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From the beginning of next year, there will be no legal protection for rental scam victims in Abu Dhabi unless they have duly attested tenancy contracts, a senior prosecutor said on Monday.
“Starting beginning of next year, Abu Dhabi Judicial Department will not accept rental fraud cases unless a duly attested tenancy contract is submitted,” said Hassan Mohammad Al Hammadi, Head of the Financial Unit of the Public Prosecution Office at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.
Al Hammadi said the move was prompted by the fact that more than 99 per cent of rental fraud cases involved tenants who fell prey to unscrupulous businessmen because they accepted contracts which were not attested by Abu Dhabi Municipality.
As many as 476 tenants have been defrauded by bogus landlords and property agents, who rent one home to several families and then disappear before the scam is uncovered, between January 1 and September 30.
Al Hammadi said cases of property fraud usually began with advertisements in property publications or on social media for an apartment or a villa for rent. Once victims have viewed the property, they are offered rent payment in a lump sum for a significant discount. The fraudster continues to lease the same home to others before he shuts down his mobile phone and disappears.
Al Hammadi urged victims to report such cases, even if the amount lost is minimal, and stressed the need to get tenancy contracts attested with Abu Dhabi Municipality.
Scammers can face up to three years in jail or a Dh30,000 fine. Attempted property fraud is punishable by two years in jail or a fine of up to Dh20,000, according to the Penal Code.
Al Hammadi suggested that the law be changed so that scammers can be ordered to repay the money they have defrauded, so that victims are saved filing a case with the civil court.
Al Hammadi said the primary responsibility has to lie with the tenants themselves, who must make an effort to check all documents of the landlord or agents.
He advised tenants not to let the rising cost of rents encourage quick transactions as the onus will be on them to protect themselves by only using reputable landlords and property agents.
Tenants said they were forced to take unattested contracts because they were driven out of the market due to their low income and high rents.
“Only studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments in villas are affordable, but unfortunately not duly attested,” said a tenant who asked not to be named.
Al Hammadi said such contracts involved illegally divided apartments in villas.
At present, tenants in Abu Dhabi cannot avoid attestation because duly attested tenancy contracts are required for electricity, water, phone and internet connections, and sponsorship of families, among other formalities.
However, many tenants manage to avoid attestation of tenancy contracts if they are single and sponsored by companies.
Tenants are warned to be cautious and check every detail before paying any money
* Ask for landlord or agent’s ID card and other documents. Verify the identity of the person you are dealing with
* Talk to several agents when looking for a rental unit.
* Deal only with reputable companies. They are usually more professional in doing their job.
* Ask for a copy of proof of ownership of the property being rented out. A genuine agent operates from a proper office, and can present the owner’s documents (including a copy of the landlord’s passport and proof of ownership).
* Ask for a copy of the trade licence of the broker. If you sense any abuse or fraud, gather documents and immediately submit them to Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.
* Always pay with a cheque and insist on receipts. When paying an advance (which can be adjusted against the deposit or agent’s commission) it must be in the name of the real estate company, never in the name of the individual broker. If an agent asks for a cheque to be written in the landlord/owner’s name, he must provide proper documents/authorisation — that he is authorised by the landlord to collect the money.
* Don’t issue cheques in the name of an individual. Issue cheques in the name of the company. This will prevent even licensed brokers from running away with your money.
* Read the tenancy contract carefully before signing and make sure there are no objectionable provisions.
* Check the trade licence of the real estate company.
* Check its approved activities according to its licence from the Economic Department.
* Check registration number and the broker’s licence.
* Always insist on inspecting the property. Never agree to make any payments upfront or sign a contract without first inspecting the property. Viewing the property and meeting the agent in person are the best ways to guarantee that the listing is legitimate.
* If you detect a scam, file a case with the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department.
How to get a tenancy contract attested
Tenancy contracts can be authenticated through the Abu Dhabi Municipality’s Tawtheeq property registration system. This attestation is necessary to sponsor your family, hook up utilities at Abu Dhabi Distribution Company or apply for a parking spot with Mawaqif, the capital’s parking scheme.
It is the responsibility of the landlord to register with Tawtheeq, and in case the property owner refuses, the tenant can complain to the rental dispute committee, which will have the contract attested at the landlord’s expense.
Source: Samir Salama, Associate Editor, gulfnews.com