The impacted owners have units at Universal Apartments in International City, which is one of Dubai's most affordable residential locations. (Image used for illustrative purposes.) Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Some property buyers in Dubai are finding that even after 10 years and more of owning their units, they are still not the actual “owners” because they never had the ‘Oqood’ certificates issued under their names.

They came to know of their unfortunate circumstances only after auction notices were issued on a few apartments at Universal Apartments - a low-rise built by Sheffield Real Estate in International City. This is the same developer behind the Dh1 billion plus Marina 101 at Dubai Marina, a skyscraper project that has been under development off and on for 15 years.

“Because Sheffield owes money to banks, the banks have put the developer’s property assets for auction,” said the owner of one of the apartments. “They tried to do so with the serviced hotel apartment floors on Marina 101, and they are doing the same with our apartments in International City. Even though we had bought and cleared all the payments related to the buying of the property.”

Paying off in full but not an 'owner'
There are several property owners at Marina 101 who have paid in full on their apartments but do not have the Oqood registrations done. They will be impacted heavily in any future settlement process that may happen, which could see a new investor-developer taking over the skyscraper project.

As per local real estate laws, an Oqood registration is a must for owner rights to be established.

The Marina 101 apartments were among the costliest at the time of their launch in 2005-6, with starting prices well over Dh1 million.

Lack of an Oqood

That the bank could do so is because the apartments at the International City building were never registered in the buyer’s name with the Dubai Land Department/RERA. This means that, technically, these apartments are still part of the Sheffield property portfolio and not with any individual owner. (As per Dubai real estate laws, all offplan purchases need to be registered and Oqood certificates issued.)

“It was at the beginning of June that an employee of Sheffield Management contacted me to notify us of the auction,” said the owner. “We found out that our apartment was one of 12 in the building that Sheffield did not transfer to buyers' names, but instead remain registered under Sheffield Real Estate.

“We have been going around in circles since the end of June. We were initially told to visit the Al Adheed offices to make contact with a judge, but we are unable to object to the auction. A separate case was filed by us, but we were told to go to the Land Department to get the title deed.

“The Land Department was very helpful and checked our documents, but because there is a block on the building from the court, they're unable to make any transfers or follow up.”

This investor bought the studio unit in 2005, and paid off the Dh274,475 in 2008 on completion of the building. He isn’t the only one affected by the auctioning. There are about 10 units thus being auctioned, even as the other property owners in the building have no issue because they have Oqood certificates issued on their units.

What’s interesting is that despite not having the Oqood registered to them, the affected property owners were able to rent out their units all through these years. “Because we could rent out, everyone assumed everything was in order,” the owner said. “Each of the tenancy contracts listed the buyer as the owner.”

Marina 101
The Marina 101 is the lone high-rise that is yet to be completed in Dubai Marina within that particular area. Recently, the project was revived after RERA took the initiative to complete it using escrow funds. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Legal options

The owners have sought legal advice. “The only real advice we have is to sue Sheffield for the amount initially payed to them,” one of the owners said. “This doesn't seem practical as Sheffield owes lots of money (estimated in the hundreds of millions of dirhams). So, even if the case is won, we lose as we all will be at the bottom of a long list of people trying to claim their money.”