Being treated unfairly by your landlord?

How to deal with property rental disputes in Dubai

The Knowledge

With an estimated 70 percent of the population renting their accommodation rather than owning, the Dubai Rental Disputes Settlement Centre can help, whatever your dispute. Jenny Hewett speaks to residents who have taken their matter through the system and won.

In a city where so many people rent instead of owning their homes, extreme annual increases are frequently a hot topic. In December last year, the Dubai government announced that it was introducing new laws that would give landlords the right to increase rents by up to 20 percent if the price currently being paid was significantly below the rental index of the area. According to figures from property firm CB Richard Ellis, average rental rates in Dubai have increased by 17 percent since 2012. There is often a lack of knowledge among many renters of their rights, but these three case studies should shed some light on how to take your dispute to the Dubai’s Land Department’s Rental Dispute Settlement Centre, and perhaps even win.

Out of the blue, my landlord told me he wanted me to move out because his son needed to move into the apartment. When I offered to pay 30 percent more rent, he agreed to continue renting the apartment to me. Under RERA laws the landlord can terminate a contract with 12 months’ notice if he genuinely wants the apartment for his own use or to sell it.

I kept hold of all the conversations I’d had with the landlord by email and then contacted RERA and asked them how to file a case against him. I was told to have a typing office make a ‘plaint of case/acclaim form’ stating the reasons for the dispute and then lodge the case at the Rental Dispute Settlement Centre at the Dubai Land Department in Deira – a process that turned out to be easy. After the typing office issues the form, you file it at the Dispute Settlement Centre, where you pay 3.5 percent of your annual rent as fees for the court.

When it’s time for your hearing, take a translator with you if you don’t speak Arabic – it can be anyone who speaks the language. Unfortunately, I turned up without one. The case started in Arabic and when I explained I didn’t understand what was being said, I was told it was my fault for not bringing an interpreter. Luckily, I was given time to present my case in English.

You need to provide quite a few documents, including your passport and Emirates ID, the plaint of case/acclaim form, Ejari certificate (proof you lodged the tenancy contract at the Land Department when you moved in), tenancy contract, a passport copy of the landlord (if possible), DEWA bill, title deed (if possible), and any other written supporting documents, such as emails, that back up your case – these are the most important!

Eventually, after three months, the dispute was resolved. Despite the fact I’d won, I felt uncomfortable living in the apartment, so after staying 12 months at the same rental rate, I vacated. It’s important to understand your rights under a Dubai tenancy contract and be aware of the possible tricks you can get caught up in.’

I’ve been living in a townhouse for the past five years which has been recently sold to a new owner and landlord, who wanted me out upon the expiry of the existing contract. Supposedly, he wanted to occupy the house himself, and so raised a case against me at the Dubai Rental Disputes Settlement Centre. Following two hearing sessions, his case was rejected – the court decided we could stay at the villa with the same rent until February 2015. In order for me to vacate, by law he should send a letter giving 12 months’ notice, issued by the notary public, and delivered by courier.

The process for landlords in this case is quite straightforward: you go to the Rental Disputes Settlement Centre, explain your situation and tell them you need to file a case against a tenant who’s refusing to vacate your unit.

The centre registers the case and then sends the tenant the case letter by registered mail along with an email with the date of the first hearing. In the court you should only speak Arabic with the judge, and the plaintiff needs to provide the rent contract, last DEWA bill, copy of their passport and residency and, in my case, the deed transfer and a letter explaining what the dispute was.

My landlord was instructed by the court to renew my contract for the same amount of rent, and notify me by notary public to vacate the house in 12 months’ time. Yesterday we received our notary public letter and we will leave the house in February 2015.

Rents are increasing, but I’m happy to have until February 2015 to move out. We’re also fortunate that the government is supporting tenants through this latest property boom.’

Not long ago, my landlord told me he would be increasing the rent to a figure above the rental index, without 90 days’ prior notice. He said that if I didn’t comply with the increase I would have to move out immediately at the end of the contract, which is against the law.

I had been expecting a rise in line with the rental calculator, which should have only been an additional Dhs1,700. During our discussions, I reminded my landlord that his intentions were against the law and that he should follow the rental cap – at which point I was asked to move out within three months. When I approached the real estate agent’s legal department to tell them what was going on, they merely suggested that if I went to the rent committee it would be bad for me. It was at this point that I decided to go to the Dispute Settlements Centre.

Thankfully, filing a case is a hassle-free process – there is hardly any waiting time and the staff are very easy to deal with. First, I needed to type a claim form according to the format provided at the centre’s reception. Any typing centre near the Union Metro station will type it in Arabic – it’s a good idea to prepare your claim in English, including your demands and any reimbursement of case fees. Hand this over to the typing centre and they can make sure all of your instructions are set out clearly in Arabic for the judge to read. Everything submitted for the reference of the judge must be in Arabic. Try to keep the explanation of the case short and to the point as the translators charge for each page.

