x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 September 2017

Abu Dhabi family conned into leasing villa by crooked realtor

A family has been cheated out of Dh45,000 and a place to live by a property agent who gave several tenants fake contracts.

Peter Macharia, his mother Florence, wife Cecilia and son Shawn are the victims of a property scam that cost them Dh45,000 and a place to live.
Peter Macharia, his mother Florence, wife Cecilia and son Shawn are the victims of a property scam that cost them Dh45,000 and a place to live.

ABU DHABI // Peter Macharia thought he had found the perfect home.

The two-bedroom villa in Khalifa City A was just the right size for Mr Macharia, 28, who was looking for a bigger place for his family following the birth of his son Shawn four months ago.

After inspecting the flat and signing a contract, he paid a property agent Dh45,000 in August.

It was not until the agent stopped returning calls last month that Mr Macharia became suspicious.

"He told me he was doing renovations but he didn't do them immediately," the new father said. "He kept saying, 'I'll do it in two days.' Then he stopped answering his phone and I went to the villa and saw nothing was done."

Mr Macharia discovered the agent had run off with his money, and that of several other clients, with all of them having signed the same fake contract.

"I have a family," said Mr Macharia, who moved to Abu Dhabi six years ago from Kenya and lives here with his wife Cecilia, his mother Florence, and Shawn. "They all depend on me but now I don't have money or a place to live. What can I do?"

Mr Macharia filed a police report and received some of his money back from the villa's owner, but he said his family had lived through months of stress and worrying.

Scams like these are common but the capital's new property regulatory initiative, Tawtheeq, will help to rid the market of them, officials said.

"Tawtheeq was developed and designed to stop this exact kind of fraud," said Ali Al Hashimi, the project manager for the property programme in Abu Dhabi. "Any broker or anyone who claims he has the authority to manage property has to have an account with us."

Each Tawtheeq-approved tenancy contract will have a unique bar code and registration number.

Before giving an agent money, tenants should check that the contract is registered with the system online.

"Within 30 seconds they will know if the contract is valid," Mr Al Hashimi said. "It is the tenant's right to do so, because it's their money. If you're going to give someone thousands of dirhams, you have 30 seconds to be sure they are legitimate."

Mr Macharia has asked his company to give him a salary advance while his wife seeks bank loans so they can afford payments on a flat somewhere else.

"I didn't know that this kind of thing could happen," said Mrs Macharia. "We just want to be able to move and live in a place that is good for us and our son."

Mr Al Hashimi said: "Regretfully there are a lot of scams, but they are from brokers. They are the ones who are ruining the market and their days are over."

jthomas@thenational.ae