Monday, October 1, 2007

A result?

It appears today that the Rent Committee has told Emaar/Hamptons tenants that the renewal clause will be reinstated in the contract and that Emaar/Hamptons will cover the Rent Committee costs of the tenants who brought actions.

We do not have any judgement in writing yet, but this verbal judgement was given to some tenants today and they were told that the matter is resolved. It appears that this decision has happened after the matter was escalated to the chairman of Emaar.

Presumably if this is the case then Hamptons will write to affected tenants to inform them. It may be worth contacting Hamptons by email to ask them to confirm that they accept this judgement and will issue revised leases for signing.

Hopefully there will be no further issues. We await details from Hamptons. Those tenants with pending cases over this issue at the Rent Committee are best advised to attend unless they have a new revised contract signed prior to their appointment date.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Trip to the Rent Committe, part II

If you have a hearing scheduled at the rent committee, some advice up front:

1. Bring a good book
2. Bring another one in case you finish the first
3. Bring a toothbrush and a sleeping bag.

Your hearing may be scheduled for 10.30am, but you'll be lucky if you get heard before 1pm. And the case will probably be adjourned anyway, so you'll have to turn up again and go through the same process in a few weeks' time, even if the other party does actually turn up.

Hamptons seem to have hired a lawyer full time to hang out at the Rent Committee and defend their cases, presumably because they have so many.

When you do eventually get called you enter a small room with a Rent Committe judge, his assistants and the other party (most likely the Hamptons lawyer).

The judge speaks English but Hamptons appear to have hired a lawyer who does not, so unless you speak Arabic your only clue as to what is going on is what the judge tells you.

The standard procedure appears to be for the judge to hear the basic arguments and then adjourn the hearing to reconvene in around 3 weeks' time. So you'll have to bank on at least another day enjoying the comforts of the Rent Committe waiting area. You'll be lucky to get more than 10 minutes hearing for your 3 or 4 hour wait.

It seems quite a few people have filed claims against the removal of the renewal clause in the Hamptons leases. However, Hamptons appears to argue that this has no bearing on the meaning of the contract and is done purely for simplicity so that 'everyone is on the same contract'. Of course, it is not simple for the tenant who faced with a new contract each year must seek legal advice each time as to whether the changes are important or not or will impact their rights. It also seems the Rent Committee do not quite understand the importance of this clause in protecting the tenant from arbitrary notices to quit.

So if you have a Rent Committee hearing over the renewal clause it is important that you stress the following:

1. The renewal clause gives you the right to renew and protects you from a new owner claiming they want the apartment for their own use - i.e. it is vital.

2. While it may simplify matters for Hamptons to have the same contracts for everyone, it does not simplify matters for you to have a changed contract each year, because each tenant must then seek legal advice each year on the new contract. The judge might not think it is important, but how are tenants to know what is and is not important without costly legal advice each year? Hamptons is a big rich company, the tenants are not rich and it is unreasonable to expect each tenant to have to seek legal advice each year at cost to themselves because Hamptons changes the contract.

3. Hamptons is not your landlord, they are an agent for the landlord. Retaining Hamptons does not give your landlord the right to impose a new contract on you simply because other Hamptons leaseholders have accepted it.

The judge implied that the tenant could insist on having the same lease, in which case the later hearing would have to decide what to do. It is unclear what the outcome might be.

The judge did not feel that the changes were significant, but as we all know, they are. Without the renewal clause, the new landlord can concoct a cock and bull story about wanting to move into the apartment and evict you.

You may recall back at the beginning of the year that Hamptons assured tenants that if their apartments were sold, they would have the right to renew their lease and would not be presented with rent increases above what the Rent Law permitted, nor denied a lease renewal. Well, Hamptons lied. We know of at least one case where an apartment was sold and Hamptons (who are acting for the new landlord) sent the tenant a notice to quit the apartment in 12 months because the lease would not be renewed. They then insisted that to stay in the apartment, the tenant must sign a new lease with his rent increasing from 60,000 to 95,000 AED per year. So much for Hamptons promises - they themselves are actually turning up at the Rent Committee to defend attempts to increase tenants rents by 60% when legally they are obliged not to raise the rent at all (since it was increased the year before).

All in all, the experience is rather mixed. It seems that if your new landlord is stupid enough to write to you and say you can only stay in the apartment if you pay a new massively-inflated rent, then the Rent Committee will probably side with you. But if your landlord is more subtle and is prepared to hire an expensive lawyer, it seems you, the little guy, have little chance of any protection.

And so for now this appears to be the situation in Dubai. The worst fears of the tenants expressed earlier in the year seem well-founded. Many tenants have received notices to quit or been faced with massive rent increases. Others are having their contracts adjusted by stealth to make it easier to force them out in the near future.

