x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Residents told walls must come down in flats

The residents of an illegally subdivided villa in Abu Dhabi Gate City will have their walls demolished by January 2.

Hiba Saleh, left, stands in front of a wall marked for demolition at Abu Dhabi Gate City.
Hiba Saleh, left, stands in front of a wall marked for demolition at Abu Dhabi Gate City.

ABU DHABI // This time, the walls will definitely come down.

About 35 families living in a recent Abu Dhabi Gate City development will see portions of their flats demolished within a week after the Supreme Court ruled late last month that the partitions were illegal.

Last Wednesday, the municipality marked illegal walls at the 42-flat waterfront compound with black spray paint, and notices were distributed yesterday to inform residents that the work will be carried out on January 2.

The building developer, Nevada Building and Construction, has already knocked down walls in empty flats. "We don't know what to do any more," said Nikolaos Spanos, who moved to the compound in February. He signed a contract for two years and paid for one year in advance.

One outer wall in his flat, which is meant to be an archway according to the villa blueprints, is slated for demolition.

Mr Spanos and his wife said they did not plan to move when the walls were torn down.

"For the last 10 months, we've gone through hell. They have my money, and I have two months left paid for. What can I do?"

The power was cut at the compound at 11.30am yesterday for the third time this year. The municipality deemed the subdivisions at the property illegal in February, only two months after most of the residents moved into the villas. In March, the developer lost a court appeal on the legality of the structures, and on November 28, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the municipality.

The power has been shut off at least three times since February, though the residents formed a human barricade that blocked the utility company from shutting off the power in March.

An Abu Dhabi Distribution Company representative at the compound yesterday said the power cut was not related to demolition but was the result of an unpaid Dh50,000 utility bill by the landlord.

Wael Adel Abdulatif, a spokesman for Nevada, said the power would be returned by today. Mr Abdulatif said Nevada would remove illegal brick walls and replace them with temporary partitions.

"We've already started the demolition works as per the court order, and we promised to return the premises to their original form by Sunday," he said. "All tenants have been informed. We promised them that the works would be done very quickly, while they're at work."

The residents are not being evicted, though the municipality notices request the premises be evacuated while demolition works are going on.

CK and her 7-year-old son moved into their flat on December 15, more than two weeks after Nevada lost its appeal. The Spaniard paid more than Dh60,000 in advance for the flat.

"I cannot move out," she said. "I don't have anywhere to go."

CK said she was not told about the court case or the possibility of municipal action.

"One morning last week I woke up and I smelled a paint smell," she said. "I thought it was maintenance work, and then I saw them painting the Xs on the walls and writing "demolition" in Arabic."

Several residents said multiple calls to Nevada had been ignored, and the developer's office is not staffed.

The villas are part of a two-phase development project that includes nearly a dozen buildings. Each three-storey villa contains seven flats that rent for between Dh85,000 and Dh180,000 a year. The oldest tenants have lived at the compound for one year.

Many of the residents were away for Christmas, and neighbours said they were not able to reach everyone to warn them about the impending action.

Hiba Saleh, a Lebanese resident who moved into the development in February, said she tried to reason with the municipal officials who delivered notices.

"We understand that they have to implement the law," Ms Saleh said. "That's fine. But within two months, most of us will have finished our contracts, and we can agree not to renew them. It's been almost one year since this started. What is two months?"

Mr Adulatif, from Nevada, said those residents who wished to leave before the end of their contracts would receive refunds.

"People will be getting their cheques and refunds as soon as the manager comes back from Egypt next month to sign the cheques," he said.

But residents said they had been told "the manager would be coming back from Egypt next month" for 10 months. "They took our money and now they want to take our homes," Ms Saleh said.

The demolitions are part of the municipality's efforts to rid the capital of illegally subdivided properties, which it says are health and safety hazards.