Dubai Marina tower hit by double fire now tackles illegal tenants

An 81-storey tower in Dubai Marina that has been ravaged by two major fires in 10 years is now plagued by illegal tenants living in multi-occupancy apartments.

A new management company brought in to tackle a catalog of concerns reported by residents of Sulafa Tower said The National he was forced to make major changes to building access and security, and he also evicted hundreds of unregistered tenants.

Saga International was hired to manage the building in January 2021 and has started making improvements, including employing a new security team.

fire safety

One of these improvements included improving fire safety planning and cladding replacementwhich often causes fires to spread over a wider area in high-rise towers.

The first fire was in an apartment on the 36th floor in 2012 and another fire occurred four years laterleading to complete evacuation.

“Even though there was a fire in 2016, it was clear that the fire systems were still not working as they should,” said Samer Ganni, of Saga International Owner Association Management Services.

The fire safety situation was made worse by the presence of unregistered residents who had converted single-family apartments into multi-unit residences.

“The master plan says it should be family residential apartments – what some are doing is using them as work camps,” Mr Ganni said.

“By law each room must have a maximum of two beds, but some have 12 bunk beds in each room and 24 people live there – others have been partitioned off to create additional bedrooms.

“When people don’t register, it’s hard to know exactly how many people live there – around 80 apartments are multi-occupancy.

“It’s been a big problem at Sulafa Tower – we want to stop sharing.”

Make improvements

The building now has a high-tech facial recognition system and a QR code security system which costs around Dh800,000 to install.

A QR code refreshes itself every 30 seconds to prevent people from taking screenshots and sharing them with non-residents.

A license plate recognition system provides exclusive parking access, and while some said there were issues with the system, Saga said they had been resolved.

Other issues currently facing Saga International include repairing the fresh air handling unit, which was recirculating dirty air and causing bad odors in the building. The waste disposal chutes were also regularly clogged.

Poor electrical wiring and broken security cameras were other major issues, while the cradle needed to access the building in an emergency did not work.

Short term rentals

About 55 apartments in the Sulafa Tower are rented out on a short-term basis, Mr Ganni said, a sign of a growing Airbnb market.

“When I took over this tower, I received it with only 500,000 Dh in account – the annual budget of the Sulafa tower is around 15 million Dh, so it was a bankrupt building”, a- he declared.

“When we introduced the new entry system, at least 200 people were denied access because they were living illegally.”

In some cases, those who legally lived in the building made a profit by allowing others to use the facilities for a fee.

“Some tenants were allowing people from neighboring towers access to the gym and charging them for access,” he said.

“A new security company has taken over and we are monitoring more closely who comes and goes.

“This access control is the only way to bring the multiple occupancy situation that is causing so many problems under control.”

Recurring problems for residents

But longtime residents said some of the changes made it difficult to receive visitors or deliveries and caused problems for those entering or exiting the building.

Sulafa Tower resident Carla Julian saw firefighters bring birds, dogs and cats to safety.  She was at home when the fire broke out and quickly took her cat, Miss Bradshaw, outside.  Antonie Robertson / The National

Carla Julian has lived at Sulafa Tower for seven years and said restricted access often results in long waits for residents waiting to park.

“The license plate recognition system often fails and the security teams have no procedures to deal with outages or registration issues, so [they] require residents to park on the streets,” she said.

“Dubai Police are on site every day due to the changing and unmanaged parking system resulting in long queues around Dubai Marina.

“Visitors and residents are often harassed, challenged and questioned about the condominium at reception or in the elevators by security.

“There are several apartments with partitions, allowing crowding into the living rooms – these have been reported.

“Cockroaches are an ongoing problem.”

Residents said broken air conditioning systems leading to mold, poor fire and safety equipment and poorly maintained water treatment systems are still major issues.

Another resident, who lives in a shared penthouse but does not wish to be named, said the majority of the building had been affected by the heightened security.

“We have six people living in our apartment, but when someone moves out it’s very difficult to sign up a new tenant to use the gym or the parking lot,” he said.

“The system is done on paper, so it is very difficult to follow. It can be very difficult to receive deliveries or guests because security is now very strict.

Current prices in Sulafa Tower range from Dh65,000 for a one bedroom apartment to Dh125,000 for three bedrooms.

Updated: November 12, 2022, 06:54

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