It's an awful feeling knowing you've been taken for a ride and lost tens of thousands of dirhams in a rent scam.
And, yes, it's even worse to discover you could be homeless because the person you trusted with your precious money has fled the country - and taken your rent with him, leaving you high and dry and trying to explain to the real landlord you'd paid your dues.
But you are caught between a rock and a hard place - the real landlord wants the money and you've got no savings left because you gave a year's worth of rent to a bogus landlord.
Rental scams are nothing new in this world. They happen everywhere and millions have been stung. Even me.
Back when I was living in Hong Kong, I decided I wanted to move to a new apartment in a place called Glamour Court, which also happened to be in the same village in which I lived. It wasn't as though I was upgrading, it was just that I wanted a change. Even if it was exactly the same as the apartment I was renting in Elegance Court, just next door.
So I checked it out, met the landlord - an old Chinese woman and her son - and decided to take it. I paid a month's deposit of HK$10,000 (Dh4,737 at today's rate) and thought that was the end of it until we signed the lease and agreed on my moving-in date.
A few days later, I discovered they were still showing the flat to other prospective tenants, thanks to a friend who also viewed it.
I rang them and asked what was going on. They didn't say much. I said I wanted to withdraw from the agreement and demanded my money back. They'd given me a handwritten receipt for my deposit. They refused.
We went back and forth. I said I'd report them … then nothing. I couldn't contact them any more. And lost my HK$10,000. While it may not seem much compared with the losses of the victims of the most recent rental scams in Dubai, it still stung.
Having just given birth, I blame the hormones for my momentary lapse in judgement - for wanting to move into an apartment that mirrored my own in the building next door.
For handing over HK$10,000 on the spot and accepting a badly handwritten receipt in return. What was I thinking?
That old woman was as hard as nails. And she's probably still cashing in on that empty apartment to this day by collecting deposits instead of signing on the dotted line and being a normal landlord.
Remember it: 15F Glamour Court, Discovery Bay. If you move to Hong Kong, do yourself a favour and don't rent that place.
But back to the Emirates. There is no law in the UAE that stipulates we have to pay our rent in a one-year lump sum. But if you sign a contract agreeing to that, it becomes enforceable by law.
According to Brent Baldwin, a property lawyer at Hadef & Partners in Dubai, the one-year rent requirement developed because demand was outstripping supply.
To ensure they secured a property, desperate renters were offering one year up front to landlords - who, of course, would take it. Wouldn't you?
Anyway, it soon became the norm in a world where normally you'd fork over a month's deposit and another month in advance to secure a rented property, then pay month by month thereafter.
But coming up with a year's worth of rent in the UAE is a struggle for some. If your company doesn't lend you the money interest free and deduct monthly instalments from your salary, you have to find it elsewhere. Some borrow from banks and are charged hefty interest rates in return. Others turn to loan sharks, who charge outrageous rates, or scrimp and save to pay for their housing
As the rent scams are proving, paying for your housing by the year is a recipe for disaster and leaves you vulnerable to fraud because of the large sums involved. Combine this with a lack of knowledge about your rights and failing to do your due diligence and you can see how easy it is for a bogus landlord or rogue agent to take advantage of your ignorance.
Mr Baldwin says there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. One is to demand the keys to the property as soon as you hand over the cheque. No key, no cheque.
He also advises you to brush up on your negotiating skills to avoid that one-year demand. You should also demand copies of the title deed to the property, the landlord's passport and the credentials of the agent, who should be registered with the regulatory authority.
It doesn't take much to ask for these documents. It is your right as a consumer. If the person you are dealing with is bogus, you won't hear from them again because they will realise you are not an easy target.
But if they are who they say they are, then all will be OK - and you will have somewhere to live in return for your hard-earned money.
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