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ISLAMABAD: The number of illegal guest houses in residential sectors has increased, according to sources in the Capital Development Authority (CDA).

“Delayed and selective action by the civic authority has emboldened even those guest houses who had shut down their illegal businesses out of fear of court orders to stop the nonconforming use of residential buildings,” a source in the CDA said.

The Supreme Court ordered an end to business activity in residential properties two years ago, after which the CDA closed down nearly a thousand businesses, including clinics, media houses, offices and guest houses.

According to the source, the authority’s Building Control Directorate has continued its leniency towards the owners of guest houses operating in the city.

“In the past, operations against guest houses were haphazard. The CDA selectively shut some in various sectors, but not across the board,” he said.

Guest house owners have challenged the court’s order to shut down their businesses, arguing that since they only provide bed and breakfast services they are not violating the law as such.

Tensions also escalated between CDA teams and guest houses’ owners during the few operations earlier this year.

CDA Building Control Director Faisal Naeem did not know the exact number of illegal guest houses operating in the city’s residential sectors. He said: “The number of guest houses may not have increased as such, but we know that there are still more than a hundred functional in residential sectors.”

When asked why the CDA had been lenient with regards to shutting down guest houses despite orders from the SC to end commercial activity in residential buildings, Mr Naeem said a fresh survey has been initiated to confirm the number of operational guest houses.

“The survey will be completed within next week. We will discuss the matter with our legal advisers before launching a fresh operation against the nonconforming use of residential buildings,” he said, adding: “There will be no selective action this time. The operation will be conducted across the board.”

CDA Member Planning Asad Kayani told Dawn action against the nonconforming use of properties is a constant effort.

“Guest houses are not operating openly in residential areas and are now hidden. We often send in our teams to conduct operations against the illegal use of buildings in residential sectors, but it is often hard to find such businesses and they often return without much action,” he said, adding that the CDA is not taking action against girls’ hostels operating in residential sectors.

Drawing attention to the constant efforts against nonconforming property use and public spaces, Mr Kayani said despite harsh anti-encroachment operations in various markets, shopkeepers have again encroached upon sidewalks and building verandas.

“A survey is underway to conduct fresh operations against. Encroachments on the right of way of pedestrians and traffic cannot be ignored, despite immense resistance from market unions,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2017