Despite the rent laws and the Rent Committee, average rents in Dubai appear to have grown by about 60% in the last two years. The evidence suggests that the current government measures are not enough to stop the inflationary melt-down of the UAE economy. It's probably a good time for most expats to review their options and decide whether the dwindling rewards of a weak Dirham salary, massively increasing costs and general insecurities of life in Dubai really make Dubai a good place to build a future.

In 3 or 4 years, the real estate agents will probably be the only ones left and the whole economy will consist of them selling and reselling empty and unfinished apartments to each other, ad infinitum.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Trip to the Rent Committee

The Rent Committee is Dubai's answer to the increasing problems for tenants faced with rent demands above the official rent cap or eviction demands (most likely due to the landlord wishing to sidestep the rent cap and rent out the property to a new tenant at a higher rent).

Some Greens apartments have been sold to third parties who are trying to impose 60% rent increases on the tenants by refusing to renew leases and instead only offering a new lease at inflated rent. Tenants in Greens apartments that are still owned by Emaar are being offered the same rent (in accordance with the rent cap law) but a slightly modified lease that removes the right to renew.

The law is apparently clear; any new landlord takes over the obligations of the lease, including the obligation to renew the lease if requested by the tenant. He must do this at a rent that is in accordance with the rent cap law (i.e. no rent increase if your rent increased last year). The law also requires that the renewal be on the same terms.

To file a complaint requires a trip to the Rent Committee. This is located in Deira at the Dubai Municipality building next to the creek. It's a big cube shaped building with "Dubai Municipality" in big letters visible from streets away. You cannot miss it.

The first step is to go to the counter, and they will advise that you get a ticket from the machine by the door. When you number is called, you will go to a small numbered room where you can talk to an advisor who will recommend whether to proceed or not. The advice from him regarding Emaar's new lease is that the lease must be offered on the same terms and that you should lodge a complaint if it is not. Apparently he said that many people have already done so.

The next steps are a little confused. You will require passport copies, both the old lease and the new one (if not available because your landlord won't supply one, put that information in your claim). You will then have to go to another counter to get an Arabic version of your complaint typed. It helps if you prepare a brief summary of what you want in English if you do not write Arabic. Keep it short and to the point, e.g.

1. The landlord has increased the rent beyond the rent cap and I wish to have the rent cap applied.

2. The landlord has changed the terms and conditions of the new lease and I wish to have the lease renewed with the original terms and conditions.

Have some cash with you as this Arabic translation costs 25 AED.

Next you have to visit another desk for the data to be entered to the computer system. You will then have to take your papers to the cashier desk and pay 3.5% of the current annual rent (you can use credit card at some marked windows). Get a photocopy of the receipt and the complaint form (the Arabic one you had translated) as you'll need these for the next step.

Finally, you need to visit a couple more rooms to get various signatures and stamps and then you will be allocated a date to turn up at the hearing.

The process is a little convoluted, but if you turn up early there are not too many people around and the staff are helpful in advising you where to go for each step.

If you win your complaint, the landlord will have to repay the fees you paid back to you.

The Dubai Government has provided the rent committee to provide some protection for tenants' rights and to help fight the damaging inflationary spiral that rent rises and bogus evictions are causing. While the process is not hassle-free, it only takes a couple of hours. You cannot complain about the system if you are unwilling to use the protections provided. Time will tell, but hopefully those Greens tenants who seek to use the protection of the rent committee will achieve a just outcome.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

From Rent Committee General Secretary - "Tenants can stay in rented homes for at least 3 years"

The Dubai Rent Committee has cleared air, and announced that landlords who wish to move back into their homes that have been rented out, cannot do so, until the tenants completes three years of contract.

Despite the fact that the standard rental contracts last one year, unless the agreement signed by both parties state otherwise, the rent committee would still stand in support of the leaseholder.

The General Secretary of the Committee, Mohammad Ahmad Al Shaikh, said the tenants have the right to stay in the property, due to the money invested in furnishing the house.

"It is no doubt, the prerogative of the house owners to live in their own house. But, in case, they have decided to let out the house for rent, they should understand that it is for a minimum of three years, though the contract is signed only for a year," Al Shaikh said.

Many landlords are said to have approached the rent committee as the tenants are refusing to vacate the property. But, according to Al Shaikh, the case will move in favour of landlord, only if, the contract clearly states that the house will have to be vacated after a year.

In the meanwhile, the landlords have branded the rule as "absurd" and "against the basic principles of ownership laws", as it prevents them from moving into their own house, but, the tenants have welcomed the policy.

