x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Lawyers plead for Dubai's rent-fraud tenants

Committee hearings continue into the Dh6 million Shamyana sublet scams as lawyers plead for leniency on behalf of tenants whom they say were victims too.

DUBAI // Lawyers of tenants caught in the Shamyana subletting scam have urged the Rent Committee to show compassion to their clients.

The municipality's Rent Committee, Dubai's highest property-leasing court, ruled last week to evict the first three tenants from homes they had rented from the fraudster Haitham Al Kouatly.

Al Kouatly, the chief executive of Shamyana Entertainment Services, fled Dubai with as much as Dh6 million in rent money from more than 300 tenants.

Mohammed Al Sheikh, the Rent Committee's secretary general, said tenants should have been aware of law and should have asked for a title deed to establish ownership.

But Mohammed Al Suwaidi, the Emirati founder of the law firm Al Suwaidi & Company, said the committee should find a middle ground.

"We needed more leniency for people who fell victim," Mr Al Suwaidi said. "I would have loved for the Government to intervene in the Shamyana case to help landlords and tenants achieve a balance, since both parties are victims.

"These tenants contributed to Dubai's economy. They are simple people and have not committed a crime."

His firm has taken on 35 Shamyana cases and one client has already been given an eviction notice.

The committee's decisions are binding and cannot be appealed in any other Dubai court.

"I urge authorities and the government to re-look at this dispute," Mr Al Suwaidi said. "In this case these guys are really the victims. Our law says it is not an excuse if you don't know the law but it is not always easy to understand the law when you are from a different country."

Alaa Diab, managing partner of Mubasheri Advocates and Legal Consultancy, is representing more than 30 tenants.

"I am very disappointed by the Rent Committee's decision," said Mr Diab. "We are talking about so many families. It is for the committee to look after these people.

"One of my clients is sending his family back home and will live in a shared apartment. This will harm the economy. I have requested the committee to help the cheated people and not go completely against them."

Ten of his clients are fighting their landlords at the Rent Committee. One of them has been ordered to vacate his flat within two weeks.

Mr Diab hoped the other nine, whose cases are being dealt by the committee, will have better results.

David Kosterno moved out of his flat in the Greens last week while his case was still being heard.

"A criminal offence has taken place and this should be treated as a criminal case," Mr Kosterno said.

"We had hoped the tribunal would act towards amicable settlements but the rulings appear to favour the landlord. Our move has cost us a lot of money but it was for peace of mind. Enough is enough."

Legal experts say the committee is an effective alternative to having disputes heard in small claims courts, like several western nations.

Unlike other UAE courts, tenants and landlords can represent themselves before the Rent Committee in English or Arabic.

"It's more expeditious than local courts," said Ludmila Yamalova, a managing partner at HPL Yamalova & Plewka. But she was also disappointed with the early rulings.

"I'm surprised because I would have hoped the committee could have reached a compromise since both parties were damaged," Ms Yamalova said.

"The rule of law mandates that the Rent Committee look to principles of equity and beyond the principles of the contract."

Nick Clayson, a partner with international law firm Norton Rose, said he supported the verdict.

"The lesson is a harsh one for those affected, however, it is incumbent when buying or leasing any property or goods that you satisfy yourself that the person selling or leasing has the power to do so," Mr Clayson said.