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Workers hope to stay on after rent scam leaves them in limbo

Scores of companies seeking staff accommodation targeted by alleged fraudster who reportedly fled with rent payments

Image Credit: Faisal Masudi/Gulf News
Workers say life is limping back to normal after they werecaught in the middle of an alleged rent scam.
Gulf News

Dubai: Workers caught in the middle of an alleged rent scam targeting staff accommodations in Dubai are cautiously optimistic they will be allowed to stay on.

The companies housing them have no registered tenancy contracts as an alleged conman posed as a landlord or broker and vanished after pocketing the rent.

Dozens of shared rooms in Al Qouz were rented out by an alleged rogue middleman in the last few days of 2012 to more than 30 companies seeking staff accommodation, Gulf News was told by the victims of the alleged scam.

The middleman posed as the landlord, agent or sub-lessor of at least two complexes and received large sums of money, the victims complained.

At the same time, acting through his partnership position at a technical services firm, he presented himself to the actual landlord as a potential tenant for the complexes.

Rent cheques provided through him to the landlord have bounced and he is wanted by police. The whereabouts of the suspect are unknown and he is unreachable. His firm’s offices are closed.

Meanwhile, many workers who moved in at the end of December 2012 were shocked to learn there is no formal agreement between their companies and the real landlord.

Also, some of the rooms had been rented out to multiple parties. And as the middleman apparently fled, the complexes’ were left without maintenance services.

Some door locks were apparently broken by angry workers who forced themselves into the rooms after learning they were duped, a few labourers said. However, the reports could not be independently verified.

“We are not sure what will happen to us. Out company said there are sorting it out with the landlord, but we’re not in the loop about what’s going on,” said Jahfar Hamza, 24, an Indian labourer.

Hamza’s company, a cement manufacturer, had paid Dh120,000 as advance half-year rent for 16 rooms, he said.

“That money obviously didn’t reach the actual landlord, so we lost and the landlord lost too. But we were told a deal will be made, I hope that’s soon.

“When we moved in, there were water disruptions, the water was bad. The camp was full of trash, it smelled. There were no cleaners or security guards. There’s still no proper kitchen or gas connection; and a disagreement is brewing between some workers over who gets to cook on the stoves.”

His colleague added: “There are management problems — there is no management. The problem is that the workers are from so many different companies here; are we going to have one camp boss for all?

“Thankfully, the landlord is good and they have started working things out for us. We could have been out on the streets,” he added.

One workers’ group, spending their weekly off-day at the complex, said they are paying for food delivery that costs each of them Dh300 per month — roughly 40 per cent of their average salary – as they can’t cook in the common kitchens.

“If we could cook, it would save us money and the food would be according to our taste. But the real concern right now is what will happen to us legally regarding staying here,” Hamza added.

The landlord’s representative, who did not wish to be identified, previously told Gulf News: “We are negotiating new valid tenancy contracts and [payment] terms with the affected companies and trying to work out the best solution for everyone.

“They [the firm] had ‘rented’ out the rooms for about Dh1,000 instead of the going rate of about Dh1,500-Dh2,000 per month.

“When people see a cheap deal, they often jump on it without checking the paperwork. They should see if something’s fishy.”

Some companies affected also said a deal is expected that could include new rent rates and valid tenancy agreements, with cases handled on an individual company bases.