DUBAI: Filipinos allege that real estate agents are refusing to rent out apartments to them in certain Dubai buildings and areas - and their dried fish delicacy is partly to blame.
A Filipino couple looking for a new unit told XPRESS they were shocked when watchmen in two Karama buildings told them about an unwritten no-leasing-to-Filipinos rule by landlords.
Rey and Cynthia Alfonso, who have a one-year-old child, rang up numbers posted next to "To Let" signs, only to end up disheartened. "We were looking to upgrade from our studio flat to a one-bedroom unit. On at least two occasions, the watchmen told us bluntly we were not welcome to their building," said Rey, 34, who works as a civil engineer building skyscrapers for a major UAE-based contractor.
Prone to overcrowding
"They told us Filipinos are prone to overcrowding.
"It's not fair because it's a false generalisation. In reality, no one wants to live in an overcrowded place," said Alfonso.
Besides overcrowding, Filipinos - one of the emirate's biggest Asian communities - are also being shunted out for allegedly cooking foul-smelling food.
Kumar, an Indian real estate agent for an International City property, explained it quite politely. "There's this one particular dried fish Filipino delicacy. I cannot blame them if they cook it and it's one of their favourite dishes. Even we Indians have some food that other people can't bear. But my landlord says this is one reason why Filipinos are not welcome in his building."
"Some residents specifically look for buildings where there are no Filipinos to avoid the smell of dried fish fouling up their rooms, especially in centrally cooled buildings," said Kumar, referring to "tuyo" (dried fish or squid).
Ironically, even some Filipinos find it disgusting as the smell tends to linger and sticks to clothes.
"Either I follow my owner's orders or I'm out," said Saeed, a building watchman in Deira.
Bagharam, an Indian watchman in Karama, said a two-bedroom unit in his building is rented out for Dh60,000. "But for Filipinos and Arabs, the same unit goes for Dh80,000."
The reason? "With Filipinos, you find 20 of them in a two-bedroom unit. Don't blame my landlord."
Saeed, a property agent leasing units in Deira, said the building owner gave him specific orders not to take Filipinos, Chinese and Vietnamese as tenants.
A section of the Filipino community attributes the discrimination to a cultural gap.
"To a certain extent, it's [overcrowding among Filipinos] true," said Alice, a mother of two from Bicol province who works as an accountant with a multinational. "But we're not the only ones doing it. You go to the Marina and you find western expatriates in a similar situation."
She said it is within the right of building managers to screen and know who their tenants are. "Landlords must also protect their assets."
Alan Bacason, head of the Filipino Community Council, which groups around 50 regional language and hobby groups of Filipinos in Dubai and the northern emirates, said the unwritten discrimination runs against the multi-cultural and cosmopolitan nature of Dubai.
"I believe it comes down to cultural differences or preferences. When it comes to food, the feeling is mutual … there are certain foods from other cultures we find repugnant. But it's no big deal for us. We just take it."
Bacason, a HR professional, said: "Those of us who work abroad must find ways to save money so we're able to provide for our families back home," said
For some the rejections come with painful frankness - if not insults. "Most of us try to live spartan lives overseas to provide for our families at home. No one wants to live in a cramped place. But even if we do find ourselves in such a situation, we are still able to find happiness in a situation that may seem sad to others."
But in an oversupply market, not every agent can choose their tenants or neighbours. At the International City and mid-range units at Discovery Gardens and Barsha, numerous properties are advertised. Real estate agent Yasser, an Asian, said all renters are welcome - whether they are families or bachelors.
Unrelated people sharing flats is allowed, but Dubai Municipality strictly enforces the one-family-one-villa rule. Inspectors of Trakhees, the building safety regulator in Tecom areas, allows one person per 200 square feet of living space. Violators can be fined Dh1,000 to Dh50,000.