By Sarah Townsend
Building owners could be liable for costly upgrades in wake of Address Downtown fire, says Dubai Civil Defence chief
Dubai Civil Defence (DCD) is to conduct a major review of all buildings in the UAE to establish the fire safety risk each poses, its director of preventive safety has announced.
Building owners across the emirates are to be notified in the coming days of the substantial project to be undertaken by DCD.
Property owners could be forced to pay millions of dirhams to fireproof their properties as a result of the tough new action taken by Dubai authorities in the aftermath of The Address Downtown hotel fire on New Year’s Eve.
The survey will aim to identify which buildings pose an unacceptable level of risk to public safety. DCD will then work with stakeholders to draw up plans for upgrading those buildings.
Lt. Col. Jamal Ahmed Ibrahim, director of preventive safety at DCD, told reporters on Tuesday the survey would oblige some building owners to invest in fireproofing their properties, but that the DCD would seek to propose the most cost-effective solutions.
He said: “We are doing a survey now for all buildings in the UAE – not just in Dubai – and will [compile] a report. If any building [poses] some issue, we will put forward a solution. Of course, different buildings require different solutions; one solution will not suit all.
“The law is very clear – the owner has responsibility for his building. This means that if after the survey any building is found to have some issue, the owner will have to replace [parts] and work with a lot of companies to deliver the necessary work.
“In some cases, the whole façade will need to be changed and that will be a high cost for the owner. We need to study a lot of solutions, the market also, to make the best suggestion.”
The blaze erupted at the Address Downtown hotel opposite the Burj Khalifa on December 31 and spread quickly up the exterior of the building. There were no reported casualties, but 16 people were said to sustain minor injuries.
The authorities are still investigating the cause, with a report due before the end of the month. Property owner Emaar has insisted it adheres to all fire safety standards and that its systems are regularly tested by third-party entities.
In the week since the fire, experts have observed that hundreds of buildings in the UAE are clad in panels made of aluminium composite – a highly flammable material that is no longer permitted in new buildings in the UAE.
However, an estimated 60 percent of older buildings in the country are still clad in the material and that goes some way towards explaining the spate of dramatic façade fires that have made local headlines in recent months, some experts allege.
Col. Ibrahim insisted that such claims were untrue but admitted “the cladding issue” could affect up to 20 percent of buildings in the UAE.
“The [current code] includes all the European fire and safety industry standards, [specifically, regulations named A48], but there was a small gap between DCD’s issuance of these regulations, and the construction of that building [the Address Downtown],” he said.
He added that the DCD’s survey will evaluate all buildings in the country, not just those clad in aluminium composite.
“We are reviewing every building in the UAE and not just the external façade; we are doing the inside too. Fire-fighting is about more than cladding – you have to make sure people can leave the building.”
Meanwhile, the UAE’s fire safety code, last updated in 2011, is to be reissued in March with new requirements for property developers to appoint a dedicated fire safety consultant to oversee all stages of design and construction.
Under the new rules, the consultant must be retained for a minimum of one year after the building has been completed, Col. Ibrahim said.
“The UAE is a young country but its fire safety code is one of the most advanced as it incorporates best practices and rules from all across the world,” he added.
It is mandatory that every subcontractor who participated in the fire protection issue prior handing over the project to client should be considered in maintaining minimum 3 years maintenance of fireproofing installations and Civil Defence authorities should rein spect the building every time landlord or tenants do modifications to their properties. The maintenance for any modification should be part of the 3 years maintenance contract after handing over.
This is a welcome development and the Civil Defence authorities need to be applauded for taking on such an enormous, but essential task. If a building was old and unsafe it would be condemned to be pulled down. Then why should buildings with fire prone aluminium/composite cladding be allowed to continue to pose risks to the occupants ?
The Civil Defence authorities need to take more decisive action against landlords who jeopardise the life and property of tenants by flouting safety rules. The automatic fire pump in our 10 warehouse complex has not been working for many years but for some reason strong action is not being taken against the landlord inspite of several written complaints to the Rent committee and Civil Defence authorities.
In my view to more like 90% of the building in Dubai marina.I witness the Tamweel Tower Fire, and the Torch Tower Fire, I own an Apartment there, and I have a Piece of the Aluminium from the fire, and it has a Tar like Substance on the Reverse, (Sorry I am not Technical)
I am on the Board of our IHOA in our Development, I saw the Ali Panels being Installed, they clearly stated, that the where 1st class Fire Retardant, and at the time that was the code, we have a Sinking Fund, and have just renewed our Cooling Towers, and next is the Ducting and Exhaust system above the Restaurant, we have not got any more Money left, we need help to Finance this, as it will cost many Millions of Dirhams, of course it must be seen as a Priority, perhaps the Cost or part of the cost can be Borne by the DCD/Government, as I said it was the Code at the Time, if you change that Code, then perhaps a Helping Hand,(in the Form of a Grant or Subsidy) to Achieve a more safer uilding, that would be most Welcome.
You can not expect the government of a tax-free place to pick up the tab for this. It is simply not realistic.
Potential buyers should consider that property is essentially a long-term game and consider what are the potential liabilities and downsides. Not a new message, maybe now people will listen more carefully.
The housing tax added to DEWA bills and 4% levied on every property sale feel awfully like tax to me. If DLD figures are correct the total value of real estate deals in 2015 was USD 72bn - assuming half these deals were subject to the 4% transfer fees that's a potential USD 1.44bn of tax.
I imagine that the same species of fascia cladding products was used in all buildings either completed by or ongoing developments as of 2010, as well as many reinstated projects beyond that date. Any shift in the type of fascia material deployed was probably triggered by the high profile fires where cladding proved the catalyst for the blaze spreading up multiple floors.
They used combined glass, aluminium and steel panels on the Burj Khalifa for example, which I assume were of a very high fire proof specification, although I'm not sure it was published anywhere to my knowledge.
However, many other buildings in the city went for a cheaper option I'm sure. Given the number of incendiary incidents racking up, it's about time the tougher measures and safety standards were imposed including mandatory full retro-fit safety standards.
Although I doubt given the current economic conditions that most developers or tenants associations/building management contractors can afford to do so.
BTW I think the problem with the cladding is the percentage of magnesium in many of the cladding used recently, at least that is what I got from some people doing risk assessment for insurance companies. And yes the only solution is to remove and replace, far more expensive that using the proper materials from the beginning.
AFAIK quite a few buildings use a cladding with a higher proportion of magnesium that while being cheaper has proven to be risky. This was well known at the time as quite a few friends in the industry shared this with me, and it was in fact one of the (many) reasons I never considered property in the UAE. The main one being legal framework.
So, while tougher regulations are the right thing to do, the timing as you point could probably not be worst. It should also be a concern that owners may face this kind of costs with no recourse.
Oh well, short term savings that turned into long term burdens, who could have imagined.