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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Homefront: 'My mouldy apartment is making me sick but the agency is refusing to clean it up'

Humidity levels are high in the tenant's unhealthy Dubai home causing mould to grow on furniture and clothes and worsening her Lupus symptoms

Mario Volpi advises a Dubai tenant whose apartment has a severe mould problem. Jaime Puebla / The National
Mario Volpi advises a Dubai tenant whose apartment has a severe mould problem. Jaime Puebla / The National

I have been renting a property in Dubai for over three years and every year the mould has increased and damaged items in all the rooms. This includes a bed, sofa, cabinets, pictures - the mould is everywhere. I have been asking the landlord to rectify and eventually the owner told the estate agent to get a specialist in. He said that if the advice was to remove the mould and install a dehumidifier, then he would pay, but he also said he will not renew my tenancy and will give me 90 days' notice. This means I have to leave at the end of my tenancy in May 2018. My first question: is that legal?

With regards to the mould infestation, the analysis carried out by the remedial team makes it clear that it is not caused by anything I am doing. The apartment is very clean and well cared for, and I have already destroyed many of my shoes and furniture items that were infested with mould. The root cause of the problem is the high humidity in the apartment, especially in the bedroom. According to the maintenance company, humidity above 60 per cent will lead to mould developing on vulnerable materials (leather, wood, cloth, etc), and this is what is happening here. The humidity in the sitting room at ‘table’ level was over 64 per cent, and in the bedroom was almost 70 per cent, they said. They also checked the humidity of the air coming directly from the AC Supply vent and that was at 88.5 per cent, so the AC is actually supplying the humidity that is causing the problem in the apartment. The maintenance company recommends that the owner takes this up with the building management, as he doubts mine will be the only apartment affected. To fix the problem, they will have to fog everything in the apartment and clean the AC ducts, which are full of mould spores, discard any affected items and varnish vulnerable surfaces. The company also recommends running a freestanding dehumidifier. Since receiving the quote, the estate agent has advised me that they will not pay for the work and that I should leave the apartment for the sake of my health.

Last week I was bedridden with tonsillitis; I cannot sleep in the bedroom as I wake up choking and with puffy eyes due to allergic reaction. To move I will need to find quite a bit of money, I will need to fog most of my clothing and furniture as the spores would transfer to another place, find agency fee money, find a minimum of three months' rent, pay for removals and replace a lot of my belongings. Also, I pay monthly with this landlord so finding another that accepts this has been hard. I don't want to move just yet but I need to get better as I suffer from the autoimmune condition SLE Lupus. Do you think I could take my case to the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Rera)? And what sort of outcome do you think I might get? SS, Dubai

I realise you are stuck at the moment but I stress that your health is more important than anything else. That said, I do understand your situation and to vacate or leave right now is not really an option for you. Remember though that fighting for your rights will also take time, effort and some costs.

Your landlord cannot unilaterally decide that he will not renew the contract with you - this is illegal. If you wish to stay, he has to renew your contract at the correct rent and all subject to Law 33 of 2008. He also has a responsibility to you, to maintain the property in a habitable condition. Cleaning the AC ducts would therefore be his responsibility, especially as the report you included states that the humidity stems from the AC supply vent.

The AC ducts should be cleaned at least once a year, better still, once every six months. The landlord cannot just walk away from his responsibility, so he should speak with the building management to ascertain what they are doing about this problem.

This leads me to your last question. My advice would be to initially speak with Rera but I suspect you will not get the satisfactory answer you seek.

Unfortunately the only other way to force your landlord into action would be to file a case at the rental dispute settlement committee. Like Rera, this department is also located in the Land Department building in Deira.

To file a case will cost you 3.5 per cent of the rental amount. You will also need to translate all your documents into Arabic but the committee will advise the landlord of his obligations.

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Read more from Mario Volpi:

Homefront: Can I demand a month's free rent rent for noisy construction work next to my Dubai apartment?

Homefront: 'My Dubai tenant wants to add his wife's name to the contract. Will this cause me problems?'

Homefront: Should International City investor sell his two units at a loss or wait it out?

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Mario Volpi is the chief sales officer for Kensington Exclusive Properties and has worked in the property industry for over 30 years in London and Dubai. The opinions expressed do not constitute legal advice and are provided for information only. Please send any questions to mario.volpi@kensington.ae

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