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Dubai buildings to be given star ratings

DUBAI // A five-star rating system for buildings will improve maintenance and safety but it must be objective, in-depth and meet international standards to be effective, owners and experts said.

The Dubai Land Department announced this week that every building in the emirate would receive a rating based out of five. It was praised as a move towards transparency to protect owners and renters, but the plan also sparked a debate that a building’s current physical appearance was not the only indicator of future upkeep.

“How effective will the ratings be to help a building improve and are there enough people to manage the ratings and inspection?" asked Andrew D’costa, chairman of an owners’ association in the Silicon Oasis area.

Among the first set of homeowners boards to handle community finances, the association installed energy saving devices to lower utility bills and built indoor and outdoor children’s play areas. “Some buildings are more than 20 years old so a culture to protect property will give residents peace of mind. If the inspections give a fair analysis, it will be on the right track to put pressure on people to maintain buildings."

The Land Department has described the rating as part of a revamp of how buildings are classified. About 20,000 plots of land and more than 120,000 units – including apartments, offices, retail, schools, and public amenities – have already been surveyed to create a database of property.

Inspectors visit each building, take photos of common areas and complete an exhaustive questionnaire covering fire safety, maintenance and sustainability.

More details on the ratings would be provided, the Land Department said.

“I think the rating system is genius because people understand the star rating from hotels and restaurants. For this region to grow we require transparency to drive confidence. Even if you improve one building, we are in a better situation than we were yesterday," said Allen Gantt, managing director of Star Property Inspection.

The company was part of a team that worked with the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Rera) to standardise audits on the condition of buildings. Rera is the regulatory arm of the Dubai Land Department.

“There will be push back, with people asking why this is needed, but I believe this is the proper path forward," Mr Gantt said.

“We have buildings that are worth 50 times more than the most expensive vehicle in the world but are not maintained the right way, so inspections are key.

“Going forward there must be some level of consistency in managing a high-rise."

There are concerns about how much time will be spent by inspectors on each building, their qualifications and whether budgets for future repairs were covered in the survey.

“You cannot sample a building, quality cannot be determined on a few sample floors, a building must be inspected from head to toe," said Shahram Safai, a partner at Afridi & Angell legal consultants, who advises on real estate law and disputes.

“It is a forward-looking initiative but it’s very important to make sure the time devoted to each inspection is sufficient.

“A report on the physical health misses out 50 per cent of the equation, which is the maintenance budget and what is planned to keep a five-star building at that rating so it will not deteriorate.

“There are real concerns, based on feedback from clients, that when the inspector goes out from the Land Department, the implementation must be up to international best practices.

“We should not have a watered-down version."

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