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Friday, June 25, 2021

Single mother cautions Doha residents after A/C unit fire scorches home

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Days after escaping a fire in her Al Hilal flat caused by a malfunctioning air conditioning unit, a single mother is sharing her story in hopes that other Qatar residents take steps to keep themselves safe.

Speaking to Doha News, the 33-year-old resident, who asked not to be named, said she and her 20-month-old daughter had only moved into the housing – a partitioned villa – nine days before the fire.

The blaze broke out after she left for work and dropped her daughter off at nursery, she explained:

“I usually put the A/C on in the mornings before I leave for work and turn it off when I come back so that it’s not running 24/7. On Tuesday morning, I turned it on at 7am as usual, but by noon, I got a call saying that there was a fire at the house. A passerby saw flames and alerted my neighbor, who quickly called the fire department.

Thank God we weren’t at home at the time. I had been asking the landlord to switch out the AC since the second day we moved in, but he said no. It was giving us a lot of trouble. It looked old, and sometimes it wouldn’t start.”

When she returned home, she found her flat swarming with police and fire personnel. A wardrobe had been burned, and there was soot everywhere.

The flat before the fire.
The flat before the fire.

But when asked by the police if she wanted to open a case, the woman said she refused out of fear.

“The landlord threatened me and said that I was in trouble because it was my fault for leaving the A/C on. So when the police asked if I want to open the case, I said no. I also had to go down to the police station to file a report if I wanted a case, and I couldn’t do that when my house was like that and I had a baby to take care of,” she said.

The woman said she has attempted to reopen the case, but faces several obstacles.

For example, the landlord has since cleared the burned AC unit from the villa, and in the absence of the evidence, police officials have allegedly encouraged her to let the event slide.

Second A/C unit in the home.
Second A/C unit in the home.

She added that the landlord has stressed that the cost of fixing the AC and repainting the house was the tenant’s responsibility, and that if she had any other complaints or issues, she was free to vacate the premises.

“There’s another AC in the living room that’s very old. After the fire, I asked him to change it, but he refused and said that if I wanted it fixed, I would have to do it myself.

I don’t have the time or money for that. If I want to move out, I lose my deposit, month’s rent and other fees that I’ve paid, and that’s about QR12,500,” she said.

Finally, by living in partitioned housing, the woman could expose herself to legal liabilities by pursuing a police case. Though the practice is common among the expat population, partitioned villas in Doha violate local residential laws and pose numerous safety hazards.

Over the past year, the government has been attempting to crack down on these illegal homes, instituting stricter laws that increase penalties for landlords and stepping up enforcement.

Electrical fires

The resident is now appealing to the Doha community to ensure that their A/Cs are regularly serviced, especially during the summer months, and that landlords are made aware of any problems with the units.

Summer is a common time for electrical fires in Qatar, as more people rely on A/Cs to stay cool.

Elizabeth Soffe's crib
Elizabeth Soffe\’s crib

Last June, residents were horrified to hear the case of six-month-old Elizabeth Soffe, who suffered burns to 60 percent of her body following an A/C fire in her home.

According to Soffe’s family, the unit caught fire moments after the baby’s mother lay her down to rest in a cot placed beneath the A/C.

The mother said she heard the child crying and found her room engulfed in smoke, and the crib on fire.

According to friends of the family, Sinead Soffe grabbed her daughter and did her best to extinguish the flames, before running downstairs with the child and calling an ambulance.

At the time, Sinead encouraged residents to take better precautions.

“For now we would hope that each and every one of you insist your landlords check your electrics and install more smoke alarms. We had one in every bedroom, but it happened too fast – but it could save a life,” she wrote.

Safety tips

In an effort to curb the number of electrical fires during the summer, the Ministry of Interior typically releases a series of home safety tips, including:

  • Don’t run your A/C non-stop. Air conditioners in Qatar sometimes catch on fire because the constant swirling dust can settle over electrical components, which could cause an overload and generate excess heat, leading to fire.
  • Before going to bed, turn off air conditioners in parts of your home that you are not using. Unplug video game consoles and other non-essential electrical appliances.
  • Don’t overload an electrical socket by plugging in too many devices at once, or by plugging in high-voltage devices without the use of good electrical connectors.
  • Do not leave exhaust fans running continuously as it raises the temperature of the wires and can contribute to a fire.
  • Before going on vacation, turn off all nonessential electrical appliances, close all gas cylinders tightly and store them away from direct sunlight.
  • Close gas cylinders properly. Gas fires are considered one of the most dangerous types of fires. A pizza oven whose gas had been left on overnight is said to have caused last year’s restaurant blast that killed 11 people. Make sure your canisters are tightly closed and stored away from sunlight.

Thoughts?

27 COMMENTS

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Chilidog
Chilidog
6 years ago

In a follow up story in The Peninsula, police stated that they were glad the woman dropped the case. This would allow them to utilize all necessary resources to investigate most important aspect of the story, which is the possibility that the woman’s child was born out of wedlock.

A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago
Reply to  Chilidog

im flagging this for passing on false information about a police investigation and stereotyping local authorities..

Anonymouse
Anonymouse
6 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

Your proof that is false is what?

A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago
Reply to  Anonymouse

chilli made the claim so I would ask what’s his proof of the claim

Anonymouse
Anonymouse
6 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

Not the way the system works. You are alleging a crime, the burden is completely on you to prove your case.He or she doesn’t have to prove anything at all. However, given that the post was clearly tongue in cheek it seems academic.

A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago
Reply to  Anonymouse

Anon, you seem to be confused. The statement made by chilli was the police have dropped the case of investigating the fire and are now investigating the fact she’s a single mother.. I did not make that statement, what I said was in fact what your staying which is where is the proof that the police actually did drop one investigation for another, a claim which I did not make but for which I’ve asked what’s the proof

Chilidog
Chilidog
6 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr
Amber
Amber
6 years ago
Reply to  Chilidog

You do know people divorce right? Why do you assume her child was born out of wedlock?

