By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO
In the United States, most home ownerâ€™s associations have stringent rules for how members must maintain the outer appearance of their houses and even lawns. Members often incur fines and sometimes the wrath of their fellow neighbors for having unkempt lawns or yards full of discarded junk. For this reason, the typical homeowner in America spends a great deal of time manicuring his lawn to perfection.
Just a stoneâ€™s throw away, in the Middle East, the majority of homeowners participate in a similar ritual. Houses in the region feature immaculately groomed and grassy front yards. In addition, most homes also have an ornate garden filled with desert shrubs and fruit-bearing date palm trees. Neighbors often compete with one another over whose dates are the sweetest and plumpest.
For members of the expatriate community, life is drastically different. The majority of the foreign populace in the Middle East cannot afford to buy luxury homes while others, such as ones residing in Kuwait, are legally barred from buying real estate. Expatriates have little recourse but to rent apartments which are often small despite the hefty monthly rental fee. Due to the lack of space, many expatriates utilize the extra space that terraces and balconies provide.
It is not unusual to find a balcony completely covered in plywood. The space is then transformed into a spare room or even a home office. For others, the balcony serves as a private home garden with large soil filled pots serving as the â€œlandâ€. Thanks to the consistent amount of sunlight in the Middle East, it is very easy to grow tomatoes and herbs right on the balcony. A balcony is also very functional in that it provides space to store unused items and most are fitted with a clothes line perfect for hanging out the wash.
Freedom of balcony usage is typically left in the hands of the tenant and is not mandated by the government. However, in one tiny Gulf municipality, balcony usage has come under fire. In Sharjah, which is a municipality of the United Arab Emirates, authorities are cracking down on tenants with messy balconies. According to the recent balcony laws, tenants are no longer allowed to hang laundry from the balcony, attach a television satellite anywhere on it and storing junk is strictly forbidden. Anyone touting the balcony laws will be fined $68 and paying the initial fine late results in an increased fine of $136.
Sharjah authorities have also launched an all-encompassing media campaign to inform the public about proper balcony maintenance. Leaflets in various languages, including Arabic, are regularly left on the doorsteps of tenants all over the region. The laws are currently being enforced by a special balcony task force that visits neighborhoods and hands out fines for offensive balconies. There is also a special hotline that residents can call to ask questions and report violators.