A newbie to the UAE and Dubai’s rental scene, UK expat Jamie Macneilage fell in love with the spacious one-bedroom apartment on the 14th floor of the then newly built Torch Tower the moment she viewed it, six and a half years ago.
The fact that it was a direct landlord lease with the annual rent broken down into 12 cheques was a bonus, as well as the building facilities and surrounding community. “I hadn’t given a thought to fire safety, although I did look at an apartment on the 70th floor and dismissed it as too high up in the event that I might need to exit the building by the stairs,” says Macneilage, a business owner and travel specialist with Travel Counsellors. “I also remember noticing the fire extinguisher under the sink, which seemed strange as I wasn’t used to seeing this in rental properties back in the UK.”
She says that residents were made aware of periodic fire alarm testing via notices in the building’s bank of elevators, with an online owner/tenant association forum for regular community news and building updates from management company, Kingfield Owner Association Management Services, and annual emergency equipment safety checks in place.
At the time of the first fire on February 21, 2015, Macneilage was on a trip to the UK. She says: “I had friends living on the sixth and 46th floors who were safely evacuated. My landlord, who lives overseas, contacted me by phone as soon as he heard about the fire to see what he could do and the building management company was also very active.
“I flew back the next day at midnight and was allowed back into my apartment. I had no idea whether the sprinklers had been activated or if there was smoke damage, but the fire started up on the 50th floor and my apartment was fine, so I was extremely lucky compared to those whose apartments were severely affected.”
Like so many people in Dubai, Macneilage didn’t have contents insurance. “When the Tamweel Tower fire happened in 2012 I got some quotes, but left it on the to-do list and forgot about it,” she says.
Financial compensation was not an issue for Macneilage, although the landlord froze the rent for the next year. The building’s pool, though, remains closed two years on reportedly due to safety issues with debris clearance; residents were given temporary pool memberships at Media One Hotel.
Macneilage wasn’t home when the second fire broke out on the 26th floor last August 4 at around 1am. She recounts: “I was out for dinner with clients and when I checked my phone I had around 30 missed calls, both from friends and the management company. I jumped in a taxi and tried to get to the building, but couldn’t get close, although I could see flames coming down on the side where my apartment is.”
“Had I been in the building when the fire alarm was triggered, I probably wouldn’t have paid too much attention at first. They go off ever so often and are usually false alarms, and of course no one expected another incident after 2015.”
Taken in by friends, Macneilage says the Kingfield team kept residents updated on the situation, and phased access was initially prioritised for residents with firm travel plans, as well as those who needed to retrieve vital medication.
She elaborates: “We were allowed back in small managed groups to pick up clothes and other essentials like laptops. We had to bring ID and were processed through a series of checks by the building management, police and civil defence before we were escorted to our apartments.
“There was no air conditioning and they had two manually operated elevators in use, but the electricity was still on in my apartment. We were allowed to return home 48 hours after the fire, but I chose to stay with friends for a couple of weeks until things got back to normal.”
A total of 38 apartments sustained damage in the second fire. Macneilage’s apartment was untouched, although a large piece of debris burned through laundry left out to dry on the balcony; and a neighbour on the same floor reported water damage from activated sprinklers.
The ramifications of the second fire prompted an obvious flurry of concerns on the tenants’ online forum, which she says were all promptly responded to by Kingfield. “Some residents were reporting that their landlords were trying to cash rental cheques early or make it difficult to exit their tenancy contracts. There was a constant stream of useful communication from the management company, which posted a step-by-step guide on how to proceed with a contract cancellation, among other things, and that was really helpful. The building team on the ground also worked tirelessly in the early days; they really went above and beyond.”
Macneilage’s own landlord was more accommodating, offering a reduced rent if she decided to stay.
“I think if there had been damage to my apartment or if people had been injured or worse, then it would be a different story,” she says. “From a safety perspective, I still feel that the building is well managed, is structurally sound, and during both incidents the building team, as well as civil defence, really knew what they were doing.
“It was also the great follow-up that made a real difference. Right down to civil defence leaving cards on people’s doors saying ‘welcome home’.”
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