x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Code proposed for rental properties

Estate agents could soon be required to obtain permission to enter people's homes under a new code of conduct.

The capital's rent law does not say a tenant must be notified before a broker shows a property to a prospective tenant, but some companies already seek permission.
The capital's rent law does not say a tenant must be notified before a broker shows a property to a prospective tenant, but some companies already seek permission.

ABU DHABI // Estate agents and maintenance workers could soon be required to obtain permission to enter people's homes under a new code of conduct being drawn up by the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce & Industry. The capital's rent law does not say a tenant must be notified before a broker shows a property to a prospective tenant. Neither does it specify that the occupant must be told their property will be inspected, nor if workers will be carrying out repairs.

Tenancy contracts also rarely list conditions for such visits. Such omissions potentially allow unrestricted access to people's homes, raising security and privacy concerns in some quarters. A senior official at the chamber of commerce, which regulates the real estate brokerage industry, said a reasonable notice period for third-party access to rented property might be included in the upcoming brokers' code of conduct or in standardised tenancy contracts.

"Securing permission [from the tenant] is a logical requirement and is something we are considering either for the code of conduct or standardised tenancy contracts," said Otaiba bin Saeed al Otaiba, the chairman of the chamber's real estate committee. Mr Otaiba declined to give further details about the code of conduct until it was published. The new code of ethics may seek to mirror those in place in Europe and elsewhere.

In the UK, a code of conduct published by the Ombudsman for Estate Agents lists the conditions for access to property for viewings, inspections, surveys and maintenance. These requirements are usually also written into tenancy contracts. Agents arranging for a client to view a tenanted property must give the existing tenant "appropriate and reasonable notice as prescribed by law" of the appointment, unless other arrangements have been agreed with the tenant.

Tenants must be given written notice 24 hours before an appointment, which should be held at a reasonable time for both parties and can be awarded up to £25,000 (Dh182,000) if they suffer "aggravation, distress or inconvenience" as a result of a violation. Only in an emergency, such as a water of gas leak, can a third party enter the property without permission. Property brokerages say the issue of access to property is not serious in the UAE. Liz O'Connor, the head of leasing at Better Homes, said the company's policy was to seek permission before entering a property. The length of notice depended on instructions they received from the tenant or property owner, she said.

"We don't find that this is a very serious issue," she said. "If maintenance work is required, it's generally requested by the tenant and they are, therefore, very accommodating regarding making time for this. With regards to viewings of properties, viewings for new tenants are generally only done either if a tenant is breaking a lease or if they are coming to the end of the lease." But tenants say the new ethics code would provide peace of mind. One expatriate woman said she returned home late one evening to find her lights on and suspected she had been burgled or, worse still, that someone was in the flat, but later realised an estate agent had been in her home.

"I was really worried when I got home as I knew that I hadn't left the light on during the day," said the woman, who asked not to be named. "It was around 11.30pm when I got back and I didn't want to go in alone. "I was sure that someone was in there. After a while, we worked out that it must have been the agent taking someone around the flat. "When I called them the next morning, they didn't see anything wrong in what they'd done even though in the past, they'd always asked my permission when the maintenance guys went in.

"So they clearly knew the correct protocol when it suited them. "I had really personal things lying around, which I'd never want strangers to see and I felt really violated. It was a total intrusion into my personal space." Scott Aitken, a consultant at the law firm Clyde and Co, said it was rare for a landlord or prospective tenants to visit a property without the knowledge of the current occupant. However, he said it did happen.

"I would hesitate to say that it's the landlord's right, but we hear of it," he said. "There's an uneasy match between the tenant's right to quiet enjoyment and the landlord's right to be able to continue the tenancy beyond the life of the existing contract. "There are no express words in the law about that." @Email:rditcham@thenational.ae