Subdivision tenants are not to blame

Tenants' rights in cases involving illegal subdivisions require more pressure on landlords.

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The flat had three rooms and a salon. In one room, a woman lived with her two daughters and two sisters. The landlord rented the other two rooms to 12 girls - six in each with three bunk-beds. There was still some space in the salon, so the landlord divided it into two units; the first was rented to a dressmaker and the other to a curtain-maker in the mornings and to other tenants in the evenings.

This was, believe it or not, a real living accommodation that The National highlighted in 2009. Abu Dhabi Municipality has since launched a campaign to demolish illegal partitions, a move that makes sense in improving housing conditions and, in certain cases, basic health and safety and hygiene issues.

Where there must be improvement is in implementation. The fault for these shoddy living arrangements lies chiefly with landlords and property agents. As The National reported yesterday, authorities have been informing building owners of the violations and impending demolition, but not tenants, leaving residents with little or no notice.

The municipality is right to enforce the existing codes but the solution is not just to tear down walls. In many cases, landlords still hold tenants' deposits and rent. Often tenants of subdivided buildings have limited incomes, which is why they are in those conditions in the first place, and the prospect of their homes being demolished is a serious financial burden.

Before taking necessary action, the municipality must coordinate with authorities that could deal with related issues. More pressure needs to be brought to bear on landlords who hold deposits and sign contracts that they cannot fulfill; in one recent case, a tenant signed a rental contract for a unit that was already slated for demolition. Tenants have had their utilities cut, although technically they had fulfilled all the provisions of their contracts.

In the Abu Dhabi Gate City development, tenants have said they will stay in the building even after portions are demolished in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling. Having already paid for the space, some tenants simply do not have anywhere else to go.

It is landlords who are responsible for these subdivisions. They need to be held responsible for the unfortunate situation of their tenants.