DUBAI // Haitham Al Kouatly, the man who allegedly organised a multimillion dirham illegal subletting racket, has been ordered to appear before the municipal rent committee on September 25.
A summons taped to the door of Shamyana Entertainment Services yesterday said Mr Al Kouatly must appear before a special judicial committee for mediation in a lease conflict between the tenant and landlord.
Police say the Saudi national, who allegedly rented homes he did not own to more than 350 people before disappearing with the 2012 rent cheques of at least 130 tenants, has left the country.
The complaint in question was filed against Mr Al Kouatly by a resident of The Greens, who is suing to retain occupancy of his apartment and for legal costs.
According to the summons, the plaintiff took occupancy of an apartment in September before learning Mr Al Kouatly had rented it to several others.
The tenant has also petitioned the committee to take all necessary legal measures to allow him to continue living in the apartment until his lease ends.
Mohammed Al Sheikh, secretary general of Dubai Municipality's rental committee, said all cases involving tenants duped by Mr Al Kouatly would eventually be heard by them.
"We have to wait for the committee to hear the matter and then only they will give their ruling," he said. "We cannot say anything more now."
Legal experts say the municipal committee's findings cannot be challenged anywhere else.
"The rent committee is the Dubai Court for landlords and tenant disputes," said Alexis Waller, a partner at legal firm Clyde & Co. "The committee's decision is final and binding. It is not subject to any appeal."
But filing a complaint against a landlord is not a cheap affair, as the civic committee asks plaintiffs to pay 3.5 per cent of their total lease value to register a grievance.
Many of those affected by this property scam complain that they have already lost enough money and argue that filing a complaint with the municipality does not guarantee they will win their rent cheques back.
"It's a big concern, as in any case taken to court," conceded Ms Waller. "Their worry is that even if they are successful what are their chances of getting their money back if the person they have filed the case against is not here and has no assets here?"
Shahram Safai, the head of real estate and partner in Afridi & Angell legal consultants, said residents had to approach the committee to protect their interests.
"In any society if you want to enforce your rights, you have to pay the fee," he said.
"While I sympathise with them, that's the way it works. If you're not willing to then you cannot pursue your rights."
Tenants have also filed criminal complaints at the Jebel Ali and the Bur Dubai police stations - both against Shamyana Entertainment and Mr Al Kouatly.
These criminal cases will be tried separately from the civil complaints.
"Once a complaint is made the police investigate and, depending on the outcome, will hand the complaints over to the public prosecutor who will take up the case," Ms Waller explained.
Going forward, landlords have said Rera should look into holding real estate agents accountable in the future.
"If you are a Rera-registered agent, it makes you morally responsible for the industry you are working in," said Rudolph Barbosa, the owner of a two-bedroom flat in The Greens, who rented his flat to Shamyana Entertainment.
Unlike other landlords, he was able to encash his cheques and retains possession of his flat.
"The landlord doesn't come into touch with the tenant," he said. "If a tenant sublets, how will the landlord know?"
Mr Barbosa said he planned to take additional precautions in future. "I'll be sure to put a face to my tenants from now on. It is very important not to leave it to the agents. I would look at more communication with the tenant directly rather than relying on a third party."