The Debt Panel: 'I lost my $5,445 short-term rental deposit'

The Dubai resident used his credit card to pay for an apartment but the landlord stopped contacting him after receiving the money

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I moved to the UAE after finding a job here last year. I was living in a hotel apartment paid for by my employer for the first year and was looking for short-term rental deals for my second year.

I came across an apartment rental listing on a classifieds portal. The price quoted was within my budget and claimed to account for all bills and utilities. The photos looked appealing and legitimate as well.

When I contacted the owner, he replied instantly, saying he wanted to rent out the unit quickly since he was out of the UAE.

He claimed to receive numerous enquiries for the property and asked me to urgently transfer the first month’s rent and a refundable security deposit worth a total of Dh20,000 ($5,445) if I wanted to reserve the unit.

Watch: Dubai sees a property search boom

I didn’t have the cash to pay for it, so withdrew the funds from my credit card.

He said the payment would remain with the booking platform until I physically inspected the property and confirmed it was in the condition as described.

However, after transferring the money to him online, he stopped responding to my emails.

I now find myself in debt with a maxed out credit card and without a place to live as I can’t afford another deposit. Can you advise me on how to recover my money? SS, Dubai

Debt panellist 1: Carol Glynn, founder of Conscious Finance Coaching

I am so sorry this has happened. Unfortunately, this has all the indicators of fraud and so it will be difficult to recover your money.

To have any chance of recovery, you need to report this to the police. Bring evidence of all communications with the person and report the fraud.

Also report the advertisement and fraudulent landlord to the website so they can block the user and try to prevent them doing this to someone else.

This can be avoided by working with a Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Rera) registered agent and never handing over money without first seeing the property, validating the ownership and the rights of the landlord to rent the apartment.

A good estate agent will complete this due diligence for you.

A common red flag is undue urgency. If someone is putting pressure on you to transfer money without at least seeing the property first, do not take the risk no matter how good the property looks.

Taking a cash advance on your credit card is an extremely expensive form of debt.

The interest rate charged is higher than the interest charged on purchases.

There is no interest-free period on cash advances, so the interest starts accumulating immediately. Banks charge large transaction fees for this type of transaction.

This is not a wise use of your credit card. I would recommend focusing on repaying your credit card urgently, before the balance due multiplies.

If you don’t have the cash to do this, can you take out a bank loan?

The interest rate will be a lot less on a loan. If you do not have any other debt and have been employed for over a year, you should be a good candidate for a loan to clear the credit card balance.

Regarding finding accommodation, is it an option for your company to continue to support you with accommodation until you have paid off your debt and saved a deposit?

An alternative option would be to rent a room in a shared apartment or villa. This will cost less than renting an apartment alone, both in terms of rent and also bills.

Ideally, you can then save enough money over time for a deposit if you still want to rent an apartment at a later date.

Debt panellist 2: Richard Waid, group managing director at Betterhomes

Unfortunately, this sounds like you have fallen victim to fraud.

If you rented the property through a short-term rental or holiday rental agency, that agency should be licensed by the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, known as Dubai Tourism.

In the first instance, you should contact the department to make a complaint. However, if you have been dealing directly with a presumed landlord, I recommend speaking directly to the police and open a case for fraud.

I would also recommend contacting the booking platform to explain the situation.

Booking platforms have a duty of care to ensure all advertisers on their platform are legitimate and I would hope they assist with returning the money.

However, if you paid the landlord directly rather than through their platform, they may not be able to help.

If this advertisement was classed as a short-term rental, regardless of whether or not it was through a licensed company, the owner should still have the unit licensed privately through the DTCM.

The reader should still contact the DTCM to file a complaint against the listing, and they will contact the owner accordingly and take action if they are fit.

It is also important to note the security deposit amount is alarmingly high for a short-term rental and represents fraudulent behaviour.

For example, our short-term rental company, BetterStay, charges an average deposit fee of Dh3,000 for a one-bedroom apartment and Dh5,000 for a two-bedroom apartment up to a maximum of Dh9,000.

When looking at a Dh20,000 deposit, this would have to be for a high-end villa or ultra-luxury penthouse, although even in these cases, it is rare.

Sadly, short-term rentals can be a space inhabited by fraudsters and tenants must understand the potential risks of dealing directly with landlords.

This highlights the importance of seeking short-term stays through a company that ensures regulatory compliance and that all money is paid through them or via a reputable booking platform.

Debt panellist 3: Felicity Glover, personal finance editor at 'The National'

It is unfortunate that you find yourself in this situation, more so as you now have an expensive debt to pay off.

As my fellow panellists mentioned, you should report the landlord to the classified platform and also to the licensing authority to prevent this from happening to another potential tenant.

I think you have no choice at the moment but to find suitable share accommodation until you get back on your feet financially.

Quote
Sadly, short-term rentals can be a space inhabited by fraudsters and tenants must understand the potential risks of dealing directly with landlords
Richard Waid, group managing director at Betterhomes

Paying off your credit card as soon as possible is important as you don't want the debt to spiral out of control because of high interest charges.

Preferably, you should pay it all off at once, but if you are not in a position to do this, then paying more than the minimum instalment each month will also help to bring it down quicker.

In the meantime, you could also create a budget to help you manage your daily living expenses and find ways to save for another deposit while you continue paying off your credit card.

Cutting back on subscriptions, dining out and catching public transport instead of taxis are just a few ways to help you achieve this.

Fortunately, the credit card debt isn't so high and you can have it paid off quickly if you stick to a strict budget for the next few months.

The Debt Panel is a weekly column to help readers tackle their debts more effectively. If you have a question for the panel, write to pf@thenational.ae

Updated: November 09, 2022, 5:00 AM
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