Property sharks circle Beirut after port explosion

BEIRUT: Ever since a monster blast ravaged the arches and high ceiling of his family home in Lebanon’s capital, Bassam Bassila says a real
estate developer has been hounding him to sell.
“The owner of a tower block nearby is trying to pressure me into selling him my home so he can raze it to the ground” and “build a tall tower” instead, the 68-year-old said in Beirut’s Monot neighbourhood.
A massive explosion at the Beirut port on August 4 that many blame on official negligence killed more than 180 people, wounded thousands and laid waste to some of the capital’s most picturesque streets.
With survivors still picking through the rubble, property sharks are moving in to take advantage of distraught homeowners, sparking outrage over yet another disaster in the making, this time targeting the country’s heritage.
Standing inside his living room turned balcony after the wall separating them was blown off, Bassila said the developer had first approached him some time before the blast, offering to buy his apartment after acquiring the ground floor of the same building.
“Eventually you will leave,” the developer threatened at the time.
And now he is back, ramping up pressure on Bassila to sell the home he inherited from his grandparents by refusing to prop up the ceiling of the flat below — meaning Bassila’s apartment could collapse.
A former photographer now eking out a living as a taxi driver, Bassila says he cannot afford to restore his family home without financial aid. But he is also determined not to give it up. “I was born in this house and my father was before me… I can’t live anywhere else.”

‘REAL ESTATE VULTURES’
Of 576 heritage buildings surveyed in the wake of the explosion, including 331 in the port’s immediate vicinity, the culture ministry says 86 were severely damaged.
Of those, 44 risk complete collapse, while a further 41 could partially fall down.
In the days after the explosion, Bishara Ghulam, the mayor of the Rmeil district near the port, said he received an unexpected visitor among those flocking to his office to report damage to their homes.
“A man turned up who said he was a real estate broker. He said he wanted to buy houses damaged in the blast, and would pay whatever the owners wanted,” Ghulam said. — AFP