x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Families ready to defy villa law

Citing high housing costs elsewhere, many tenants in multi-family villas say they are prepared for the city's campaign.

Adverts outside villas, like one in the Barsha area of Dubai, invite new tenants.
Adverts outside villas, like one in the Barsha area of Dubai, invite new tenants.

DUBAI // Families across the city are making plans to defy the municipality's latest push to enforce the one-family-per-villa law. With a new compliance campaign due to begin on Saturday, an investigation by The National found that many families continue to live in villas accommodating as many as five families.

Many householders said they would risk heavy fines and loss of utilities to remain in their homes. Some planned to keep their front doors locked to keep inspectors out and even use electricity generators to maintain their air-conditioning if the power is switched off. Hussain Nasser Lootah, the municipality's director general, said last week that tenants and landlords involved in multi-family living arrangements were facing fines of up to Dh50,000 (US$13,000). Other penalties could apply, he said, without elaborating.

The municipality has warned that its two dozen building inspectors will intensify their checks from next month. Officials say shared villas pose health and environmental risks. A resident of Al Rashidiya, an area of Dubai known for large villas housing multiple families, said the family would not move out of the villa they share with three other families - unless they were identified as violators and action was taken against them. A member of the family, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "We had problems a few months ago, but no one has stopped us from living here in the last few months. Hopefully we will be all right."

More than 5,000 households across Dubai have been identified as violating the law, according to Mr Lootah. They have not yet been fined, but he said action would follow next month. The municipality said it would make no exceptions; tenants and landlords, be they nationals or expatriates, would be fined if found in violation. In areas such as Al Rashidiya, families said that they were unable to find equally affordable accommodation in other areas of Dubai, despite a drop in rents across the city.

"We pay Dh3,000 [a month] for one bedroom and an attached bathroom," said one resident whose family shares a villa in Al Rashidiya. "This is the best price we can find in the area." The villa campaign, launched by the municipality last year, forced many families to leave their shared homes. Notices were posted on villa doors in upmarket Jumeirah as well as in low-budget areas such as Satwa and Al Rashidiya.

In some cases, water and electricity were cut off. Many tenants moved out, but others turned to stealth to avoid detection and stayed where they were. Some used generators when the municipality cut off their electricity. Landlords and tenants alike indicated that they were prepared to resort to generators and other means once again. Some who escaped detection the last time around planned to keep their main gates locked and use their back doors. They also intended to park their vehicles away from their homes to give the impression that their villas were single-family homes.

Adverts could still be seen outside several villas inviting families to apply to rent rooms. And one landlord told The National that families were still taking shared accommodations. "There has been no problem, and people are still moving into villas," he said. "Many families are living here." Rents in shared villas range from Dh2,500 to Dh3,500 per month for a single room and attached bathroom. Families often share the living room and the kitchen, but in some cases, separate kitchens are offered.

Apart from Al Rashidiya, areas such as Jaffliya, Satwa, Jumeirah, Umm Suquiem, Al Barsha and Mirdiff have been identified by inspectors as violating the villa rule. Residents had earlier appealed for more time to move, but the municipality now maintains that enough time has been allowed and that no violators will be spared. Bachelors, who are banned from living in villas, were also seen sharing homes in several areas. The municipality insists that only families are allowed to live in villas, as that is who they were designed for.