Dubai Marina tower hit by double fire now tackling illegal tenants

Sulafa Tower has 704 apartments, but about 80 are now multiple occupancy

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An 81-storey tower in Dubai Marina that was ravaged by two major fires in 10 years is now plagued by illegal tenants living in multiple-occupancy apartments.

A new management company brought in to tackle a catalogue of concerns reported by Sulafa Tower residents told The National it has been forced to make major changes to building access and security, and it has also evicted hundreds of unregistered tenants.

Saga International was hired to manage the building in January 2021 and began to make improvements that included employing a new security team.

Fire safety

One of these improvements included improving fire safety planning and replacing cladding, which often causes fires to spread over a wider area in high-rise towers.

The first fire broke out in a 36th floor apartment in 2012 and another blaze occurred four years later, leading to a complete evacuation.

“Even though there was a fire in 2016, it was clear the fire systems were still not working as they should,” said Samer Ganni, of Saga International Owner Association Management Services.

Exacerbating the fire safety situation was the presence of unregistered residents who had turned single-family apartments into multiple-occupancy residences.

Samer Ganni from Saga International Owner Association Management Services. Antonie Robertson/The National

“The master plan says these should be family residential apartments — what some are doing is using them as labour camps,” Mr Ganni said.

“By law, each bedroom should have a maximum of two beds, but some have 12 bunk-beds in each room and 24 people living there — others have been partitioned to create extra rooms.

“When people do not register, it is hard to know exactly how many people are living there — about 80 apartments are of multiple occupancy.

“This has been a big problem at Sulafa Tower — we want to stop the sharing.”

Making improvements

The building now has a high-tech facial recognition and QR code security system that cost about Dh800,000 to install.

A QR code regenerates every 30 seconds to stop people from taking screen shots and sharing them with non-residents.

A number plate recognition system offers exclusive access to parking, and though some said there were problems with the system, Saga claimed they had been resolved.

Other issues Saga International is now dealing with include fixing the fresh air handling unit, which was recirculating dirty air and causing bad smells in the building. Waste disposal chutes were also regularly blocked.

Poor electrical wiring and broken security cameras were other major problems, while the cradle required to access the building in the event of an emergency was not working.

Short-term lets

About 55 apartments in Sulafa Tower are rented out short term, said Mr Ganni, a sign of a growing Airbnb market.

“When I took over this tower, I received it with just Dh500,000 in account — the annual budget for Sulafa Tower is around Dh15 million so it was a bankrupt building,” he said.

“When we brought in the new system of entry, at least 200 people were denied access because they were living illegally.”

In some instances, those living in the building legally were making a profit by letting others in to use the facilities for a fee.

“Some tenants used to allow people from neighbouring towers access to the gym and charge them for access,” he said.

“A new security company has taken over and we are keeping a closer eye on who is coming and going.

“This access control is the only way we can get on top of the multiple occupancy situation that is causing so many problems.”

Ongoing issues for residents

But long-term residents said some of the changes have made it difficult to receive visitors or deliveries as well as caused issues for those moving in or out of the building.

Sulafa Tower resident Carla Julian saw firefighters bring birds, dogs and cats to safety. She was at home when the fire started and quickly took her cat, Miss Bradshaw, outside. Antonie Robertson / The National

Carla Julian has lived at Sulafa Tower for seven years and said restricted access often causes long waits for residents waiting to park.

“The car plate registered recognition system often fails and security teams have no procedures to handle failures or registration issues, so [they] demand residents park in the streets,” she said.

“Dubai Police are on site daily due to the car park system being changed and unmanaged, causing long queues around Dubai Marina.

“Visitors and residents are often harassed, stopped and questioned on property sharing at reception or in the lifts by security.

“There are several apartments with partitions, allowing for crowding through living room areas- these have been reported.

“Cockroaches are an ongoing issue.”

Residents said broken air conditioning systems leading to mould, poor fire safety and badly maintained security equipment and water treatment systems are still major issues.

Another resident, who lives in a shared penthouse apartment but did not want to be named, said the majority of the building has been affected by the increased security.

“We have six people living in our apartment, but when someone moves out, it is very difficult to get a new tenant registered to use the gym or parking,” he said.

“The system is done on paper, so it is very hard to keep track of. It can be very hard to receive deliveries or guests because the security is now so tight.”

Current prices in Sulafa Tower range from Dh65,000 for a one-bedroom apartment to Dh125,000 for three bedrooms.

Updated: November 12, 2022, 6:54 AM
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