The burnt-out Tamweel Tower at Jumeirah Lakes Towers. Repair costs have now shot up to Dh78 million from Dh50 million. Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News Archives & Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: Nearly two years after a massive fire engulfed Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, owners’ homes gutted in the fire remain in ashes.

A fire partially gutted the mixed-used tower on November 18, 2012, rendering hundreds of families homeless. Investigations revealed that a discarded cigarette butt that fell on a pile of waste sparked the fire.

Some owners vented their frustration in the “slow restoration process”. When asked if they would do it all over again, they said they’d rethink buying property at the 34-storey tower until safeguards are put in place to protect property investors.

“We thought that maybe because the building’s facing Shaikh Zayed Road and it’s very visible to residents and tourists and gives a bad image of the city, the tower would get repaired right away,” Niloofar Patel, owner of a three-bedroom flat on the 33rd floor that was completely burnt, told Gulf News.

“It’s not worth owning freehold property in a tower like this if something of this kind happens again. It’s really a problem. I won’t suggest it to anyone,” the Indian expatriate said.

The family has been renting a villa costing Dh225,000 a year since being displaced by the fire. “They try to give hope but it’s a hopeless situation.”

For other owners, the uncertainty as to when or whether the tower will finally be restored is the main concern.

“Now it’s quite upsetting because it’s been two years since the fire. There’s no conclusive step, no certainty. It’s a big investment of Dh2 million,” said Nehal Mehta, whose three-bedroom apartment next to the Patels was also gutted.

“I had to sell my other investments. I got an opportunity to invest in India. I am slightly worried about such things happening again. It’s a good learning experience,” he added.

Maqsood Shaikh, another owner, told Gulf News via email that it is understandable that the building cannot be inhabited now for safety reasons as per Civil Defence and Dubai Municipality requirements. But for it to remain unrepaired for two years is what puzzles him.

“It is now completing two years since the fire and not one tool has been lifted to repair Tamweel Tower. By this time, we could have built a new tower,” Shaikh said.

Though Shaikh is pleased with how “the UAE and the Dubai government‎are moving quickly towards making their business processes simple and transparent”, he said in the future he would “ensure adequate safeguards are in place to protect my investment” first by obtaining insurance coverage from a “reliable and trusted insurance provider”.

Shaikh said the 160 odd owners of Tamweel Tower and residents have had to face emotional and financial losses running into millions of dirhams.

Accounts of flat owners who took their loan from finance company Tamweel were frozen after the fire to help the owners. A spokesperson from Tamweel told Gulf News the order to freeze the accounts has not been lifted yet.

“Following the fire, as a goodwill gesture, Tamweel went to great lengths to support home owners, including suspending the collection of monthly instalments for customers whose homes in Tamweel Tower were financed by the company. In fact, we are still not charging owners for these payments,” the spokesperson said.

He added that since Tamweel is only a part-owner and a board member, all decisions regarding the restoration of the tower are made by the Owners Association, which they fully support.

In April, the Tamweel Tower Owners Association (OA) told Gulf News that the tower was ready for restoration after securing the go-ahead from the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (Rera) to open an escrow account under its name. This, in effect, legalises the operation of the OA and enables it to award contracts.

But no contract has been awarded since. Gulf News contacted the OA for an official comment but was told that the association could not issue a response at the time of going to press as it is waiting for critical meetings to take place before doing so.

According to one of the owners, the only hindrance right now is the release of the needed funds to repair the building.

When contacted, Arab Orient Insurance, the insurer of Tamweel Tower, denied the claim, saying the technicalities in the issue caused the delay.

“For two years, we did not know who we can deal with in order to process the claim. Tamweel was not prepared to get involved in the claim although the policy has been issued under their name and instructions,” an official from Arab Orient Insurance told Gulf News via email.

Even though Rera has approved the OA as a legal entity, Arab Orient Insurance said it still needs a formal authorisation from individual owners to appoint the association as the owners’ legal representative before it.

Also, the repair cost initially pegged at Dh50 million in July has now increased to Dh78 million. They have since appointed a new loss adjuster to look into the matter, the official said.

One owner said the seemingly unending process is going round in circles. The lack of clear guidelines and a set timeline for an insurance application to be completed and the absence of a simple and cost-effective way to appeal any delay or to seek compensation are compounding the problem, he said.