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:


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.