UAE: I can’t get my security deposit back, what should I do?

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Explained: The process for filing a case with Dubai’s Rental Dispute Centre

Dubai: Moving homes can be a stressful experience in itself. However, if as a tenant you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to get your security deposit back from your previous landlord, matters can get a lot more complicated.

A Gulf News reader wrote in sharing his experience with failing to get even a reduced deposit back from his landlord, despite handing over the premises in pristine condition.

He said: “I had vacated a villa, which I had on lease in Dubai, and at the time of the handover I took a day off and handed over the villa in impeccable condition, which was also acknowledged by their representative when I signed off. Then after a long delay they sent me a whopping deduction for unreasonable items which were not raised at the time of handover. I believe the reason they made this huge deduction was to waste time and delay the payment expecting me to contest the claim. I agreed to these unfair deductions in order to receive my money and requested their manager to refund the balance of my deposit. Till date, I have sent reminders to their manager, but he never responded. Out of desperation, I write to Gulf News with the hope that you will help me in my predicament and also warn other prospective tenants to be careful.”

Tips to ensure you get your security deposit back
There are a few simple tips to follow to ensure you get your security deposit back in full:

Read your contract regarding maintenance
The contract may stipulate the amount of periodic maintenance that the landlord is liable to conduct and any maximum limit on the cost of such maintenance.

Repair any damage, get a repaint if possible

If there is any damage to the unit, it is important you get it fixed before handover. If the wall paint has worn off, a repaint may also be advisable. Handing over the unit without these fixes can lead to the landlord deducting the costs from your deposit, which may be higher than getting it done from a reliable third party maintenance team.

Don’t leave behind furniture
This is applicable for unfurnished apartments. It is important to remove any clutter, furniture or household belongings before handover.

Clear your bills
While a clearance from the utility authority is necessary to get your security deposit, it is advisable to clear any telecommunications bills as well, to ensure a smooth move.

Speak to your landlord
Whether you deal with an individual or a real estate company, it is important to establish a good communication and relationship with your landlord to avoid any conflicts at the time of handover.

However, if despite taking all the necessary steps, you are unable to get your security deposit back, you can file a case with Dubai’s Rental Dispute Centre (RDC).

What is the process for applying for a refund on the security deposit?

In Dubai, the Law Regulating Relationship between Landlords and Tenants in the Emirate of Dubai No. 26 of 2007 stipulates several aspects of the tenancy contract, which need to be adhered to by both parties.

“In line with Article 8 and Article 20 of the law, the rental security deposit shall be due upon the expiry of the tenancy contract, either by termination of the contract or at the end of the tenancy period without renewal, and after delivering the unit to the landlord or his representative in appropriate condition in good faith and obtaining clearance from the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority,” Reda Hegazy, Senior Legal Advisor and Arbitrator, Al Suwaidi and Company, told Gulf News.

What if my landlord refuses to return the deposit?
“If upon the expiry of the tenancy contract, the landlord refuses without any valid reason to refund the deposit, the tenant has the right to file a complaint before the Mediation and Conciliation Directorate in the Rental Dispute Center (RDC), to claim the deposit, as per Article 21 of Law No. 26 of 2007,” he added.

Practical challenges
While the process of applying for a refund, and raising the case with the RDC is clearly laid out, in practical everyday situations matters can get quite complicated, according to Ahmed Elnaggar, Managing Partner at Abu Dhabi-based Elnaggar Legal Advisors Limited.

“It is probably one of the most repeated questions or inquiries that I have heard from my clients whenever representing the tenant in a rental dispute! As per the majority of tenancy contracts, the tenant must pay five per cent of the annual contract to the landlord as a security deposit towards possible repairs and fit-outs restoration. The security deposit would go to 10 per cent in case the unit is a furnished one,” he said.

