ABU DHABI // Hundreds of tenants have been defrauded by bogus landlords and property agents who rent one home to several families and then disappear before the scam is uncovered.
Police in Abu Dhabi have investigated 211 cases of property fraud in the past 15 months, 66 of them in the first three months of this year.
One victim, Salwa, an Arab resident, paid a year’s rent of Dh70,000 and Dh4,000 in commission in January to an Emirati “landlord” and his “agent”, and was given a receipt and a contract.
Two days later she discovered the property had been leased to several families and the papers were forged.
“I was shocked to learn that legal procedures weren’t a sufficient deterrent and the fraudsters didn’t stop,” she said.
“The same ads featured week after week in the same magazine. There were more than 75 reports filed against the same perpetrators. The Emirati man was arrested but his accomplice remains at large.”
Brig Gen Maktoum Al Sharifi of Abu Dhabi Police told Al Ittihad, the Arabic-language sister newspaper of The National, that cases of property fraud usually began with advertisements in property publications or on social media for an apartment or a villa for rent.
Once victims have viewed the property, they are asked to pay part or all the rent while the fraudster continues to lease the same home to others before he shuts down his mobile phone and disappears.
Brig Gen Al Sharifi urged victims to report such cases, even if the amount lost was minimal, and stressed the need to register all lease contracts with Abu Dhabi Municipality. He said the police were cooperating with the metropolitan anti-crime council, which comprises 14 government establishments in Abu Dhabi, to regulate the property profession.
“The Metropolitan Police Directorate organised recently the first awareness campaign in residential areas to warn against real estate fraud,” he said.
“The campaign was well received by members of the community and its second edition will be rolled out in the near future in collaboration with the relevant police departments to bring awareness to the public and specifically to landlords and tenants.”
Property expert Mubarak Al Ameri has been urging authorities to regulate the industry since 2008, including issuing licences and labour cards for brokers. He said the absence of regulation caused significant losses to landlords and tenants alike because of fraudulent practices by unlicensed operators.
Mr Al Ameri said fraud could be avoided if landlords and tenants took simple precautions.
For example, tenants should verify the legitimacy of any lease contract and the competence of the broker before issuing any cheques or transferring any money. Leasing and insurance cheques should be issued to the landlord only and the commission cheque should be issued to the broker.
In addition, all lease contracts should be registered with Abu Dhabi Municipality.
Mr Al Ameri said a recent study of the property sector in Abu Dhabi recommended the establishment of an authority to regulate the market and monitor brokers. The proposed authority would also monitor property ads and build a database for property investments.
All ads would have to be approved by the authority. Breaking the rules would bring a Dh10,000 fine for a first offence, Dh20,000 for a second and Dh50,000 for a third.
Abu Dhabi Municipality has introduced the Tawtheeq system to register all leasable property and lease contracts to regulate the relationship between landlords and tenants.
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(via The National)