Abu Dhabi Gate City families stay put after illegal walls torn down

Several families are remaining in partially demolished flats as they wait for the developer to return their paid rent.

United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, Jan. 28 2012:  Nikolaos Spanos  poses for a portrait outside the villa, where he's renting a 2-bedroom apartment, after the municipality knocked down the illegal walls in the whole compound in Abu Dhabi Gate City in Abu Dhabi.  The Spanos family is one of six remaining families who stayed after the walls came down, despite having issues with electricity and water, safety and privacy. (Silvia Razgova / The National)
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ABU DHABI // At least six families are squatting in a partly demolished compound in Abu Dhabi Gate City where the municipality ordered illegal walls to be removed last month.
The remaining tenants, who removed the rubble from the demolished walls themselves and lived without water or power for more than two weeks, refuse to leave the development until they receive refund cheques for their prepaid rent.
"We tenants are stuck in the middle in this mess," said Nikolaos Spanos, a resident who signed a two-year contract.
"We've been living for weeks inside a flat with demolished walls without electricity, without water. This is not something we should be suffering for."
The partitions in the 42-flat waterfront compound were torn down by the municipality after the Supreme Court ruled in November that they were illegal. At that time, about 35 families were living in the compound, which opened in late 2010.
Those who have remained are now living with gaping, ragged holes where walls once stood.
"It's been a good way to get to know my neighbour," said one Lebanese resident who now shares a floor without doors with his next-door neighbour. "I never get lonely now. It's nice to have someone next to you."
After a fire broke out in one of the flats this month after candles were left unattended, residents pleaded with municipal officials to turn on the power.
"They said we could only have the electricity when we returned the villas to their original state, whatever that means," Mr Spanos said. "But that is a lot of work. Who will pay?"
The Supreme Court ruling required the utilities to be cut only while the demolition was under way, and the municipality restored power this week.
The villas are part of a two-phase development that includes nearly a dozen buildings.
Each three-storey villa contains seven flats that are leased for between Dh85,000 and Dh180,000 a year. The development's longest tenants moved in at the end of 2010.
Several remaining tenants said they had been unable to reach the compound's developer, Nevada Building and Construction.
Calls to representatives by The National were unanswered on Thursday.
One resident said the general manager for Nevada had promised there would be good news this week.
The balance on some of the tenants' existing leases ranged from one month to 13 months. Some residents are owed as much as Dh100,000.
"My contract is up in February but I don't plan to leave," said the Lebanese tenant, who is owed more than Dh5,000. "If anybody asks me to move out, I will tell them that I need my money."
A Spanish tenant moved into her flat less than three weeks before the municipality demolished the walls. Nevada told her that temporary wooden partitions could be put up, but she has not heard if she is entitled to a refund.
"I'm just living day by day," she said. "I have no idea what is going on."
This month, the municipality pledged to crack down on illegally subdivided villas.
"Health, security and safety stipulations are being flouted," it said in a public notice.
The Gate City situation is "unusual" because subdivisions are typically designed to split living areas into smaller spaces for bachelors, a municipality official said last month. About 90 per cent of illegally partitioned flats are not rented with contracts but on a monthly or weekly basis.