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Tenants' Rights: Is the Landlord Friend or Foe?

By Sara Taher

Published: Sunday, April 01, 2012    



The UAE has attracted a fair share of expatriates with its thriving career opportunities and stable growth. Part of the experience of relocating here includes finding a place to call your abode, and for many who have made the UAE their home, changing apartments is quite common. Unfortunately, so too are the gripes about unfair treatment, shady agreements and unfulfilled promises. Although there are official channels for tenants to protect themselves, the sad reality is that it is still a landlords' market.

Having just moved apartments, I got to witness firsthand some of the atrocities that can be committed. My security deposit was held ransom and scheduling a meeting with my landlord suddenly became impossible. My story is not unique; I have heard the same tales of woe, albeit in different shades, from friends and acquaintances. The way I finally solved my issues was to lawyer up and use the law to its fullest extent to protect my rights. Unfortunately, many tenants put up with a lot of injustice simply out of ignorance or frustration.

Marcus Khoury, a lawyer working in Abu Dhabi, has some pertinent advice to share with all tenants. Two of the biggest mistakes that people make is relying on verbal agreements, and not thoroughly studying the contracts they sign. "It cannot be stressed enough: never sign a document you haven't examined thoroughly and insist on having an original copy for yourself," says Marcus. Often, there will be only one original contract, which remains with the landlord. However, you are fully within your legal bounds to insist on an original copy for yourself.

Another common oversight concerns the notification period for leaving a residence. Often, a landlord or agent will tell the tenant that they can vacate a residence at any time and get reimbursed for the months they don't occupy the flat. In reality, however, the contract usually stipulates something different. Many tenants are shocked when they try to leave early and are blatantly refused services or reimbursements. All contracts have a clause for the proper notification period, and this should be understood fully before signing. Sadly, many landlords will try to convince you that they are flexible and that you need not worry about this issue. But if you don't have it in writing, it's just a selling tactic.

In 2010, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, and Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Judiciary Department, issued an ordinance to set up committees to help solve disputes between tenants and landlords. An article published in Gulf News on April 4, 2010, stated that, "The resolution has mandated the committees to swiftly settle disputes between landlords and tenants, as well as to look into temporary procedures sought by any of the parties in the tenancy contract."

Currently, residents in the emirate of Abu Dhabi can take their complaints to these Rental Dispute Committees, where issues can be resolved informally and without the need of lawyers.

While there certainly are many horror stories out there, the situation is not hopeless. Aside from the legal leg you have to stand on, it is also advisable to do extensive research before signing an agreement. Ask around about the person you are renting from. You can even ask other tenants about their relationship with said landlord. There are many websites, such as www.abudhabiwoman.com, set up by expats that offer very helpful advice about such matters. Being thorough is essential for protecting yourself.

While many will agree that the system in place today might favor the landlords, there are several avenues for ensuring your rights are protected. Research and advice from friends and professionals are essential before entering into any binding agreement. Being proactive enables you to find a suitable place, instead of having to suffer through a residence while being bound by unfair clauses. Armed with the right information, you can ensure that your move is as painless as possible.
 
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