Homefront: 'Are we entitled to a booking fee refund if the unit was already let out?'

The couple paid Dh2,100 to secure an apartment they liked in Dubailand

The Dubai couple say the agent charged them a fee when no property was ever blocked for them. Bloomberg
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My husband and I found an apartment we liked in Dubailand and the agent took 5 per cent of the rental amount as the booking fee, which came to Dh2,100.

He told us he wasn’t sure if the flat was already let out by the landlord to someone else. On the receipt he wrote down the apartment number and we said we were OK with any apartment that had the same layout.

The next day, however, he said our unit was already rented out and only one apartment with the same layout was available. We went to see it and for some reason we did not like it. He showed us another layout in the same building which we liked, so we told him to transfer the amount we had already paid to book this flat. He agreed and told us he would meet the landlord. The next day, he called to say the rent on the new flat was likely to change next year because of chiller charges, so we told him we did not want it.

The agent showed us other options but we decided to hunt for something suitable on our own and asked him for the booking fee back. He then said it was not refundable.

The truth is no property was ever blocked for us in the first place. The flat we did pay for was already rented out and the money was not used to book any other apartment.

The agent is now avoiding us and we are going to meet his manager or the landlord directly. Do we deserve to be repaid the amount in full? LS, Dubai 

A booking fee is paid to hold a unit while negotiations and searches are still ongoing. When an agent takes a booking fee, the amount is 5 per cent of the rent as you described. A receipt is also normally given and on that receipt it should state whether this fee is refundable or not in case circumstances change.

In the absence of any non-refundable clause written on the receipt, the agent does not have a right to hold on to the money – especially as you have not secured a unit with him. Assuming the agent is registered with the Real Estate Regulatory Agency, you can simply explain that if he will not refund your money, you will have to file a case at Rera. They will look dimly on any agents who behave using these type of tactics against the public.

Mario Volpi is the sales and leasing manager at Engel & Volkers. He has worked in the property sector for 35 years in London and Dubai

The opinions expressed do not constitute legal advice and are provided for information only. Please send any questions to mario.volpi@engelvoelkers.com