Rera chief criticises upkeep of buildings

Property watchdog's chief executive says the rising number of complaints about shoddy building upkeep could harm residents and deter investors.

Dubai, Mar 11, 2012 --The head of Dubai's Real Estate Regulatory Authority, Marwan bin Ghalaita, gives a speech during the Middle East Facility Management Association conference at Dubai World Trade Centre, March 11, 2012. (Sarah Dea/ The National)
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DUBAI // Shoddy maintenance of apartment buildings could harm residents and deter investors, Dubai's property regulator warned yesterday.

The Real Estate Regulatory Authority has been fielding an increasing number of complaints about poor upkeep, its chief executive Marwan bin Ghalaita said.

Most of the complaints centred on air-conditioning systems and slow service, but other failings - such as faulty fire systems or loosely strewn cables - could be dangerous, Mr bin Ghalaita said.

"From the outside they look fantastic, amazing, but whenever you go inside, you don't know. It's a different story.

"This is what the engineers are telling me, what the investors tell me," he said.

In a slide show at the start of a two-day Middle East Facility Management Association (Mefma) conference, the Rera chief showed photos of poor installation of AC units and wiring, and building debris left on site, though he noted that the situation had improved over time.

"Most of the complaints we receive nowadays are that 'we don't have a separate meter for chiller services', or 'some of the installations are very bad for the AC'. Some of them complain that the signage is not proper, and the response time of the maintenance is very weak," Mr Bin Ghalaita said.

Unlike during the property boom when buyers bought to sell quickly at a profit, investors today wanted a long-term asset whose value was preserved, he said.

Several industry executives agreed such problems existed, and the pictures shown by Mr Bin Ghalaita did not surprise them.

Often problems arose because developers, eager to hand over properties quickly during the boom years, rushed construction and inspections, said Mefma board member Ahmad Hussain.

Contractors might conduct and approve the final "testing and commissioning" inspection of building systems without oversight by the developer. The most common faults were in air-conditioning and fire systems, he said.

"This is one of the major elements we're facing on a daily basis. We were not surprised when he put the pictures on the screen," Mr Hussain said.

"Two things don't go together: quality and speed. We all know that in the past couple of years all the projects were tremendously fast. Everyone wanted to develop and launch and sell."

Facilities management companies, facing stiff competition and pressure to lower costs, sometimes cut corners on maintenance, said Nishant Ravindran, general manager of Inaya Facilities Management.

The number of facilities-management companies has mushroomed as demand for their services has grown, but not all newcomers met professional standards, he said.

Some operators specialised in certain services but could not perform all the functions a building needed. Others offered lower prices to beat competitors, but compensated by hiring unqualified or insufficient staff.

"Cost pressures are the biggest problem in the industry," said Mr Ravindran. "They'll take on jobs below cost and then sacrifice on service delivery, which is the most negative impact you can have."

Other issues reported were that some property owners failed to set aside money for a "sinking fund" used for long-term maintenance needs such as replacing equipment, said Ali Al Suwaidi, another Mefma board member. And when facilities-management companies became involved in a property, he said, they sometimes lacked important documents such as building drawings and operation and maintenance manuals.

Mr Suwaidi said problems in buildings were not widespread, however, and also occurred in more developed markets like the US.

To help improve standards, Mefma publicised a 20-page checklist last year for property owners to see what to expect from facility-management companies.

The industry association was formed in 2010 with backing from Rera.

The Mefma conference concludes today.