Homefront: 'Can my landlord keep my security deposit when I move out?'

The Abu Dhabi tenant's salary was reduced by 90% so he needs to find a cheaper property to live in

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, April 20, 2020. 
  Al Reem Island on a hazy day.
Victor Besa / The National
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My salary has been reduced by 90 per cent because of the coronavirus pandemic. When I received the email from my employer, I was worried that the cut will make it impossible for me to pay my rent. I went down to the rental management office and asked for a discount or some sort of relief. All I wanted was a small reduction to help me push through this pandemic with a reduced rate.

Instead of giving me an immediate answer, they asked me to come back later. When I did return, they said 'sorry, we can't reduce the rent'. Their only offer was to postpone a payment of Dh500, which must then be repaid in a couple of months. I realised this would not help me in any way and decided it would be better for me to leave the apartment and look for a place better suited to my budget. I also did not want to trouble the landlord or myself with issues in the future. 

So when I told the management officer that I could not stay, he said 'fine you can leave but you have to complete the remaining two months with full payment'. I agreed to this and paid them in full. They then said they would not return the security deposit. Is it legal to do this, particularly at such a difficult time? What should I do? I've found social media reviews that this management company has done this to many people, forcefully finding a reason to not give them their security deposit. I have lost my sleep over this and find it all so depressing that they can do this even though I provided proof of my salary reduction. Are they allowed to say stuff like this and be so unprofessional? MZ, Abu Dhabi 

Handing over a security deposit at the beginning of a tenancy is done in case any repairs need to be made to the property when the time comes to hand the unit back to the owner once the contract is finished. It can also be used to clean and paint the property to bring it back to the original condition it was in at the start of the agreement.

In any case, it is not a given that the landlord has the right to withhold the deposit and any expenses should only be deducted by mutual consent. I have never heard of a landlord blatantly telling a tenant that the deposit would not be returned. I assume you asked the person who told you this to explain the reason for keeping it? Keeping a deposit without good reason or consent by all parties is not allowed at any time, yet alone at a difficult time such as this.

My advice to you now would be to file a case at the Rental Dispute Settlement Committee in Abu Dhabi. Here you will be able to get a final judgment and hopefully have the ability to get your deposit back if it was retained illegally.

Mario Volpi is the sales and leasing manager at Engel & Volkers. He has worked in the property sector for more than 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