“Despite what the legal logic would entail, the tenant or the landlord rarely make an actual report at the beginning of the rental relationship to set the baseline or prove how the unit looked like when the handover was done at the start of the rent period, which is referred to as a snagging report. This makes it almost impossible to dispute the landlord if it was claimed that the unit’s damage actually happened during or before the handover of the unit to the tenant. And in most cases, the tenants are not happy with the quotations provided to them at the end of the contract, and they believe they can easily find a cheaper maintenance company. The fact that the landlord already has in hand the full amount makes it very frustrating and sometimes offending when the tenant feels that they are being taken advantage of because of the contract’s termination,” he added.

Where should I go?
You can visit the Rental Dispute Centre located near the Dubai Municipality’s main office on Baniyas Road in Deira. You can also approach a typing center that is authorised by the RDC.

Which language should the documents be submitted in?
All documents submitted to the centre must be in Arabic or legally translated to Arabic.

Which documents should I submit for my claim?
Elnaggar provided a list of documents, which a tenant is expected to submit, in order to file a dispute:

1. Tenancy contract and its addendum, if any,

2. Ejari registration,

3. Copy of the landlord’s identification passport copy, driver’s licence copy or Emirates ID.

4. Copy of the tenant’s Emirates ID, Passport copy and/or visa page.

5. Explanatory note with the incidents and facts, explaining the claim and the amount of money which was deposited, in Arabic.

What fees should I be expecting?
The fees are a percentage of the claim itself, with a minimum fee of Dh200 and in general it is 3.5 per cent of the value of the claim, according to Elnaggar.

An amicable settlement
If the case is taken to the committee, RDC can invite the two parties to try to resolve it amicably within a maximum of 15 days.

“This period may be extended for the same period or periods by a decision of the judge supervising the Mediation and Conciliation Directorate. If both parties agreed to settle the dispute in front of the Mediation and Conciliation Directorate, they will sign the agreement, which will be approved by the judge supervising the Mediation and Conciliation Directorate. This agreement will have the force of a writ of execution [an enforceable court order] and half of the dispute fee paid by the claimant will be refunded to him. In case the parties fail to amicably settle, then the dispute is referred to the RDC to hear the case and issue a judgment in the disputed subject,” Hegazy said.

In case of reconciliation hearings, you may even need to attend it online or through a Whatsapp group initiated by the counselor as a precautionary measure during COVID-19, according to Elnaggar.

The first official hearing
Elnaggar went on to explain the process that is followed by the centre in case the case is not settled amicably between the two parties and referred to a first instance hearing.

“You will receive an email from RDC announcing the date and time to attend the first hearing and the web link for your attendance online. Both of you and the landlord – or the landlord’s representative – should receive the same email message from the Secretary of RDC, who runs the hearing. It will show the exact date and time, including the link that you should use to attend the hearing.

“In the absence of the secretary of the hearing, the judge speaks in English directly with the expat. At all times, the expat can be assisted by an interpreter, if needed,” Elnaggar added.

What to expect during the First Instance Committee hearing
1. Online login
Once you log in, you will see a list of the attendees for several similar cases waiting for the hearing to start. The secretary of RDC manages the hearing and checks the files together with the attendees’ list.

The secretary of the Committee will announce the start of the hearing by asking everybody to mute their microphones and closing the cameras. You are only allowed to do so when requested and when the secretary calls for your case to start.

2. The Judge attends and the hearing starts
The judge will attend, and the secretary will take the sequence of the cases calling for each case by the names of the parties. Each party must demonstrate their relation to the case “attending personally or by power of attorney representing themselves or someone else”. Any of the parties can attend the hearing personally or by Power of Attorney. The judge will start to ask questions, listen from both parties in a case, and discuss whatever they want to clarify. The judge has the right to stop the conversation whenever he wants and to adjourn the hearing. He can give the other party time to reply to the claim or to submit more documents or any other memo as he sees necessary.

Referring to the case raised by the Gulf News reader, Elnaggar said: “We highly recommend you and everyone with a similar situation to seek professional legal advice before proceeding to register or attending the hearings of a complaint with the Dubai Rental Dispute Centre to make sure you are well-equipped and prepared to argue your legal rights, to prepare your explanatory memo supported by the articles of the law and to check if the documents you will submit and the arguments you may bring before the judge are relevant. Going into a legal battle requires legal professionals with relevant expertise,” he added.

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