Mixed emotions as Tamweel Tower residents wait to go home

After five years away, residents of fire-stricken tower just want ink to dry on final reports so they can go home.

Five years after Tamweel Tower burnt, residents want the finalities taken care of and their keys back. Antonie Robertson / The National
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DUBAI // Residents of Tamweel Tower struggled with mixed emotions of relief and frustration as they stepped into their homes for the first time in five years.

Relief that they were allowed to inspect their flats in Jumeriah Lakes Towers and frustration that uncertainty persists about the final handover.

Over the past two weeks, several owners revisited flats the authorities had closed for safety reasons after the November 2012 fire.

Cladding fire tests have been completed with civil defence awaiting a final report before permitting residents to move in.

“The cladding test is finished, we have a preliminary report, but we must wait for the final report,” said a Dubai Civil Defence official.

“Many residents have come to us to request to move in but we need to follow correct procedure.”

Residents have appealed for a detailed timeline.

“My apartments have been brought back to their original condition. It was good to see but I cannot express the depression we feel. Our morale is so low because every time there is depressing news to wait some more,” said H Hussein, who owns three flats, two of which were affected by the blaze.

“We are still in limbo and it has been a terrible level of uncertainty for the last five years.”

After repair work was completed late last year, delays in securing clearances have left owners anxious about expenses paying for rented apartments.

Mr Hussein and others have met civil defence officials requesting clearances be completed quickly.

“They reassured us that they are working on it, but can’t do anything since they were waiting for the final cladding report. I’m afraid it will get more delayed because we are told formalities are completed and then some new requirement comes up that is not met on time,” said Mr Hussein, who signed a new lease agreement in December since he was unsure when his family could move back into Tamweel.

As the first residential building on which cladding destroyed by a fire was replaced, Tamweel Tower is viewed as a key test case.

“It will be an important milestone when the cladding report comes through because that will mean the entire building is fire rated,” said Amit Suri, who is satisfied with repair work on the two flats he owns.

“It was a relief to see the apartments look as good as brand new. But it’s important to convert relief into reality and that will only be on handover.”

Other sticking points, such as raising the height of balconies to comply with new safety norms, will be complied with later.

“The (owners’) association needs to confirm in writing that balcony height will be revised post handover. This will not be a hindrance to issue approvals,” said another member of the Tamweel Tower Owner’s Association.

Initial hold-ups were caused since the post-fire process was unclear. The owners’ group had to register with the real estate authority, open a bank account to begin work on reconstruction clearances.

After homeowners obtained an estimate of losses and obtained municipality approvals, they invited contractors to submit tenders for repair work. However, the tender was declined by the insurer, who appointed another party to estimate losses from the blaze, resulting in the entire process starting from scratch.

Last year following a civil defence rule, all cladding not just panels destroyed in the fire had to be replaced.

“It has been extremely frustrating, we seem to move from one roadblock to another,” said Arif, a resident.

“We can only hope this time around we will soon go home. But there should be a time line and quicker recourse.”


High-rise fires in the UAE

DUBAI // Aluminium cladding with an inflammable thermo-plastic core remains a safety issue after major fires in high-rise buildings in recent years.

The Tamweel Tower fire in November 2012 was caused by a discarded cigarette, according to police. The highly flammable cladding caused flames to spread up the building. Non-fire rated aluminium cladding was banned in new constructions but concern persists about older buildings.

Some fires left hundreds of residents temporarily homeless:

• Fire breaks out in a restaurant and partly wrecks a 15-storey residential building on Airport Road in Abu Dhabi on February 18.

• Residents evacuated the sea-facing Adriatic building on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah on December 12 after a fire in the 14-storey building.

• Fire sweeps through the 75-storey Sulafa Tower in Dubai Marina on July 20.

• Dozens of flats destroyed and hundreds left homeless after a blaze in two 26-storey towers at the Ajman One development on March 28 last year.

• Flames ripped through the Address Downtown Dubai hotel on New Year’s Eve 2015 making headlines around the globe.

• The Torch skyscraper in Dubai Marina was engulfed by flames on February 21, 2015.

•Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers was partially gutted in a fire on November 18, 2012.

* Ramola Talwar Badam