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.


Anonymous said...

we have renewed our contract without termination clouse on Aug.Now i've just got a letter that my flat has been sold!!!!
to an unknown companey ,. The new owner has not seen inside my appartmnet even before buying.Can we be in the safe side for next year renewal of our contract up to 2009.?Anyone has the same experince?

Anonymous said...

You can say that again!

Our experience;

Your Villa has been sold without inspection.
No, we have not confirmed this to you in writing.
No, we will not maintain the property.
Yes, here is the email address of the new owner.
No, the alleged new owner will not respond to emails sent to the address provided by emaar.
Yes, I think you can say that the fun and games have begun.

A promise from this tenant. I am just as capable of ignoring emails, letters, notices etc as the next one. I can attend Rent C'tee meetings as well as anyone.

Best of luck to our new owners. Our lease expires in August 2007, see you in Court.

contact us: homelesstenants[at]