Dubai: More than 70 families in a building in Al Ghusais are facing eviction before their tenancy contract ends following a dispute between the landlord and a real estate firm whose owners have gone missing.
Residents of the new 12-storey Dawn building with 96 units in Al Nahda 2 said they had been given until September 14 to vacate their units or sign a new contract with the landlord.
Most tenants signed their contract and gave one cheque to MFR Properties LLC, who had shown them a letter of authority from the landlord before the agents did a runner. A number of tenants had just moved in to their apartments in March.
“We’re being made scapegoats in a dispute between the real estate agency and the landlord,” said Suresh, an Indian salesman whose tenancy ends in November.
The phone number listed on MFR’s receipts no longer works and XPRESS’ e-mails to their Yahoo account went unanswered.
XPRESS saw an authorisation letter dated July 3, 2011 stating that the Emirati landlord, Madya Butti Mujren Sultan, had authorised MFR to represent her to prospective clients. But the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (Rera) had cancelled MFR Properties’ licence in February following numerous complaints from landlords over bounced cheques.
Most tenants apparently fell for the scam after they were wooed by the slightly below-market rental the real estate company had asked for the new units. One tenant paid only Dh31,000 for a two-bedroom last February when the average rate for a property of that size in the Al Nahda 2 area is about Dh41,500 as per the Real Estate Regulatory Authority’s (Rera) Rent Index.
“When I booked the unit in February,” said Tehseen, a 30-year-old Indian IT executive, “they (real estate agents) asked me to pay either in cash or with one cheque. I couldn’t have suspected that they were up to no good as the rents were still falling then. I was just happy to have found a bigger place for myself and my wife,” said Tehseen, who got married in January in India and moved into his unit in March after taking a loan to pay the rent.
It turned out that his happiness was short-lived.
Sandy Cuevas, a Filipino aircraft technician, paid Dh32,000 – plus Dh5,000 deposit and commission – for his two-bedroom unit in February. He said: “I have advanced my housing allowance from my company for one year and paid in cash to the agent.”
Established property agents said the below-market rent was a ruse used by MFR to con both tenants and the landlord – the tenants were asked to pay with one cheque, while the landlord was asked to accept four cheques.
The September 14 deadline was handed down by the Rent Committee, a body ruling on rental disputes under the Dubai Municipality, said tenants. While neither the ruling nor the final date couldn’t be independently verified, tenants are appealing to authorities to intervene.
“We understand that the landlord is also a victim in this fraud,” said Rashid Mohammad, 31, a father of one. “We received a notice from the Rent Committee on June 12, which told us to attend a hearing at 4.30pm two days later. In that hearing, we were told the owner and real estate agent had issues because the cheques given to the owner by the agent had bounced. Then we were told to vacate by September 14 as the contract between the landlord and agent expires on that day,” said the Indian telecommunications salesman who also gave Dh32,000 in February for his two-bedroom unit in one cheque.
Mohammad said he spoke to the owner’s representative after the meeting. “He told us to renew by September 14 and that there’s no other option. This is not fair.”
Maqsood Dalvi, 50, an Indian whose tenancy contract expires on December 31, said: “We are unable to live in peace now that there’s an eviction threat hanging over our heads. We hope the authorities would help us sort this thing out.”
Arvind, a 29-year-old IT executive, moved in from Ras Al Khaimah three months ago. “It’s really unfair for us to be evicted six months into a one-year contract. I had taken a bank loan to pay the rent for the entire year till February 2013,” he said.
The MFR Properties scam has thrown up long threads in online forums. One MFR victim wrote in a web forum on February 19: “I paid the total rent in one cheque 12 days back. The owner came to me two days back and asked me to do a new contract with him or leave the apartment. I went to police with all the legal documents and police told me, ‘You are safe. You will stay in the apartment for 12 months’.”
Another tenant said: “My eight-year-old daughter suddenly burst into tears when she heard about this issue.”
XPRESS saw a copy of the tenancy contract that bears the landlord’s name with “Managed by: MFR Properties LLC” next to it written in brackets. The landlord declined to comment and referred us to a spokesperson, who had no comment either.
With inputs from Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz
How to avoid tenancy fraud
- Deal with only the established real estate agents
- Ask for the licence number of the agent you’re signing up with
- Avoid agents asking for single-cheque rents