As per the guidelines issued by the rent committee, the landlords who wished to move back into their own homes, could do so, provided, they do not rent our their house again.

The committee says that in case the landlord wishes to move back to their own house, their intention behind doing so, should be proven, and the landlord should ensure that the tenants are provided with sufficient notice period.

Any landlords violating these conditions will have to bear the consequences, the rent committee said.

Original story:

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Anyone got a new landlord yet?

We're aware that some people have opted to purchase their apartments. But for those who confirmed over a month ago that they would not, we're not aware of anyone being contacted regarding their new landlord yet.

Considering that EMAAR originally wanted tenants to purchase in just two weeks, it seems rather strange that after a month of the apartments "being offered for sale on the open market" they are yet to inform tenants of their new landlords (if indeed the apartments have been sold).

And if the apartments have not been sold yet, it does rather cast doubt on EMAAR's claims to have purchasers lined up and chomping at the bit to buy.

Maybe the urgency by EMAAR was just designed to pressure tenants into buying? EMAAR presumably knows that a tenanted property, with the tenant on well below market rent, is not worth anywhere near what a similar apartment with 'vacant possession' would be (since it cannot be occupied or rented out at market rate). So what better way to maximize revenue than to cajole the current occupant into buying something he can currently rent at half the price?

And if you believe in property for long term growth, why not put money down on a new 2-bed for delivery in 2009, which would cost less than a 1-bed in the Greens now? That 2-bed is certainly going to be worth more than the Greens 1-bed once it is built.

Meanwhile, EMAAR's share price in the past couple of weeks has hit new lows, dropping to well below 11 dirhams.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Emaar Annual General Meeting descends into shouting match

After Emaar chairman Mohammad Al Abbar announced a palty 20 fils (down from 40fils last year) stock dividend, angry shareholders refused several times to vote for the payout. Many investors who had bought Emaar shares on margin (borrowing money to buy the stock in the hope of the share price appreciating) were desperate for cash to offset their losses.

Big barney at Emaar AGM

Al Abbar said the company thinks it is more important to invest in the long-term future of the company.

"I criticise most of the companies in other Arab countries, because they only work for today," he said, adding that Emaar needs to have adequate capital to seize opportunities in countries such as India.

In other words, quite possibly money is running short and the prospect of profits in Dubai is deteriorating and forcing the company to focus elsewhere.

No 'working for today' for Emaar of course. They allow at least a couple of weeks for residents to make important decisions like purchasing the property they're living in!!!

The markets don't seem happy judging by the Emaar share price which dropped more than 5%. Emaar stock in the last two years has proven itself a spectacularly successful way to lose 75% of your investment. Hopefully its property offerings won't fair so badly.

Meanwhile in the US, the traditional leader of the global economic cycle, the property market is being rocked further by the implosion of the sub-prime lending market.

US stocks fall heavily again on mortgage lender fears

With many Dubai mortgage lenders now offering 97% mortgages, and a huge supply of property likely to hit the market this year, the chance of similar conditions to the US emerging here seems all too likely.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Revaluation of the UAE Dirham getting closer?

From the UAEinteract site:

The UAE will not revalue its currency ahead of other GCC states, the Central Bank governor said yesterday. The continued decline of the dollar has weakened Gulf currencies, which are pegged to the greenback.

Sultan Nasser Al Suwaidi said Gulf states will discuss whether to revalue their currencies at the April meeting of central bank governors. "We will not act unilaterally," Al Suwaidi said. "But if [the governors] come to the conclusion that we should go in this direction or that direction, we will go along."

Gulf nations pegged their currencies to the dollar in 2003 under a plan to unite under a single currency by 2010. However, with questions of a possible delay to the union, and with the dollar falling 10 per cent against the euro last year, speculation of a Gulf-wide currency revaluation has risen in recent weeks.

Last month, investors betting on revaluation drove the UAE dirham and the Kuwaiti dinar to record highs.

The UAE Central Bank maintains that inflation is due to rent and property price rises and will subside this year as more supply comes to market. That's not what Emaar and the various well connected property developers are saying - in public the sales shill is just the same - that property will continue to rise in price impressively forever. They'd have a job shifting the stuff otherwise of course...

But they cannot both be right. For a central bank to put its inflation hopes on the supply/demand balance of property shifting towards the end of 2007 smacks of ostriches sticking their heads in the sand. And if the prices don't stabilize this year, what next? Do they have a plan B?

If the UAE wants long term stability and to establish itself as a business-friendly environment, the first step is to set an inflation target of 2-3% and stick to it. But we may well find in April that the other GCC countries take the decision that Dubai really needs and revalue the GCC currencies anyway.
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