x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Victims of Dubai rent scam negotiate to avoid eviction

Tenants duped by the subletting scam by Shamyana Entertainment, who had hoped the law would protect them from eviction, are now turning to negotiation after the Rent Committee at Dubai Municipality ruled in favour of the landlord in some cases.

DUBAI // Kenneth Hubbard has already paid Dh63,000 to rent an apartment for a year but has offered to pay his landlord another Dh40,000 – half a year’s rent at market value – to avoid eviction.

He was among hundreds of tenants duped out of millions in rent in a subletting scam run by Haitham Al Kouatly, the chief executive of Shamyana Entertainment Services.

In August, Al Kouatly siphoned off up to Dh6 million in annual rent from at least 130 tenants, as well as quarterly payments from about 350 tenants. An Interpol notice has been issued but he is yet to be arrested.

Tenants who had hoped the law would protect them from eviction are turning to negotiation after the rent committee at Dubai Municipality, the ultimate arbitrator in rental disputes, ruled in favour of the landlord in at least three cases.

“My proposal is to share the loss,” said Mr Hubbard. “I have offered him another Dh40,000. Obviously, this is not desirable but I am in a fortunate position that I can afford it.” Mr Hubbard is now waiting to hear back from his flat’s owner.

Another tenant, Zoe Charles, contacted the landlord’s agency to negotiate a new contract but she said they had yet to contact her and the ambiguity of the situation was making life difficult.

“They haven’t got back to us yet,” said The Greens tenant. “Everything is uncertain and it is unsettling.”
Some landlords say they have also tried to find middle ground.

“I asked the tenant to negotiate but he refused and said he was willing to accept whatever was the court’s verdict,” said Farbod, who leased an apartment to Shamyana for Dh95,000 in four cheques, but had two cheques bounce because Mr Al Kouatly had sublet it for Dh20,000 less.

When negotiations failed, he turned to the municipality rent committee. “I am sorry for the tenants but they should have checked the title deed,” said Farbod.
His final hearing took place on Sunday.

Others, such as D?P, have cut their losses and just want to move on. He was among five tenants duped into paying between Dh60,000 to Dh70,000 for the same apartment in The Greens. In August, he lived with a friend, but he has now moved on to an apartment in Dubai Investment Park.

“I try not to think about the past when I drive by the Fairways. I try to be positive about things I have no control over, and I live

in hope that Sam [Al Kouatly] will be found and punished.”

When looking for his new apartment, D?P insisted on seeing the property’s title deed and the broker’s licence.

“There has to be an element of blame on the tenants,” he said. “Yes, we made mistakes and it was a rude wake-up call to realise there are nasty individuals waiting to rip you off.”

Another tenant is waiting anxiously to hear the rent committee’s ruling in his case. “It has been very distressing for me,” said K?N, who paid Dh110,000 for 14 months in August.

“The landlord will not settle for a reasonable offer, he just wants me out. I’m ill from the stress, it’s just too much to handle.”
A Fairways tenant who paid Dh98,000 for his two-bedroom flat is in the same position.

“My landlord filed a case,” he said. “We had three hearings and have been waiting for the verdict for more than two weeks. I don’t know how long I can stay.

“My wife is pregnant and she panics every time the doorbell or the phone rings. I don’t know what to do.”

pkannan@thenational.ae

rtalwar@thenational.ae