x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Businessman and developer wrangle over villa ownership

Manazel, a leading developer, is accused of selling a villa owned by a client and then accepting payments without notifying him

ABU DHABI // A businessman is suing an Abu Dhabi developer over allegations it sold him a villa, delayed delivery, cancelled his contract, continued accepting his payments, then handed the property to another buyer.

Rami al Ashraf, from Syria, has filed a lawsuit in Abu Dhabi Commercial Court against Manazel, demanding the developer return the villa to him and pay him Dh1 million in damages.

He said the villa in Abu Dhabi, which was registered in his wife's name, was to be delivered in September 2008. He asked for Dh250,000 in uncollected rent for each year since then, plus Dh500,000 in further damages.

Mr al Ashraf presented prosecutors with documents showing he had owned the villa and made payments as scheduled by the developer, totalling Dh1.7m. He said the developer terminated the contract without notifying him, but then accepted two payments afterwards, scheduled a handover date and did not make any refunds until after he sued.

Manazel said the villa was not under his name when it was sold to another person.

"He did not make the full payments and we terminated the contract," a representative from Manazel said, adding that a letter of termination had been sent.

Mr al Ashraf denied he received it, and documents show the developer received at least two payments after August 16, 2010, the date of the letter.

The letter read, "Despite our reminders and our 30-day payment notice sent to you, you have failed to settle outstanding amounts due under the agreement."

Because of that, the letter continued, the sales agreement was terminated on June 30, 2009.

But another letter, dated September 28, 2010, read: "We are delighted to inform you that your Desert Villa will be ready for occupation from the 25th of October 2010. In order for us to hand over the keys to your villa at the earliest, you are advised to make your final payment to Manazel Real Estate before the occupation date."

Documents also show Mr al Ashraf was asked to carry out a "snagging" in August last year to identify any defects - a process usually undertaken before a property is handed over.

E-mails show that the date listed in the September letter for the handover was a delay from an earlier date.

Before the handover, according to documents submitted with the lawsuit, Mr al Ashraf made the final payments - including handover fees - yet was told the villa had been sold months ago.

Mr al Ashraf said he visited the company several times and no one told him the contract had been terminated. "Why would they keep the money with them for this long if they had terminated the contract?" he asked.

A representative of the developer said Mr al Ashraf made the last payment to "score points" and be able to say he had paid everything required. She said the developer asked him in late 2010, after the lawsuit, to come and take all the money he paid but he chose to pursue legal action. "We have legally terminated the contract," she said. "When he was asked to make more payments, probably that was a lack of communication. We fixed it once we became aware of it."

The developer sent a letter on November 8 asking Mr al Ashraf to arrange for a refund.

"This property was subsequently sold to another party, and therefore cannot be restored to you," the letter read. "As such, we cannot accept the deposit made by you."

The developer recently told him he could use the money to make payments on three apartments he bought in another project with the company.