The Achrafieh Building Collapse: An Observation

Meet Nasra. Named after her grandmother, Nasra is my grandfather’s niece. Coming from a Lebanese village in the North, your grandfather’s niece might as well be your aunt proper. Families are that close. Nasra also lived on the 7th floor in an Achrafieh building up until recently. The building in question is the one turned into rubbles in the following picture, taken a few hours ago:

(source)

Nasra had decided to leave her Achrafieh home because the building became filled with foreign nationalities that she wasn’t too keen on frequenting. However, recently, Nasra was faced with the news that her landlord has sold this Achrafieh building.

I am personally not a conspiracy theorist. But one can look at the building collapse in Achrafieh in one of two ways, both returning to the same conclusion which will be presented subsequently in this post.

1) The landlord didn’t want to pay his tenants in damages. So he managed to have the building collapse. After all, cracks couldn’t possibly have this building fall in the way pictures are describing it. Twitter user Layal, an architect, finds the whole collapse a bit fishy. As a medical student, concrete is nowhere near my specialty. So I cannot judge the physics of it all. But the idea cannot but cross your mind when you see the footage of the 7 story building having fallen like a cake taken out of the oven early, especially after news surfaced that the landlord had asked his tenants not to spend the night in the building. But where else would his tenants go? It’s not like everyone has a spare house in Beirut somewhere they can visit whenever in need.

2) The building was simply too old to function properly. The cracks were affecting the pillars or poles of the building, as engineer-to-be Twitter user Weam pointed out. According to Weam, cement ages. The fact that a building stands doesn’t mean an impeding failure is not inevitable. And this might have been the case here. The recent storm that overtook Lebanon for the past 7 days, bringing torrential amounts of rain, didn’t help the shaggy building either. A side-note here but if the recent storm helped a building collapse, then what can we expect from a serious earthquake that would hit the Lebanese capital? The answer is: a true catastrophe.

As a result of either 1 or 2, the building fell and families are now homeless, stranded. Injured people are being transferred to nearby hospitals. More than 20 people have died, including a 15 year old girl and 3 siblings who were trying to carry their sick father out of their apartment. 10 apartments were destroyed. It is truly a tragedy in the streets of Geitawi, the Achrafieh neighborhood where this is taking place as we speak/type/read.

Meanwhile, as people die under the rubble, you have a formidable amount of nosey Lebanese individuals wanting to appear on national TV. So they impede the work of medics and security individuals by their foolish, stupid faces, holding a phone to their ear and waving their hand so their equally silly families at home can see them on TV. Every time something of the sort happens, reasonable people start to call for those less reasonable to clear the scene. This is not the time to be sadistically intrusive. This is the time to take your uselessness back home and watch the proceedings on TV.

But I digress. 1 and 2 can be pointed back to one reason which caused them both: Lebanon’s old renting laws.

My name, as you know, is Elie and my grandparents have an apartment in Achrafieh, fairly close to where the building fell. My grandparents have been calling their apartment home for the past forty years. But as my grandparents pay a very insignificant amount of rent per year, the fact that the building they live in is literally falling apart or the fact that the ceiling of their apartment isn’t exactly in top shape suddenly become of second-rate importance. This house is not theirs. There will come a time where the family which owns the building they live in decides to sell it to some wealthy Lebanese or Arab businessman who decides to tear it down and replace it with a high-rise.

Meanwhile, the owners of my grandparents’ buildings are even more unlucky. Perhaps when their tenants first started renting, the amount they were paying per month was incredible. But as the years progressed and the Lebanese currency lost much of its value during the civil war, this amount became more and more insignificant. It reached a point where this person, who considers this building in Achrafieh, or any other part of Beirut and Lebanon for that matter, an investment, cannot make any significant amount of money from this investment. Why should he care about the state the building is in?

So in simple terms: the rental law in Lebanon is hurtful for both the tenant and the landlord. The former cannot really call the apartment his own and as such cannot really make it suitable for a 21st century lifestyle. With old electrical circuits and rusty plumbing, the buildings desperately need an overhaul. The landlord, having no room to make money from his building, simply lets it fall into disrepair and, sooner or later, the building will crumble like the one in Achrafieh did today.

If anything, this building collapse should be a wake up call to our politicians that the lives of the many Lebanese who live in these old, dying buildings are more important than the seats they wish to keep as elections cycle. Forty years later, Lebanon desperately needs a drastic overhaul of its landlord-tenant renting laws. Our dear politicians, however, vehemently stay away from discussing this law because no one wants the public opinion to say the law changed on their term. There’s no way the solution involves an immediate change between the old and new renting laws. No one would be able to afford rent in Achrafieh anymore. But a solution needs to be found as soon as possible.

You might say it wouldn’t be “fair” for the tenants, fair being not wanting them to pay higher. But let me tell you this. My Achrafieh home holds so many memories under its roof. I’d much rather pay extra for these memories to remain where they are, as they are, than to have the roof under which these memories were made fall on the heads on those included in the memories. I’d pay extra if it meant having a safe roof on top of my grandparents’ head. And after today, I think everyone would pay extra to have their loved ones kept safe.

Until then, my thoughts and prayers go the families of those affected in today’s building collapse.

