x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

No compensation for families who lost everything in Sharjah fire

The insurers for the property company responsible for Al Tayer Tower in Sharjah say they are not obliged to pay out unless their clients are shown to be negligent.

More than 100 families were left homeless when the blaze, thought to have been caused by a discarded cigarette, ripped through the 40-storey building in April.
More than 100 families were left homeless when the blaze, thought to have been caused by a discarded cigarette, ripped through the 40-storey building in April.

SHARJAH // Hundreds of families who lost their homes and possessions in an apartment block fire have been told they will receive no compensation.

The insurers for the property company responsible for Al Tayer Tower in Sharjah say they are not obliged to pay out unless their clients are shown to be negligent.

More than 100 families were left homeless when the blaze, thought to have been caused by a discarded cigarette, ripped through the 40-storey building in April. The person responsible has never been identified.

"It can't be that all our property perished and that's the end of the story - no compensation," said one tenant, Joe James.

"I have moved on to find another flat but I still want compensation."

Another resident, Mohammed, said he and other tenants had reported their losses to police and were promised help, but had heard nothing since.

"We have not got anything and we have lost hope that we shall ever get anything," he said. "We are trying to rebuild our lives on our own."

Many tenants lost most of their possessions in the fire, but have been told by the insurers that because the property company, Distinguished Real Estate, did not cause the fire it is not liable to compensate them.

Orient Insurance argues that whoever discarded the cigarette is liable.

Investigators blamed the cigarette for starting the fire, but consultants said the aluminium cladding on the building was responsible for its rapid spread. The fire was in part responsible for a nationwide campaign by Civil Defence to clamp down on such cladding, thought to be present on up to 70 per cent of high-rise buildings in the country.

Tenants who approached Distinguished Real Estate for compensation were sent an email telling them the company's insurance would not cover them.

When they then complained to Orient Insurance they were told the company had fully investigated the fire and found "no evidence of wrongdoing" by the property company.

"While we sympathise with the losses you have suffered, there is no evidence to prove they can be held liable for this unfortunate incident. In conclusion, liability is denied and we are, therefore, unable to assist you," the insurer said.

A senior official from Distinguished Real Estate, who asked to be identified only as Rashid, said the company was also a victim of the fire.

"If the tenants claim to have lost thousands we have also lost millions of dirhams as the building is now empty and all the expenses of repair are on our side.

"If the police had managed to arrest the tenant who threw down the cigarette, he would have been liable to pay the compensation to other tenants and ourselves but all the police are saying is that an unknown person threw down a cigarette butt."

The fire was the latest in a string of blazes at residential towers blamed on discarded cigarette ends. The blaze that destroyed Al Baker Tower 4 earlier this year and the 14-storey-Kuwait Tower two years ago started in the same way.

About 125 families were displaced as a result of Al Baker blaze, and 200 were left homeless after the Kuwait Tower was gutted.

The Ruler of Sharjah paid Dh50,000 compensation to the tenants of Al Baker Tower 4 in February.

Abdullah bin Khaidm, the director of Sharjah Charity which helped to distribute the Al Baker Tower 4 compensation, said no similar action was planned this time.

"We have not got any order to compensate any one this time, these fires are too frequent."

ykakande@thenational.ae