Landlords harassing tenants

Meraj Rizvi And Zaigham Ali Mirza
Filed on March 18, 2006

DUBAI — Tenants in Dubai and Sharjah have complained that landlords are now adopting arm-twisting techniques to get rid of them and replacing them with new tenants willing to pay higher rents.

The practice has become rampant recently, following the authorities in Dubai and Sharjah having restricted landlords from hiking rents once in three years only, while Dubai has recently asked landlords not to hike their rent by more than 15 per cent this year, residents said, disclosing they are the victims of greedy landlords who do not want to violate the existing rent act, but on the other hand are constantly looking for loopholes in the law to continue exploiting tenants and making profits.

Landlords however deny the practice, saying, they have the right to ask a tenant who violates the tenancy contract to vacate the apartment. “We have our own rules and also make our tenants sign an undertaking in addition to the tenancy contract. If the tenant violates the contract and the undertaking, we first warn the tenants, but if they fail to abide by the warning, we ask them to vacate,” said the real estate manager of Khalifa Al Fahed Properties and Contracting, Dubai.

A tenant of Rolla Building in Bur Dubai, a property owned by Khalifa Al Fahed Properties and Contracting, said: “The landlord’s staff is harassing us by picking on us for every small thing, such as forcing us to pull down all decorations put on the entrance of the apartments, not allowing us to keep children’s bicycle or garbage bags outside the apartment etc.”

Suparna (name changed on request) said: “We have been residing in the building for several years now, but it is only recently that the landlord has been picking on the tenants and warning us to vacate the apartment immediately if we fail to abide by their condition.” She said that the landlord had increased their rent by 17 per cent last year and has plans to increase it further. So, he is picking on old tenants and harassing them so that they can leave and he can bring in new tenants for higher rents.

Another resident of the same building said: “When we argue, the building watchman tells us to leave the building if we are unhappy with the new rents.” But we have very little option because of the high rents in Bur Dubai. We pay about Dh30,000 for a one-bedroom apartment, he said. A number of residents also complained that the landlord had restricted them from keeping guests such as their visiting parents or family. “They think we are sub-letting the apartment to other families and forcing us to make alternate arrangements for our family who visit Dubai and live with us during their visit visa period. How can anyone interfere in our homes and force us to ask our old visiting parents to live separately?,” the tenants said, a majority of them Indians, urging authorities to take action against such erring landlords and real estate agents.

A tenant of a building in Sharjah also complained of similar harassment by her landlord. A. Abdullah, an Arab national, said that the landlord is not very aggressive with Arab nationals, but adopts an aggressive attitude towards Asian tenants, forcing them not to keep anything outside their apartments, failing which they are asked to leave. A number of tenants of a building in Al Nahda area also complained of harassment by their landlord so that they leave the building and make room for new tenants who can pay more rent. “The landlord has stopped carrying out any maintenance works in the building. For example, the building entrance and elevator is forever strewn with filth and no one cleans it up regularly. “If we complain, we are simply asked to leave if we’re unhappy,” complained Hisham Labib. Even the Rent Committee does not intervene in such matters, he added.

The spokesperson for the landlord of Rolla Building in Bur Dubai said: “We carry out regular inspections of apartments because we fear that most tenants are sub-letting the apartment to bachelors and families, claiming that they are their relatives. We have made every tenant sign an undertaking alongwith the tenancy contract, making it clear that their apartment is a family residence only and only one family unit can reside. If they break the condition and terms, they will have to vacate the flat immediately without any refund of rent,” Ms Amal of Khalifa Al Fahed Contracting said.

Commenting on forcing tenants to remove decorations from their doors, she said the landlord has the right to prohibit tenants from putting up anything outside the apartment. “We cannot allow display of different cultures on their doors,” she said. She added that landlords are becoming strict with their tenants because they do not want residential units for families, only to be sub-let to bachelors. A tenant in the Rolla Building, who runs a beauty saloon in the apartment during the day, Ms Amal disclosed, had also sub-leased her one-bedroom apartment to two families after working hours. We cannot allow such a practice by tenants, she noted.

The issue of shared apartments is primarily out of the jurisdiction of the Building Department, according to an official at the Building Inspection Unit, which is currently carrying out a campaign to rid Dubai’s residential areas of labourers who live in overcrowded conditions in villas. “The problem is between the tenants and the landlords and all such disputes in Dubai have to be directed to the Rents Committee,” the official said. According to him, the landlords may have a say in various issues if these are covered in a lease or contract.

The official pointed out that sub-letting has become a widespread issue due to rent hikes and as such landlords can object to such practices. “There are public health specifications set by the local authority concerned on the occupancy of living space. These guidelines specify the minimum size of a room for instance as well as the maximum number of occupants it should be used for housing,” he explained. He added that a violation of this as well as the rent contract, which does not allow sub-letting, would definitely be against the tenant.

On the issue of a landlord’s objection to simple decorations of a rented apartment by tenants, he noted that it is a matter of understanding between a landlord and a tenant. In some cases, landlords expect the tenant to seek prior permission for things such as the use of nails on the walls.

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