x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Hunt continues for illegal dwellings

Inspectors are still looking for housing that has been altered or had additions made to accommodate more people.

A zone inspector looks over notes regarding possible illegal villas near Muroor Road.
A zone inspector looks over notes regarding possible illegal villas near Muroor Road.

ABU DHABI // In a relatively new city high-rise, a basement electrical control room doubles as a storeroom and home to an Indian man. Four gas ovens obstruct the path into the converted room, while a pair of chandeliers are propped up against the side of a large grey control panel. It is, an inspector said, the perfect example of what Abu Dhabi Municipality faces in its campaign against building law violations.

He had just roused the Indian resident, a 40-year-old watchman who was sleeping before his shift began at a central Abu Dhabi building. There is no ventilation and the potential for electrical fire is too great to allow anyone to live there. This week, the building's owners were warned that the basement must not be used for accommodation. For more than a week, municipal officials have joined representatives of the police, the Ministry of Labour, the Department of Civil Defence and other agencies on a tour of inspection across the island.

They have scoured neighbourhoods, looking for indications that dwellings have been altered or additions made without permission. While each department conducts year-round inspections, this campaign has brought all of the relevant authorities together. The campaign to rid the capital of illegally altered dwellings started this month and was extended by a couple of days. There are plans to cover mainland areas of Abu Dhabi later.

During the campaign, each inspector was allocated an area to cover, armed with a map detailing each plot in that sector. When they detected a violation, they issued a warning to the owner of the building. Owners who were warned were given two days to come to the municipality to request more time to remove additions, or to start the process to have them approved. On Monday, the last day of the co-ordinated campaign, The National accompanied inspectors on their final searches of two neighbourhoods. Walking through the quiet streets in Al Muroor, most people would not notice anything suspect about the rows of villas. But the inspectors point out plywood additions on the roofs and along the sides of at least three villas on one street alone.

"These are clearly illegal as no one would have approved this addition," said Juma al Hajeri, the municipality's co-ordinator for the campaign. Standing on the side of the road, Ahmed al Dhalei, an inspector with the Zafarana municipal office, perused a map of the area and consulted with the other inspectors. "In this area we found many partitions and people who make additional rooms without approval," he said.

"Somebody even made a bathroom outside and rooms in the garden. After approval it is no problem, but we want everybody to be safe." The inspectors are not responsible for evictions. Only the municipal court can order people out of the villas so unapproved modifications can be dismantled. Some tenants have been victims of building-law violators after their shared accommodations were deemed illegal.

Mr al Hajeri said prospective tenants could ask municipal offices whether a building has been approved. The convoy of municipality vehicles moved on to the bustling Tourist Club area, where people are packed tightly into high-rise apartment buildings. Bassam Meshal, another municipality inspector, gestured towards the roof of one building, a makeshift dwelling perched precariously on top. "This is a violation," he said. "We have had cases where extra rooms are built on top and balconies that are closed to make an extra room."

Mohammed al Harthi, a Civil Defence inspector, went to check on a decrepit building nearby, where only a few families remained. "This building cannot be maintained. There are too many problems," Mr al Harthi said, pointing towards a broken fire alarm as an example. "If you are an owner of a building you should be like the captain of a ship and look after your people." zconstantine@thenational.ae