x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Tenants duped in multimillion-dirham Dubai property con face eviction

At least three tenants duped in the Shamyana subletting scam have received final eviction notices from Dubai' Rent Committee, leading hundreds more to fear the worst.

Tenants who had been scammed of their rental fees by Shamyana Entertainment Services sign a petition to be presented to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid at the Greens in September. Charles Crowell for The National
Tenants who had been scammed of their rental fees by Shamyana Entertainment Services sign a petition to be presented to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid at the Greens in September. Charles Crowell for The National

DUBAI // The emirate's property tribunal has ordered the eviction of at least three tenants duped in the multimillion-dirham Shamyana subletting scam.

The decision reduced residents to tears but brought relief to landlords, who will soon be able to place their disputed apartments back on the rental market.

The verdict by Dubai Municipality's Rent Committee comes more than a month after hearings began.

The decision is being viewed with trepidation by the hundreds of affected residents who are waiting to hear if they also will have to immediately vacate their apartments.

Interpol has issued a notice for the arrest and extradition of Haitham Al Kouatly, the chief executive of Shamyana Entertainment Services. He fled in August with at least Dh6 million in rent paid to him by tenants, but not passed on to property owners.

One resident, Tina, a marketing executive, broke down when told by the Rent Committee to pay the landlord for the months when Al Kouatly's cheques had bounced.

"When they asked me to pay the landlord the back payments, I simply said I could not," she said.

Tina paid Shamyana Dh60,000 to lease a Greens apartment and must now vacate seven months before her contract ends. "I'm glad I was present at the hearing or I would have faced immediate eviction. I memorised the rental law and thought the tenant would be protected, but it was really terrible.

"They told me my contract was illegal. This got me emotional and I spoke about how I thought Dubai was supposed to be a safe place, that I had lost money too and would have to pay rent all over again."

The committee rejected Tina's request to stay for a month until she found another home, instead giving her just two weeks.

Frank, a tenant who paid Shamyana Dh100,000 for 14 months in a Fairways apartment, was allowed to stay for two months as long as he paid Dh17,500 - current market value - to his landlord.

"I don't see how the Rent Committee has done me a favour," said Frank, who is unemployed and will be moving in with a friend.

"I used all my savings and renewed until December next year. I don't see how it is fair since I have to pay all over again."

The committee's decisions on landlord-tenant disputes are considered binding.

Mohammed Al Sheikh, secretary general of the Rent Committee, said tenants must ask for the title deed and documents when signing a lease, while landlords should find out who they are leasing to.

"People should know the laws of the country they are living in and respect them," he said. "Those who go against the law will be punished. Everybody - tenants and landlords - have a responsibility and should not go into deals without checking."

Lawyers said Shamyana cases were appearing daily before the committee. Some tenants appear with lawyers but most represent themselves. The hearings are conducted in Arabic and a verdict is typically announced after three to four hearings of each case.

Law firm Al Suwaidi & Co has taken 35 cases, and said one of the their clients was served an immediate eviction notice.

"We asked why should only the tenant lose his money when a crime has happened against him? Also, why not divide the losses 50-50?" asked Ali Al Raeesi, a lawyer with Al Suwaidi.

"But in most cases, the municipality says it is an illegal contract.

"They say they can try to give tenants more time but this time is not free, they must pay again for using the apartment."

Landlords were relieved the committee was not swayed by the emotional appeals.

"The Rent Committee has been clear it will follow the law," said Yusuf Pingar, who appeared before the tribunal after the first quarterly cheque on his apartment bounced.

"Owners are also in deep trouble because we have mortgages to pay.

"This is prime property and tenants should have given their due diligence.

"If the law does not protect owners then who will invest in the real-estate sector?"