by Abu Dhabi Municipality, tenants were issued notices informing them that their partition walls had been built without permission. Some have already been forced out to allow walls to be demolished and have had to search for new homes.

With the capital's supply of moderately priced accommodation so limited, which may be exacerbated as evicted families seek new homes, many say they have no choice but to return to their home countries. Many residents are also being evicted from villas in Dubai as part of the "One Villa, One Family" campaign that began in the summer. Dubai Municipality is cutting power and water to as many as 200 villas a week in an attempt to evict illegal sharers.

Abu Dhabi Municipality pledged to act against property owners who violate building codes after a fire in several apparently makeshift flats on the roof of a building on Airport Road. The municipality requires separate housing units to be individually metered for power, water and gas. The municipality did not respond to numerous telephone requests, or written questions posed two weeks ago that asked for clarification of its rules on partitioned villas.

In one case, 16 families living in two attached villas on Khaleej Al Arabi Street in Khalidiyah received written notice that the buildings were split into studios and one-bedroom flats last summer without approval. The municipality told them it would apply to the court for their eviction, then order that power and water be cut off and the partition walls demolished. The families, many with young children, said the cost and short supply of accommodation in the city has given them no alternative but to fight the decision. They are preparing to take legal action against the estate agent that brokered the tenancy deals and carried out the conversions.

Dipak Hirlekar, an Indian mechanical draughtsman, whose wife gave birth four months ago, said: "I'm going to fight this to the last. The only other option I have is to send my wife and child back to India and find somewhere else to live myself, but now a one-bedroom is Dh120,000 plus and that's for an apartment far away from the city." Mr Hirlekar, who moved into the one-bedroom flat in September last year and is paying Dh60,000 a year, said he had invested several thousand dirhams of his own money in maintaining the unit, including buying and installing a water heater and plugging leaks in the ceiling.

In other flats within the building, a couple expecting their first child and a family of four are also preparing for eviction. Sasmita, an Indian mother who declined to give her second name, said it would be difficult to send her two young children back to India as schools do not accept new students midterm. "We have no alternatives," she said. "I like the flat and I like the area and we want to stay here. It would be very difficult for us to move now. There's nothing available in Abu Dhabi so we would have to go home."

The tenants first suspected that the villas were under investigation in October when they saw municipality inspectors outside their homes. An inquiry to the municipality confirmed that "additions and divisions" to the villas were made without approval. Although the tenants have heard nothing since, some are preparing to take the matter to the civil courts rather than accept eviction and potential reimbursement of their rent payments.

"We're now about to pursue the agent through the court for letting the flats to us without proper permission for the partitions," said Manoj, a British civil engineer who moved into a one-bedroom flat in August last year. He declined to give his last name. Manoj, whose wife and daughter are preparing to join him in the UAE, said the partitions and extensions were done to a high standard. "It wasn't like they were putting up a cloth curtain. There were no problems with the work at all, but the agent had omitted to obtain written approval."

The municipality has since informed the residents that it could consider retrospectively approving the partitions with minor modifications. However, that would require the building owner's approval, which has not been forthcoming. A group of tenants has already been forced to leave a villa on 25th Street, off Airport Road. The villa was partitioned into 12 studios and one-bedroom flats. The tenants said municipality inspectors had visited the site in July, asking to see their lease contracts. A month later, they were informed that the partitioned units had been declared illegal as they did not have individual electricity metering.

They were told on Nov 1 that they had two weeks to leave with full refund of their remaining rental payments. The partitions and individual kitchens have since been removed. One resident said that in her desperation to find alternative accommodation, she had been forced to rent a studio flat for Dh150,000 a year and may have to secure a second job to pay the bills. @Email:rditcham@thenational.ae