x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Rera chief backs residents

Developer 'has no right to charge fees for beach and pool'

DUBAI // Residents of the luxury Shoreline apartments on the Palm Jumeirah are entitled to use the development's beach, pools and gyms without having to pay a membership fee, Dubai's property regulator said yesterday.

The developer, Nakheel, has angered apartment owners with plans to charge annual fees of Dh2,000 for residents and Dh5,000 for visitors from January 1.

But Marwan bin Ghalaita, chief executive of the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (Rera), said yesterday that pools and playgrounds belonged to the owners, not the developers, and residents also had the right to use the beach and gym.

The development includes outdoor pools and children's playgrounds that flow on to a beachfront, and five "beach clubhouses" attached to 10 of the 20 residential towers that house a gym, steam room and other amenities.

Owners argue that these facilities were a primary selling point of the development, and point to their sales contracts, marketing material and Dubai's law on jointly owned property as support for their case.

The parameters of ownership are specified in the "jointly-owned property declaration", a document outlining common areas, which must be prepared by developers and approved by Rera, Mr bin Ghalaita said yesterday.

He said property owners and residents should have access to the pools and playgrounds, which were common areas. Nakheel owns all other property, such as the beach and beach clubs, and may legitimately charge outsiders to use these. "It's their property, they own it," he said.

However, he said, they should ensure access for residents to the beach, pool, children's playground and gym, or provide access to gyms somewhere else in the development.

"Owners should check contracts and know their rights and responsibilities before they buy," he said.

It is unclear if residents' guests will have to buy day passes, which will cost Dh150 for a weekday and Dh200 for a weekend, starting next year.

"That's one of the biggest areas of contention," said a Shoreline owners association board member.

Residents often had relatives visit for holidays and they wanted to relax by the sea, he said. Many owners accepted that they did not own the beach, but felt they should have access to it.

Meanwhile, residents of apartments with unpaid service charges could still be barred from using the facilities. Property owners must pay the fees for the upkeep of common spaces, in accordance with an annual budget that is supposed to be approved by Rera.

Nakheel began enforcing its ban on common areas for non-paying residents last week by requiring them to apply for new access cards, locking the doors to the beach and posting security guards. The move angered tenants who had already paid a year's rent but whose landlords were in service-charge arrears.

Many owners agreed on the need to pay service fees, but only those levied for the 2010 and 2011 budgets, which had been approved by Rera.

The regulatory body backed the owners' position in a meeting two weeks ago and said Nakheel should stop trying to collect previous years' charges.

"Rera instructs Nakheel to revise the previously sent outstanding arrears (if any) to reflect only outstanding building service fees for 2010 and 2011 and will instruct Nakheel to send revised invoices to all owners once more," said a written summary of the meeting, which was stamped by Rera.

"Remaining issues regarding outstanding fees from 2007 till 2009 (if any) shall be resolved at a later date once the OAs are registered and functional," it said.

If Rera issues a formal decision on access to the Shoreline facilities, it has the means to enforce it, said Shahram Safai, head of real estate and a partner at Afridi and Angell legal consultancy.

If Nakheel tried to impose membership fees on residents in what Rera considered to be common areas, the authority could issue notices and ultimately levy a fine or other penalties, he said.

If Nakheel did the same for other facilities not designated as common area, however, that would not count as "jointly owned property" and thus fall outside Rera's jurisdiction.

"That's a sales-and-purchase contractual dispute, and a contractual dispute is something that should go to the courts," Mr Safai said.

Sometimes sales and purchase agreements have unclear wording, or contracts in the same development might differ.

Nakheel did not respond to requests for comment.

chuang@thenational.ae