x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Nakheel to settle bills in utilities dispute

Developer will pay water charges at Jumeirah Village Triangle.

DUBAI // A long-running dispute over who should pay unusually high utility bills presented to residents of Jumeirah Village Triangle has apparently been settled with the developer, Nakheel. At least a dozen residents have received monthly utilities bills for as much as Dh10,000 (US$2,700) because of a suspected defect in the water tanks attached to their homes.

Residents say the flaw, which led to water overflowing, sent their bills soaring. In a meeting with residents yesterday, the developer apparently said it would compensate them for the excessive water portion of their bills. In a subsequent e-mail statement, Nakheel said that although it was "not contractually responsible, as a goodwill gesture" it would "compensate residents for costs due to water overflow".

The problem began in April, when the community of several dozen villas was first connected to the services of the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa). Residents had used power generators and water provided by Nakheel since moving into their recently built homes in January. The cause of the problem was "under investigation", Nakheel said. Residents had complained that the developer had for weeks not officially responded to their demands; instead, they said, company representatives had told residents that compensation was unlikely to be paid.

The villas are still under warranty for construction defects, which residents argued made Nakheel liable for utility costs that resulted from the defect in the water system. Most refused to pay the bills, telling Nakheel that it was obliged to cover the disputed costs. "From July 18 until today, I've been continuously asking, and no official feedback until now," said Danny Oneissi, a Lebanese national who owns one of the two-bedroom villas and lives in it with his wife.

He said that in July, he received a Dewa bill totalling Dh30,011 (US$8,170) for his utility consumption beginning in April - of which Dh24,255 was for water alone. Mr Oneissi became aware of a problem with his water tank a few days before receiving his July Dewa bill, he said, when his gardener spotted large amounts of water spilling out of the tank. The problem was apparently with the float valve that should have stopped the inflow of water when the tank was full.

When he called Nakheel about the problem, company employees "came and fixed it on the same hour", Mr Oneissi said. The problem had apparently been solved: His next bill totalled only Dh2,756.55 (US$750). However, he later learnt that neighbours had experienced similar problems and that Nakheel employees had been seen fixing other water tanks. In an August 30 letter to Dewa, a Nakheel employee wrote that evidence suggested the problem of apparently high water usage stemmed from a defect in the water tanks.

"We can only assume that, in the absence of other leaks, over an extended period of time, the float valve did not operate correctly and water passed by the valve into the main tank and then the overflow tank to the drain," the Nakheel letter said. "Based on the volume of water loss, this must have happened for a relatively long period of time." The letter also stated that the developer was not liable for costs arising from the defect.

"While the loss of water and the associated cost is regrettable, please note that Nakheel is not liable for any consequential losses such as the cost of the water in the case". But for some, such as Mohammad Ghorbankarimi, 35, who said his utility bill was Dh17,000 (US$4,600) for a month and a half, the fault may be not with Nakheel but with his water and electricity meters. He said that a few days ago, he and another person tested his villa's utility meters by shutting off the water and electricity "so that nothing was on in the house, and the electricity meter still ran, and the water as well," said the Canadian, who works in television and film.

When he approached Dewa recently, Mr Ghorbankarimi said, an employee told him that the amount of usage was "normal". Dewa did not respond to questions about the issue, though some residents said the authority had given them more time to pay their bills.
hnaylor@thenational.ae