x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Hundreds more cut off in dawn raids on overcrowded villas

Inspectors have stepped up efforts to evict residents of multi-occupancy homes, with up to 78 properties targeted in this week's sweep.

Women share a partitioned room in Jafliya, Dubai. Some rooms are being occupied by as many as 10 to 15 people.
Women share a partitioned room in Jafliya, Dubai. Some rooms are being occupied by as many as 10 to 15 people.

DUBAI // Authorities cut off water and power supplies to hundreds of residents in early morning raids yesterday, the second day of a campaign aimed at shutting down multi-occupancy villas. Illegal occupants were served notice to leave immediately by municipal inspectors, after a dawn sweep aimed at evicting illegal tenants.

Utilities to as many as 78 villas will be cut off by the end of the week, the inspectors said. Authorities have urged the residents of illegal villas to move to areas such as Al Quoz, Jebel Ali, Al Qusais, Al Nahda and Muhaisnah, where they say cheap labour accommodation and residential units are available. "In the present economic climate, there are enough rooms available for good rates," said Khalid Selaiteen, head of the environmental emergency office of Dubai Municipality.

"There are 'To Let' boards in buildings all over these places. But there are no buyers. Everyone wants to be in the main city area." About a dozen municipal officers visited villas in Al Jafliya yesterday, led by Mr Selaiteen. The early morning raids came as residents prepared to leave for work. Many appeared shocked by the appearance of government workers. Some refused to open their doors, while others tried to hide from the inspectors.

Among the violations alleged were overcrowding, with 10 to 15 single men housed in tiny partitioned rooms. Some even lived on rooftops or under staircases, inspectors said. Electricity and water lines had been tampered with,and new wires rigged up to allow more people to live in each room. Separate water pumps were also set up inside the villas. A series of partitions were erected within rooms to house more occupants. In the first three hours of the sweep, seven villas were inspected and power was cut off to two. Most were occupied by between 50-100 residents, and included families sharing with single men.

"I visited these villas last week and requested them to move out," Mr Selaiteen said. "But most of them have stayed, which is why we cut their electricity supply. Of course, it is hot. But we have given them enough chances to move out." He added: "These people are living in extremely dangerous conditions. If a fire erupts here, not even the fire squad or police would be able to rescue them. They think we are their enemies. But we are only trying to ensure their safety." But residents say they have few other housing options, with many of the available apartments simply too expensive.

"Where else can I live?" asked Inam Kamal Badshah, 35, a Pakistani taxi driver who was living in a villa illegally rigged up to the power supply. "I pay Dh4,000 each month for a room, and we split this between eight to 10 people. "I can't afford to pay more than this for rent. I would like to live in an apartment, but I cannot." Mr Badshah moved to Al Jafliya after being evicted from a villa in Satwa. "It was the same problem in Satwa," he said. "They said it was illegal to live there. Now I will move from here to another villa. I have no other choice. This is a game of cat and mouse. No one wins."

Dubai Municipality disputes the lack of affordable housing, as Mr Selaiteen's comments demonstrate. Many residents have abandoned their homes after repeated warnings and inspections. Most have moved to Sharjah and Ajman. "I moved here from Sharjah because I had to wake up at 6am to be at work by 9am," said Agaan Chintaka, 28, a Sri Lankan. Power to his villa was cut off yesterday. "I will have to move back to Sharjah now. I do not know where I can go," he said.

His complaints are echoed by a host of other residents, who say poor transport services compel them to stay within the city. Overcrowded villas are also hotbeds of crime, officials say. One villa raided yesterday was suspected of housing women as part of a prostitution ring. Officials from Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) who accompanied the inspectors said many more illegal homes would be cut off in coming days. "These villas have illegally-connected power and they will be permanently disconnected by removing the power cables," said Nasser Ghuloom Abdulla Hussein, section head and engineer for Dewa's emergency department. "We are awaiting a full list of the violators from the municipality."

The "one villa, one family" rule was launched by the municipality in May 2008. It states that villas can be occupied only by single families. @Email:pmenon@thenational.ae