As with anything, a lot of documentation is required for the case. I needed to provide the original tenancy contract, legally translated into Arabic (I used Dunia Legal Translation). Other essential documents needed were my Emirates ID, passport, DEWA bill and visa copy of both myself, the tenant, and the landlord, print-outs of any email correspondence with the agent and landlord, Ejari certificate, copies of the cheques given to the landlord and translated into Arabic, the address of the plaintiff and defendant and all the original receipts of payment to translators and the typing center. Make sure you always keep a copy of these receipts to claim reimbursement from the landlord. Three sets of copies of all these documents must be submitted, and you will also need to pay 3.5 percent of your annual rent to file the case. Fortunately, if you win your case, you can claim this fee back from your landlord.

I registered the case in December and the hearing took place three weeks later. It took about 20 minutes to register everything and double check that all the documents were there, before I paid the fee at the cashier’s office.

Fortunately, there was a staff translator present during my hearing, and it was over very quickly, with the judge announcing the matter would be resolved three weeks later.

I returned to discover that the final verdict was in my favour. As a result, I am living in the same apartment for the same rent for the next year.

The whole experience gave me a good understanding of how to deal with real estate agents and landlords, and taught me not to be afraid. The law protects the rights of both tenants and landlords. One piece of advice I would give tenants is to make sure their contract is registered with Ejari – without this certificate the outcome could be very different. For anyone facing a dispute; do your research and go the rent committee to check the rent hike rather than give into demands and vacate.’

Dubai’s most affordable neighbourhoods

We asked to help us locate some of the cheapest neighbourhoods to rent in across Dubai. The figures provided are the average for a one-bedroom apartment, and were correct as of February 12.

Al Muhaisnah
Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment per annum:
Located between Al Qusais and Mirdif, and made up of four small communities – Muhaisnah 1 to 4 – this area is populated mainly by lower-end accommodation and labour housing.

Al Nahda Dubai
Average rent:
Towards the end of last year, rents in this location on the Dubai-Sharjah border begin to soar, as demand for the area grew. With easy access to Al Ittihad Road, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road and Al Khail Road, it’s a good option for commuters priced out of Dubai.

Al Warqa’a
Average rent:
A small neighbourhood with sub communities numbered from one to five, sandwiched between Mirdif and Al Awir Road (just a few minutes from Mushrif Park).

Academic City
Average rent:
Academic City and neighbouring Dubai Silicon Oasis are bordered by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Road (E311), the Dubai to Al Ain Road (E66) and Emirates Road (E611). When the metro’s green line is extended in
the next few years, it will cover these locations.

Jebel Ali
Average rent:
Just beyond Dubai Marina, Jebel Ali is home to an industrial zone, technology park and a number of residential developments, and is also now just a few minutes’ drive from the new Dubai World Central airport complex.

Essential contacts

Dubai Rental Disputes Settlement Centre
Open Sun-Thu 7.30am-2.30pm (to raise a dispute you must arrive before 1.30pm). Dubai Land Department, Deira, (800 4488).

Online Rental Increase Calculator and PDFs relating to rental laws

Ejari Customer Support and tenancy contract registration
Open Sun-Thu 7.30am-2.30pm. Dubai Land Department, Deira, (04 203 0541).

How to register a rental dispute

Mark Wellman-Riggs, general manager of Crompton Partners Estate Agents in Dubai, takes us through the steps for tenants who wish to lodge their dispute in the city
• Dubai’s Rental Dispute Settlement Centre (RDSC) is located at Dubai Land Department. This is where a tenant or landlord can go to lodge a complaint.

• To lodge a complaint, you will need: your EJARI registered rental contract, original tenancy contract, copies of cheques, the facts of the dispute and power of attorney if not attending in person.

• RDSC offers simplified procedures with most rental disputes being judged within 75 days. They will handle most rental disputes for Dubai including Dubai free zones, unless such disputes have been assigned to special judicial committees or courts.

• RDSC includes four departments: Arbitration & Reconciliation Department, Department of First Instance, Department of Appeal and the Law Enforcement Department.

• First the Arbitration Department will try to settle disputes amicably within 15 days. If unsuccessful, a lawsuit has to be lodged with the Department of First Instance. They will try to settle the dispute within 30 days and their ruling is final, unless the other party appeals to the Department of Appeal. Appeals to this department can only be made for claims worth more than Dhs100,000 and they will issue a verdict within 30 days.

RDSC fees and documents

• The plaintiff (person lodging the complaint) needs to pay 3.5 percent of the annual rent of the property; a minimum of Dhs350 and a maximum of Dhs20,000. It is common for a tenant to claim this fee and other costs back as part of their case but, even if successful, there is no guarantee they will be awarded them. In some cases, the tenant and landlord split the final costs, but it is on a case-by-case basis.

• Other fees may be levied by RDSC on the plaintiff for summoning experts, payment of expert’s fees and in some cases the fee for deposit of rent with RDSC.

Important things to consider and action before entering into any rental contract or lodging a complaint with RDSC
1 When entering into a rental contract, you should determine who is responsible for registering the rental contract with Ejari. An Ejari registered rental contract is required to lodge a case with the rental committee and you should ensure your contract is registered very soon after being signed.

2 Tenants should do the utmost to avoid lodging a complaint. No one wants an unhappy landlord and it can only end, eventually, in one result. My suggestion is use a good estate agency to help you communicate with your landlord before considering taking further action.

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