x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Tenants in illegally divided villas stay as demolition deadline looms

Residents living in villas slated for demolition because they have been illegally subdivided are still waiting for refunds from the property developer.

Residents of villas in Abu Dhabi Gate City may be evicted from their homes because the municipality has deemed them illegal.
Residents of villas in Abu Dhabi Gate City may be evicted from their homes because the municipality has deemed them illegal.

ABU DHABI // Residents of illegally subdivided villas in Abu Dhabi Gate City have stayed put, despite the municipality's threat to tear down walls between flats as soon as next month.

More than 40 families originally lived in the six-building compound on the waterfront and many say they have not been refunded the rent and deposits paid in advance.

The developer, Nevada Building and Construction, has promised payment but several residents said they had been unable to contact the landlord or the property owner.

The villas were deemed illegal by Abu Dhabi Municipality in February. Nevada appealed against the decision in court and lost the case in March, but was allowed to file another appeal.

A decision is expected by the end of next month.

But even as residents struggle to find new accommodation, Nevada continues to lease out flats in the buildings.

One resident, Nabeel el Yakobi, said more than 10 families had moved out of the compound since the municipality first sent a demolition crew there earlier this year, but only two had received cheques.

Another resident, Joel Ericson, said he had received only a part of the rent he paid in advance.

Jihad Kazzaz, a spokesman for the developer, said only two flats had been leased out since March, but the tenants were paying on a monthly basis and were told they might have to move out by the end of next month.

"Hopefully we will win the court case and no one will have to move out," said Mr Kazzaz, who added he lives at the complex.

"At the end of June, maybe the tenants can stay one week or one year. We don't know, but we know there are many cases that are the same as ours that got approval from the municipality."

A municipality official said leasing out the flats while the developer awaited a court decision was unethical but not illegal.

"They [the developers] should inform the tenants that these houses are dangerous for the citizens who are staying there," the official said.

The villas are part of a two-phase development project that includes nearly a dozen buildings. Each three-storey villa contains seven flats that cost between Dh85,000 (US$23,100) and Dh180,000 a year. All of the tenants have moved in since December.

Removing the partitions is part of the municipality's clampdown on buildings with illegal subdivisions, which it says can cause safety hazards and are in violation of the city's building codes.

Nevada representatives have insisted the partitions are legal and were approved by the municipality before residents moved in.

Electricity to the compound has been shut off at least once a month since February and residents formed a human barricade in late March to block the utility company from cutting the power.

Mr Kazzaz said the head of Nevada, Mohammed Mandoor, had been away in Egypt and was the only person authorised to sign cheques.

He said Mr Mandoor had lost Dh2.5 million as a result of the municipality's decision and was issuing postdated cheques only.

"It's logical," Mr Kazzaz said. "We don't have the money to pay the people back but we are doing what we can. All the people, they will get their money back."

But residents are still worried they may end up out of pocket.

Kobus Grobler moved out in late March, the last time a municipal demolition crew was sent to the compound.

Mr Grobler said he was initially told he would receive the Dh30,000 remaining on his lease in addition to a deposit, but this month Nevada told him he would only receive Dh18,000.

"I tried to phone Mr Mandoor but like usual he is not answering the phone," he said.

"Going to their office is a waste of time as his door is always locked, and his staff always say he is not there."

Mr Kazzaz said tenants who wished to move out would be issued cheques next month or in July.

He said if the court ruled in Nevada's favour, the company would pay one month's rent for residents.