Chilidog
Chilidog
6 years ago
Reply to  Amber

Absolutely. The job of single mother must be one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. I guess my sarcasm didn’t come through so well. I didn’t assume the kid was illegitimate, just pointed to the possibility that it could be scrutinized.

And there’s also a dash of cynicism in my comment based on my experience and the experience of friends. It seems to be of paramount importance in Qatar at hospitals to say “oh, you’re in labor, we’ll get to that in a minute, but first let’s verify the legitimacy of the baby. Got enough documentation to do that before we let you any farther in the door?” So anecdotally, it seems to be more important to Qatar to make sure each birthing mother isn’t a mistress than it is to tackle the myriad of ways landlords in Doha can take advantage of tenants (and I know that this is diverging from the topic, but it was in fact highlighted in the article including the title that she is a single mom).

Zeit
Zeit
6 years ago
Reply to  Chilidog

Casting doubts on the lady without knowing her in an attempt to malign Qatari officials. Surely must be an over paid holier than thou western expat.

Chilidog
Chilidog
6 years ago
Reply to  Zeit

Sheesh. I almost finished the original post with #commentlikeanexpat but I figured the tongue in cheek sarcasm was so over the top that it would’ve been really easy to pick up. Fasting been rough for you so far?

ShabinaKhatri
ShabinaKhatri
6 years ago
Reply to  Chilidog

Deleting this thread for devolving.

The Reporter
The Reporter
6 years ago

I can’t imagine any tenancy where maintaining and repairing the AC is a tenant responsibility. The best thing she could have done was threaten the Landlord with taking it to the police because he would be the one who would be prosecuted for partitioning a villa and not the tenant that lived in it – assuming Qatar justice could see the logic in that. And a well maintained and functioning AC unit should run problem-free all day if needs be – the key is maintenance.

Simon
Simon
6 years ago
Reply to  The Reporter

“assuming Qatar justice could see the logic”.

Easy, easy. [a la David McCallum in ‘Colditz’].

Pete
Pete
6 years ago
Reply to  The Reporter

I used to live in a compound villa, owned by by a very very high up, former government minister and was required to not only maintain, but buy my own AC’s.

A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago
Reply to  Pete

Did ur property come without ac to begin with ? Some properties are rented “naked” and the tenant is required to install everything and is responsible for all damages.. In return for cheaper rent and less headache for the landlord .. But I’m assuming ur a western expat and you won’t opt for this option… Usually an option Arab expats who are here on a longer term would choose… What’s the compound name

KK
KK
6 years ago

Always the ‘threat’. Landlord: take your responsibility. By the way a partitioned villa; try to make some extra money I guess?

Ali
Ali
6 years ago

So her house caught fire because she was a single mother? What does her being a single mother have to do with the fire?

If they didn’t charge a lung and a kidney for rents in Doha, none of this would’ve happened. When are they going to learn to control the rent prices?

Yacine
Yacine
6 years ago
Reply to  Ali

Everyone is free to price their property the way they want. This is not something the government can intervene into.

Bajn
Bajn
6 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

It can. Even in ultra capitalist USA it does in some cities.

Ali
Ali
5 years ago
Reply to  Yacine

They actually can, there must be a real estate regulatory body in every country to put a cap on the prices and UAE does have that

A_qtr
A_qtr
6 years ago

living in a partitioned villa is against the law. it is against the law for both the landlord to partition a villa and for a tenet to live in a partitioned villa. to live in one basically means there is no lease agreement between both parties. th only lease is between the landlord and the actual villa owner, who usually turns a blind eye as a partition villa can bring in 25k to 30k in rent versus a single unit villa which can at best bring in 15k.

one of the main reason is the partitioned villas power distribution system isn’t designed to withhold 20 plus people living together and many times the tenet would do some of the rewiring themselves which lead to fires…

people must seek affordable housing even if it means living in wakra or al khor. or leave doha if it is deemed to expanse to live in or if the wage isn’t sufficient enough

Bajn
Bajn
6 years ago
Reply to  A_qtr

Wakra is not low rent by any means. It would match Manhattan rates and exploding ACs

Mitch Lawrence
Mitch Lawrence
5 years ago
Reply to  Bajn

The part about rent shows that you obviously have never been to Manhattan. It’s an easy analogy to try to make, but the general rents in Wakra do not come close to matching general rents in Manhattan. And are you actually saying that Wakra’s rents are not low compared to Doha?

RR
RR
6 years ago

It is unsafe to leave the air conditioning unit on (or any electrical appliance) when leaving the house.. its a major fire hazard.. and waste of electricity! And I dont see the logic of leaving it ON the whole day while no one is in the house ?!?!?!?!?!

Joe
Joe
6 years ago

This is outright shame that in this day and age authorities still turn a blind eye to a disaster like this.
Didn’t they see the miserable place already partitioned and the a/c condition when they came to extinguish the flames! They didn’t have to wait until the tenant file a case, it’s a matter of public security!

Mitch Lawrence
Mitch Lawrence
5 years ago

Exactly. Somehow the partitioned villa is the tenant’s fault. In practice, are newcomers expected to research real estate law to ensure that they are allowed to rent a property under consideration? If any kind of agent was involved, a newcomer would reasonably expect that the agent would not show “illegal” properties. Oh, wait…real estate agencies are completely unregulated in Qatar.

But the property owner would certainly be aware that partitioning a villa is illegal. But, hey, that’s okay! We’ll let that slide. The burden is on the foreign renter. Sounds about right.

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