Families at Dubai's Jumeirah Islands swelter in row over cooling bill

Families with young children sweltered for hours in 45°C heat after their air-conditioning was turned off in a dispute over bills.

DUBAI // Families with young children sweltered for hours in 45°C heat after their air-conditioning was turned off in a dispute over bills.

Developers pulled the plug on district cooling to several homes in the 730-villa Jumeirah Islands community on Monday and Tuesday. Some families suffered for more than 10 hours.

“The heat was unbearable,” said Victoria Wright, whose children are 5 and 6.

“To do this with kids off from school, in the height of summer, is just so wrong.

“We have always paid our bills on time and we are angry because we were given no warning. The thing I’m upset about is that the person who came to switch it off entered our back garden without even ringing the doorbell. They know we are tenants, so how can they do this?”

The developer, Nakheel, said the switch-off was necessary to recover unpaid service charges, and that other developers had done the same.

Mrs Wright said that after her landlord deposited the outstanding service charges, cooling was turned on only after persistent phone calls.

Nakheel did not say how many homes were disconnected, but residents said dozens of families who are on holiday overseas will return to find their cooling cut.

“Service fee collection is an issue faced by all developers, not only Nakheel,” the developer said.

“In the case of Jumeirah Islands, some defaulters have not paid service charges and district cooling fees for up to four years. We have been chasing these payments throughout this time with regular phone calls, emails and hand-delivered reminder notices.”

The developer said tenants should check if landlords had paid service charges before signing contracts.

However, owners said many of the annual charges of more than Dh23,000 were outstanding because the developer would not provide a breakdown of the costs of services such as waste collection, lighting and landscaping.

“It was a cowardly act,” said one father of three children.

“I was very stressed and concerned because my children were at home. I had refused to pay because of Nakheel’s failure to provide a detailed breakdown of expenditure against which the service charge has been applied.”

Like others, the father relented and paid the service charge. Another landlord said his cooling was cut even though he had agreed to pay the service fees this month.

Other owners called for more transparency. “It’s unfortunate that we need this heavy handedness and tenants suffered,” said Vijay Devnani.

“We have to stay balanced. You cannot not pay fees, that’s a reality. But also there is no sharing of real data. We’re not happy with the lack of transparency about where money should be spent. There needs to be financial information flow.”

There wasa similar incident this week in Nakheel’s International City development, when owners of a group of buildings in the Central Business District near Mashreq Bank were told utilities would be cut if the owners’ associations managing the buildings did not pay up.

Sandbags blocked parking entrances and posters were stuck on walls.

“Due to non-payment, access to the parking area is restricted,” said one sign. “Please ensure your landlord pays their outstanding service charges. Please treat this as an urgent matter.”

A few buildings did pay, but owners are still pressing for audited statements.

“As members of owners’ associations we understand Nakheel needs cash flow to get things moving but the same rules apply to us,” said one apartment owner.

“We must account for where the money is going.”

Trouble over unpaid service fees has cropped up before.

In June last year, Emaar began identifying properties in default on boards at entrances of Arabian Ranches, The Lakes and Springs.

Last summer, Nakheel drained and then refilled swimming pools at a Palm Jumeirah development because of outstanding fees.

In 2011, residents of Shoreline, also on the Palm Jumeirah, were barred from the beach because of disputed fees.