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Nearly two years after a devastating fire partially gutted the Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT), the building's residents are still at a loss as to when they can move back into their homes.
In the interim, they are forced to make do with alternate arrangements, which they fear is taking on an air of permanence.
Even those whose houses were left unscathed in the fire have been forced out as the building has been shut down. A handful of security guards are the only people left at the tower and only one of the five lifts is operational. Residents have been told they will be allowed back into their homes once the building becomes fit for occupancy.
Speaking to PW, the Tamweel owners' association (OA) board of directors says there have been some roadblocks in getting the building restored. At the end of last year, the residents were informed by master developer Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) that Dubai Municipality (DM) needed to approve a damage assessment report of the building to proceed with the restoration work.
"DMCC has asked us to resubmit the report to Dubai Municipality [DM] and get its approval'' the OA told residents in an email. “DMCC will issue its no-objection certificate [NOC] once we have obtained the approval from DM. Restoration process can only start after we have received an NOC."
On November 18, 2012 a cigarette butt carelessly thrown inside a garbage bin started a blaze that would ultimately displace around 160 families. Most residents of the units that caught fire did not have enough time to secure their belongings, as people ran for their lives after hearing the fire alarm, some of them from the 37th floor of the building.
Earlier this year, the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Rera) authorised Emirates NBD to open an escrow account in the name of the OA so board members can sign cheques on behalf of the group and start the restoration process. At that time, it was thought that reconstruction would begin in three months, but that has not happened.
Residents say they have been kept informed by the interim OA board regarding the processes involved in getting the building back in order. However, they also complain it has taken a long time to get approvals with no tangible results.
British expatriate John Cox tells PW the last two years have been very difficult. "We have our money and time tied up in Tamweel Tower," says Cox, who owns a two-bedroom apartment on the 19th floor. "In the past two years, I have been forced to lease a two-bedroom flat on Shaikh Zayed Road [and pay] annual rent of Dh90,000. This is a huge expense for me. I cannot wait to move into my apartment."
Cox took out a mortgage from Dubai Islamic Bank for the apartment, although he says the bank has agreed to temporarily defer the equated monthly instalments (EMis) until he is allowed to move into the apartment.
"When I move back, I will have to start paying the EMI. That is a respite for now, but it also means that my tenure to repay the loan is being extended,” he says. “All this is very time-consuming and making me very restless."
According to residents, financial compensation was awarded after the fire, but it barely took care of a month's accommodation expenses. Residents were paid according to the size of their units. A three-bedroom apartment owner was paid about Dh11,000 and a two-bedroom unit owner was paid around Dh8,000.
However, homeowners continued to pay maintenance charges, which were dropped from Dh13 to Dh7.5 per square foot.
"I am paying Dh12,000 annually for maintenance, which I think is hefty." says Cox.
"Why should I have to pay such a huge amount when I am not living there? After all, this is an added expense to us without the benefit of living in the building."
Tina Halela, an Indian owner of a three-bedroom apartment on the 29th floor, says her family has stayed in three different homes in the past two years.
Lack of interest
“After the fire, my family moved into a two-bedroom apartment on Shaikh Zayed Road thinking we would be able to move back to Tamweel Tower in a matter of months,” she says. "But things have been dragging on for so long that we decided to move again to a bigger fiat, as we don't anticipate the building to be ready for another year or more.
"Barring the Tamweel OA, nobody seems to care for the plight of the displaced families. It is frustrating."
Cox adds: "In all fairness to the OA board members, they are doing every bit to get the building restored. But what puzzles me is why it is taking so long to get the building back in order, especially since it is in a prime location.
"Tamweel Tower is a key landmark in JLT and I thought authorities would be eager to get it back to its original state. From where I am standing, I don't see work starting this year."
Surendra Nayar, a Tamweel board member, explains the hurdles in starting the restoration work.
"Just after the fire a damage assessment team of engineers readied a report on the building. This took some time, as a detailed analysis had to be done, including sending damaged structure samples to the UK,” says Nayar. "When we took this report to the DMCC, they told us they were no longer handling the matter and referred us to DM to obtain all approvals."
DMCC's response took the homeowners by surprise as they had believed the master developer had sole responsibility on JLT-related matters.
"This delayed the process considerably," says a homeowner, who requested to remain anonymous.
Meanwhile, Nayar says they have received quotations from two contractors.
"We are hoping to get the approval soon on the quotation," he says. "Once the [insurance] claim is approved, a contract will be signed by the OA with the contractor.
"After that there will probably be a period of four to six weeks to mobilise people and materials for reconstruction to begin."
Nayar says the building will be fitted with new cladding that meets current standards to prevent similar accidents in the future.
"All existing systems will be replaced to meet the latest standards and they will be duly tested for all requirements," he says. “All damaged parts of the fire systems will be replaced with new ones.”
See related story: The Future of fire prevention in the UAE
Source: Anjana Kumar, Special to Property Weekly