x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Anger of Dubai rent scam victims who face eviction

Rent Committee comes down on the side of landlords after property fraudsters flee the country with Dh80 million in rent cheques.

Residents of The Greens in Dubai who lost money in a rental scam meet to discuss legal action in September.
Residents of The Greens in Dubai who lost money in a rental scam meet to discuss legal action in September.

DUBAI // Tenants who were promised protection after falling victim to a rent scam are angry after learning that the body dealing with their cases is favouring eviction in its rulings.

The victims say they were told the law was on their side, that the Real Estate Regulatory Authority would protect them and Dubai Municipality's Rent Committee would deal with each case separately.

"It's actually quite shocking and upsetting because it's such a turnaround from the initial advice provided by Rera," said one tenant, Julie Borland. "It's very disconcerting. We are already living in limbo through no fault of our own."

The property agencies FHS and Marks Falcon, run by Faisal Hameed Sulehri and Muhammad Zafar Zubair, rented homes to tenants at below-market prices in exchange for single-cheque payments. At the same time, they signed contracts with landlords to pay them a higher rent - but in four cheques instead of one.

Owners found the first two cheques were good but the later ones bounced. The two fraudsters fled with rent cheques worth Dh80 million in September.

Ms Borland paid Dh85,000 in one cheque for a two-bedroom villa in The Springs. Her landlord was expecting Dh95,000.

Rera assured Ms Borland that she and the thousands of other duped tenants would be safe from eviction as long as their paperwork was complete and correct.

"I ensured everything was in order and registered the property with Ejari," she said.

But the agency later said that, by law, the Rent Committee was the sole body entitled to adjudicate on each case. Because of this, several landlords have managed to evict tenants.

Liliana Velasquez rented out her one-bedroom apartment in Downtown Dubai, fully furnished. Her asking price was Dh95,000 but the scam agents rented it out for Dh85,000.

The second rent cheque bounced and all the furniture was removed by FHS, she said.

Rera told Ms Velasquez she would not get any compensation. So she filed a case with the Rent Committee instead, and evicted her tenant last month.

"Rera said they didn't know whether tenants could stay in the apartment or not," she said. "But the Rent Committee told me to pay him Dh30,000 and he was out."

MW evicted her tenant after her furnished three-bedroom apartment on The Palm Jumeirah was rented out for Dh140,000 instead of her asking price of Dh170,000.

"Rera told me to sort it out with the tenant or kick them out," she said. "Tenants are protected but if you want to evict anyone, you can. You just have to open a court case with the Rent Committee and pay 3.5 per cent of the annual rent."

She said registering the apartment with Ejari, Rera's tenancy registration system, was "just a formality".

"Tenants think they are 'protected' but no one can derive any rights as such from it," MW said.

Mohammed Al Sheikh, secretary general of the Rent Committee, did not deny that tenants could be evicted.

"Eviction would depend on the contract, the landlord and the tenant," he said. "Each case will be dealt with separately and anyone with questions should visit us."

But tenants have lost hope and faith in the legal system.

"I'm four months pregnant. It is a worry that this could happen," Ms Borland said. "Where is the protection for people if they can do everything legitimately but still be evicted?"

Another victim, Mohammed, paid Dh60,000 for a Dh90,000 property. He said the Rent Committee advised him to "wait until the landlord makes a move".

"My landlord is asking for Dh46,000 from me for compensation and it seems I will have to pay him because my papers have some sort of discrepancy," he said.

"I found out that eviction depends on your situation but I don't know my legal situation and I wish there was more support from Rera or the Rent Committee because we're all worried."

cmalek@thenational.ae