JLT Tamweel Tower blaze impact: Who will be burnt more - tenants or landlords?

Within a period of a little over eight months, the building is expected to be liveable again. (Majorie van Leijen)

Now that most residents affected by the Tamweel Tower fire in JLT have relocated and retained some of their personal belongings, they are ready to look at what is next.

Although both tenants and landlords are victims of the blaze, the responsibilities of and the damage suffered are not the same and in some cases contradict each other.

A meeting is scheduled by the Interim Owners Association (IOA) of Tamweel Tower this Sunday. According to master and sub developer the balls lie with the IOA; answers about what is next should come from the owners.

But tenants feel that there is nobody to turn to. A group of 20-30 tenants has decided to arm up and look for legal counseling. "We came together yesterday and were all just standing there. We do not know what to do or whom to talk to," tells MS, a tenant who lived on the 27th floor of the tower.

One of the biggest worries tenants currently have is their tenancy contract. While some have issued post-dated cheques to their landlords, others have paid their rent a year in advance. In both cases the question arises if this is money lost.

"I am worried that we as tenants will have to continue paying the rent, while the landlord might be able to cover the financial damage with an insurance policy. This might become a big cry for tenants," says MS.

But according to Robert Pacella, chairman of one of JBR's Owners Associations, the picture might not look that grey for tenants.

"If an apartment is damaged and cannot be used due to this damage, it's unlikely that the landlord is able to claim the full benefit of rent without offering suitable compensation for the loss of access to the property pursuant to the tenancy agreement which he or she has with the tenant," he explains.

Meanwhile, the landlord draws the short straw. When the apartment was purchased with a mortgage, the landlord will have to continue paying for this mortgage until it is cleared, explains Robert.

"The landlord would still be responsible for the funding of his/her mortgage payments and in the event that he loses his right to claim the rent, he would still be responsible to pay for the loan.

"People may misunderstand the purpose of the insurance inherent in the home loan requirements that borrowers agree to when financing property. There is generally no insurance coverage which would cover the landlord's lost income in such cases."

Until now many tenants have found difficulty addressing the issue to their landlords. "We are very nervous as tenants, tells MS. "One of the residents has tried to contact his landlord, but the landlord has stopped answering his phone calls. We just need to know what to do. We need somebody to talk to."

Liability is another theme being discussed. Although the cause of the fire is still being investigated at this point, there are parts in the UAE federal law that point out the responsibilities of each party involved in a tenancy contract.

Law 26 of 2007, regulating the relationship between landlord and tenant in Dubai says the following:

(Article 16) "Landlord shall, during validity of the tenancy contract, be liable for undertaking maintenance of the property and shall rectify any defects or faults that affect tenant’s intended benefit from the property, unless the two parties agree otherwise.

(Article 17) Landlord shall not make any change in the property, its utilities or ancillaries affecting the intended benefit, and landlord shall be liable for such changes caused by him, or by any person authorized by him, and for any damages, faults or shortages caused to the property for reasons not relating to the tenant.

As some of the residents in the building have lost parts or the entire apartment in the fire, the outcome of the liability debate could be crucial to them.

"If I had caused a fire in my own house, it would be a different case. But this fire came from outside our apartments and it affected us. There should be somebody liable for the fire," says MS.

Tenancy matters which require some level of determination are often a matter for the tenancy tribunal to decide and this case might be one of those," comments Robert.

"Or it may be simply a matter for direct negotiations between landlord and tenant."

In fact, there are those who maintain a sympathetic relationship with regards of the recent drama. JB, a British tenant who lost his entire apartment on the 12th floor tells how he has the best landlord of the world. "He came forward himself and offered us all the money back within 4 days from now. We rent the place until July."

For now victims of the fire in Tamweel Tower are accommodated in several hotel apartments throughout Dubai. The accommodation is allocated for a month and covered by the insurance company of Tamweel upon reimbursement.

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