The Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning has announced imposition of fines for illegal partitioning of villas and apartments.
The fines range from QR250 to QR500 for every square metre and QR200 to QR400 for every linear metre. In addition, the building or flat will have to be restored to its original condition.
The ministry emphasised in its announcement that partitioning of villas and apartments is a violation of law No. 4/1985, which regulates buildings and bans any change to the parameters of any real estate.
The ministry made the announcement on the grounds of safety and health, and also because partitioning puts excessive burden on electricity and water supply, sewerage, and parking spaces.
I support the idea of not using any building for purposes other than those it is designed for. At the same time, we have to ask ourselves why people have been forced to live in partitioned and crowded houses.
I visited a partitioned villa in New Salata and found that it had been divided into five residential units, each occupied by a family.
When I spoke to the tenants, I came to know that they were living in that villa because they could not afford to rent independent houses.
One of the tenants told me that he had rented an apartment in a well-known compound outside Doha at a reasonable price, but he and other tenants soon realised that the low rents were only meant to attract tenants. After a year, the lessor raised the rents, and many had to leave the compound and look for other places to live.
Later, I went to Muaither, where I found that most residents were families who could not afford the high rents of apartments, and so were forced to live in partitioned villas and overcrowded buildings.
Some of them stressed the fact that they had not done the partitioning for financial profit, but to find suitable and reasonably priced accommodation for themselves and their friends and colleagues.
I also found that such villas lack necessary safety features, such as emergency exits. Most of the materials used to partition the villas are flammable, which poses a threat to the residents, and they do not meet any safety standards.
In my opinion, the ministry is responsible for the phenomenon of partitioning of flats and villas into residential units for expatriate families.
For redeveloping Doha, the ministry demolished densely populated areas without finding suitable alternatives for those who lost their homes. The ministry did not even grant them land to build additional residential units, and this led to an increase in rents because of the high demand and limited number of residential units.
The demolition is also linked to a dramatic increase in land prices in Doha, which contributed to a rise in rents for residential units which expats earning not more than QR10,000 a month cannot afford.
On top of that, the ministry is trying hard, with the help of its engineers, to deny licences to any building with a design that allows partitioning into smaller housing units.
For the sake of the safety of the population, the ministry has to allow partitioning villas and houses only according to specific conditions. It also has to form committees to supervise the partitioning of these buildings and the provision of electricity and water, and to check if they meet the required standards.
The ministry’s claim that the owner of the partitioned building is responsible for violation of the law is not true. Article No. 1 of law No. 4/1958 on buildings and law No. 8/2014, which amended law No. 4/1985, make this clear.
The above mentioned article says that, “The construction of buildings, start of works, extension, raising the height, support, demolition or maintenance of building, a change in the characteristics of a property through excavation, filling or levelling, or the undertaking of any work such as provision of services or painting of buildings, shall not be undertaken without first obtaining the necessary permit from the competent municipality”.
The article does not ban partitioning of a building inside or specify the number of families that can share a housing unit. The article is all about construction and major changes in the building and its features, therefore the whole focus of the article is on the exterior of the building and not the interiors. Even what is known as a list of 28, which regulates the ministerial decision, did not clearly mention portioning of buildings inside.
Middle-class and low-income expatriates would be the most affected by this decision. On the other hand, the owners of vacant properties have tried to profit from it by increasing rents by an average of QR1,000 immediately after the announcement of the crackdown on partitioning of villas.
It is had to fathom why the ministry has chosen this time to implement this law. It has not taken into consideration the fact that children in the affected families are busy with their school examinations, and many of the families are preparing to go abroad on vacation.
Why did the ministry take such an inhumane decision, which includes imposition of fines, eviction and making people suffer due to lack of alternative accommodation at suitable prices?
In conclusion, I would like to say that the ministry should have provided alternatives before implementing this law. It should have coordinated with major real estate companies to build affordable houses for low-income citizens and expatriates.