Over half of UAE residents who participated in a poll put out by Emirates 24|7 have stated that they would not evacuate in response to a fire alarm in their building.
This website asked readers to respond to the question: ‘If the fire alarm goes off in your building what will you do?’
Shockingly, 47 per cent of the respondents ticked the option ‘check to see if there is a fire’, implying that evacuation does not necessarily follow when the fire alarm goes off.
In addition, the number of people who indicated that they would ignore the fire alarm, was 25 per cent of the respondents.
“My fire alarm goes off all the time, and mostly it is false alarm. That’s why I do not respond every time the fire alarm goes off,” says Katherine Bunton, an American resident living on the 31st floor of a high-rise building.
“I may check out if I see any flames coming up my apartment, if I see smoke or if any other people seem to be alarmed. “But I would not go down 31 floors by stairs if I do not see any sign of fire.”
Hussain Mohd Al Rahoomi, who is responsible for fire safety in high-rise buildings within Dubai Civil Defence elaborated on the behavior of residents in case of fire.
"I understand that residents do not respond to every fire alarm they hear, because there are quite a lot of cases of false alarm every year. “But if it is still ringing after 2 minutes, it is for real and you need to get out of there," he said.
However, he noted that people are generally unprepared for fire in their building. "We do provide all apartments with instruction manuals, describing what to do in cases of fire.
“The problem is that people often do not read these instructions," he says.
Indeed, many of the residents asked admitted that they had never even given it a thought, and they would not know what to do in case of fire.
When renting a house, looks may be deceptive, say experts
Some of the older buildings in areas like Karama and Deira may scare potential tenants because they may look rundown, but experts claim that branding areas as “unsafe” for living is unfair as some of the older buildings have a much more efficient maintenance and service record than some of the newer buildings.
As the rental market in the emirate becomes more competitive, an increasing number of people are keenly reviewing the upkeep of the building they intend to live in as one of the most important factors to consider.
“There are many options to choose from. Why should I go to an older place, which may have problems right from start? At the end of the day, it’s all about safety and convenience,” said a resident of Ghusais, who is now looking to move out of the area to JLT.
However, experts say that a simple glance of the building/villa should not be the only factor to assess whether the place is safe or unsafe.
According to John Stevens, Director, Asteco Property Management, some buildings in older areas of the city are in a much better state than others in newer locations, which may come as a surprise to many.
“You could well find a property in Old Dubai that has a quicker, more responsive and efficient maintenance service than in some buildings in New Dubai. Similarly, two identical buildings next to each other in the same area might well be receiving very different maintenance services,” he told Emirates 24|7.
“The difference comes with the landlord and their commitment to their customers – the tenants. With this comes the ability to charge higher rentals. So, in the case of the buildings mentioned above, one charges a higher rent to deliver a better service,” Stevens added.
According to another expert, some old buildings in Deira are perfect examples how good maintenance can extend the life of a building.
“Maintenance is becoming a more and more talked about subject in Dubai. In theory, the economic life of a building should be 100-years plus. However, if the buildings are not properly maintained throughout, their life expectancy can reduce vastly,” said Saeed Hashmi, Head of Valuation & Advisory at Landmark Advisory.
“Good examples of this can be seen in Abu Dhabi and Deira. Traditionally, in Western markets, landlords mostly enforce the upkeep of their buildings (commercial) through the provision of a full repairing and insuring lease to their tenants or through a service charge provision for residential. Proactive maintenance also improves the financial performance of a building over time, hence tightly worded leases being the norm in mature markets,” he said.
However, many residents in the city complain their landlords are not bothered about the upkeep of the apartment/villa once they lease it out.
“I’ve been in this villa for just six months but there are so many problems here. Right from the AC to the water motor to sewage…all have been giving me trouble. My landlord lives in London and wouldn’t care to even reply to my e-mails. He should get me an annual contract from a maintenance company but he’s not willing to spend a single dirham,” said a resident of Springs 11 (one of the oldest freehold villa communities in Dubai).
For such tenants, experts advise a through check-up of the place before a contract is signed.
“Clients should be careful and conduct due diligence no matter where or what they lease. If it is a new building, it is advisable to see who the owner is (or are in the case of owners association properties) and if they have other properties, then check how their reputation for performing maintenance stands with these other buildings. For older properties, try and speak with existing tenants - visual appearances can be very deceptive so it is always best to investigate further,” said Asteco’s Stevens.
On the other hand, Laura Adams, Manager, Residential Sales & Leasing, Head Office, Better Homes, believes that it is not possible to instruct clients. “I do not see any reason to advise tenants to be careful. I believe it is all down to taste, budget and expectation requirements of the individual on which building they would choose,” she said.
“[Moreover], I do not know of any building deemed unsafe due to age; as long as a sound maintenance team is in place, all buildings should not be a threat for health and safety. In some developments, gyms or pools are not maintained well but that could be for many reasons, e.g., the developer is not receiving all the service charges paid, etc,” said Adams.
“One of the most presentable buildings I have seen at all times is Tiara on the Palm Jumeirah, the communal areas are very well maintained and the pool is always clean but this is one example out of many and a high-end example – maintenance is high because the relative cost is higher,” she told this website.
Commenting on the average life of a building in Dubai, Asteco’s Stevens expert said: “This is difficult to say since few buildings have reached the end of their lifespan and been redeveloped/refurbished. There are some properties from the 1970s and 1980s that have been well maintained and continue to be economically viable.”
Better Homes’ Adams shares his views. “It is very difficult to tell. In this environment, like none other in the world, we really cannot predict how long each building will last, but the buildings constructed with higher quality materials and that were built more recently will last longer,” she said.
“A lot of the villas are simple structures and even pre-fabricated. Some of the older buildings even on the freehold market are showing signs of age after just 5-7 years. This is a concern as in other, more mature markets, homes over 100 years of age are very common, but the climate here is harsh and life expectancy of buildings are reduced as a result,” she added.
For those new in Dubai, experts list areas with oldest buildings but rule out that they are unsafe.
“Areas such as Deira Souk, Sikkat Al Khail, Shindagha, Hor Al Anz, Al Shaab, Ghusais and Karama have some of the oldest remaining properties. However, Dubai Municipality regularly checks all buildings in Dubai and will require an owner to repair, reinstate or renovate their properties should there be elements that are assessed to be unsafe, from the structure and items stored in emergency stairwells all the way down to depth markings for swimming pools. If a larger, long-term commitment is being made, such as for a commercial or industrial property, then a company could be considered to provide a technical assessment of the building fabric and features prior to making a decision,” added Stevens.