39 thoughts on “The Achrafieh Building Collapse: An Observation

  1. I totally agree. The tenant laws should be amended, I’m surprised they haven’t been by now. Actually what am I saying, nothing Lebanese politicians do is for the well-being of the people, we’re practically an anarchy.. The government officials only care about their personal interests sadly! But if the tenant laws aren’t amended then at least let the municipalities be more diligent in safety measures: force landlords to fix the bldgs they own by threatening to expropriate or something.. This could benefit the politicians too (more things to steal!) just giving u ideas, if there are any stray gov officials out there reading this

    Reply
    • The solution is too messed up. But it is something that is highly important and needs to be considered. I should have a post soon to suggest a solution.
      But agree… it’s a mess. Sort of like a snowball rolling down a snowy hill. It keeps on growing and growing.

      Reply
  2. my dad’s cousin and his family are there: the mom and the son were miracously saved.. the dad’s fate still remains unknown.. Pray for them. My dad says they probably it was staged cuz even if there’s a crack , people would notice it in the building
    MAY GOD SAVE

    Reply
  3. This comment is to Sara, the old renters in this building of 7 floors were paying 25,000L.L. for a monthly rent for an apartment in Achrafieh! That’s $16.6 a month. The owner has invested all his money in this building to make a living, how can he make a living and make repairs off of that? You want to force the owner to repair or take it from him? Don’t worry, the old renters with that stupid old rent law have already done that for him, all old owners in Lebanon are owners on paper, effectively the old renters live and work in their properties for free, SHAME ON YOU.

    Reply
  4. I agree with this. The tenants have no control over their apartment. The landlords don’t give a sh*t about the state their building is in.
    And the cycle keeps going and going until something like this happens.

    Reply
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  6. I don’t agree that the man destroyed his own building. I heard his family was still inside.

    But everything else… spot on.

    Also, alla ykhallilak your grandparents.

    Reply
    • Hey Elie.

      Well, I mentioned the first scenario just because it’s viable somehow. Doesn’t mean it’s correct but it’s not exactly far-fetched either.

      Thank you for reading. Alla ykhallilak your family as well :)

      Reply
  7. Elie, I couldn’t agree more with what you wrote, we have an impending disaster awaiting us, as stated by you, and emphasized by Former Minister Ziad Baroud via his twitter account.
    So much responsibility we have, for such a helpless people.

    Reply
    • I didn’t see Ziad Baroud’s tweet (I actually don’t follow him :p). But I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. Most buildings in Lebanon, even the new ones, are not equipped for major disasters. If something like a huge earthquake happens, we’re royally screwed.

      Reply
  8. No matter what they do, there will be someone not happy with the solution.

    If they increase the rent, most renters won’t be able to pay the rent and remain homeless.
    If they make the landlords pay to remove old renters & by the help of the municipalities, a new house will be given to the renters with that amount. Then some landlords will complain and not want to be forced to pay the amount.

    and with all the above problems, we end up doing nothing! The old renters who want to stay safe will be obliged to renew their buildings or else they’ll be committing suicide.

    Reply
    • Well, I think laws do not, by definition, please everyone. Every law will have people that do not approve.

      In this situation, the tenants not willing to pay extra money to get a proper apartment need to ask themselves the question if they are willing to live in hazardous conditions and to expose their children to those conditions as well, as you said.

      The tenants, who make very little money off their buildings, wouldn’t want to pay anything. And again, after a new law is adopted, who would enforce them renovating their building?

      It’s a big mess. If you adopt the new law and force it on everyone, many won’t be able to pay. If you want the municipality to offer housing, where would those houses be? Achrafieh (and the rest of Beirut) is a concrete mess as it is.

      Reply
    • To Mr. Hasserjian, your statement is incorrect. Mr. Fares is talking about the OLD RENT LAW. According to the Dailystar the renters living in the doomed building were paying 25,000L.L or $16 a month for an apartment. You said “If they increase the rent, most renters won’t be able to pay the rent and remain homeless.” Most renters in Lebanon are NE RENTERS and are NOT affected by the old rent law, while 20% of renters are old renters and most are paying RIDICULOUS amounts for rent. If you are going to pay 16$ for a place to live do you expect luxury? If you buy a car for 40$, do you expect it to be safe?

      Reply
  9. Did your grandparents die ? Listen I’m sorry if the question hurts but every boddy is going to die. Stay strong.The tenant laws should be amended. I totaly agree. Well the only thing to say is may them Rest In Peace

    Reply
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  11. This is a very sad event. Landlords due to a law against the constitution receive symbolic rents that aren’t enough to feed a pet, they cannot afford personal health insurance so how can we expect them to keep a building in good shape. In the absence of a housing strategy old landlords have taken all this burden on their shoulder for decades. Without going into all the details here is one example. Do you know that when tenants pay 500 $ in yearly rent for a building worth 1 million, just the inheritance fees for the owner’s children are 12% of the value of the building which is about 120000, the equivalent of 240 years of old rent! Something really absurd, which forces many owners to say. This old rent law has many other consequences in terms of loss of heritage, increasing prices of land and rent (to new tenants)… I hope this little message can help. In general politicians only care of being re-elected putting all the burden on the population. The case of Fassouh was another example of the selfishness of our MPs. Our prayers go to all the victims and we wish the survivors a rapid recovery.

    Reply
    • Interesting. I didn’t know that. But as I said, the law is unfair to both the tenants and the landlords and it needs to be changed as soon as possible. While i think the whole “can’t buy health insurance” thing doesn’t apply to all old-rent landlords in Achrafieh, I agree with your point that them not making enough money from their building doesn’t warrant them to look after it.
      Interesting tidbits regarding the inheritance stuff.

      Reply
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