Homefront: ‘Can our landlord impose a four-month penalty if we didn't give 90 days' notice?’

The couple are struggling financially and had to leave the property when the landlord denied their rent reduction request

A rental contract will determine whether a tenant is able to end the lease early and if any penalties will apply. Getty Images
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My husband requested our previous landlord to decrease the rent as his salary has been reduced by 40 per cent for the past year. She didn’t reduce the rent and instead compelled us to vacate the property.

Because of this, we were unable to serve the 90-day notice period. We moved out and offered her two months’ rent as penalty. However, she rejected our offer and is demanding four months instead. We told her that we are not in a position to pay that amount.

Our landlord then refused to collect the keys from us for two months. Because the negotiations were not heading anywhere, we decided to send her a notice through a notary.

We repeatedly asked her to give us her mailing address to send the notice. However, she didn’t comply and instead took our mailing address from the legal notice we e-mailed her and sent us an eviction notice.

Due to a lack of funds, we are unable to take any further steps on this issue, but we did manage to make the key submission request even though she rejected that as well.

My husband was hospitalised for two weeks because of this stress. How can we get out of this situation? DD, Dubai

I’m sorry to hear of your plight. I’m sure it cannot be easy dealing with a landlord who is neither compassionate nor listening to your requests.

In most rental contracts, the penalty for leaving before a tenancy expires is one to two months’ rent, so I cannot understand why the landlord was looking at a four-month penalty, especially as you had missed the 90-day window.

My advice to you is to file a case at the Rental Dispute Settlement Committee. While I cannot predict the outcome of your particular case as it is only judges who decide, in many cases they have favoured tenants who are facing financial hardship due to Covid-19.

In many cases, judges at the Rental Dispute Settlement Committee have favoured tenants who are facing financial hardship due to Covid-19

It is important to file the papers correctly and translate them into Arabic, which will cost time and money, but will be worthwhile in the long run.

There isn’t much else that I can recommend to you at this stage as the landlord is not prepared to compromise with you. The only way would be to use litigation services such as the RDSC.

My apartment was damaged by flooding three weeks ago. The damage is quite extensive – the flooring has lifted throughout the property and there is water damage to the skirting boards and walls. The flooding was caused by a ruptured pipe that leaked water for up to 12 hours while I was out of the apartment. Today, the landlord told me she is holding me accountable for the cost of repairs. Obviously, I do not have contents insurance to cover this. Can she do this? CB, Dubai

This is an unfortunate situation and it is obvious that it is nobody’s fault but, sadly, someone has to take responsibility.

Without any insurance to fall back on, it would appear that you are left "holding the baby" so to speak. The only way I can see you potentially sharing the cost with the landlord is if you can somehow hold her liable for negligence of maintenance. However, this will be very difficult to prove.

A ruptured pipe could break at any time and while you are responsible as a tenant, the landlord should also take some responsibility.

In most rental contracts, owners are responsible for major maintenance and tenants for minor repairs. I believe this could potentially fall under the landlord’s responsibility due to it being a major repair. However, for fairness, the cost should be shared.

While it will be difficult to get your landlord to admit to any sort of liability, I think it would be beneficial for you to arrange a meeting with them to try to find some common ground. To prevent this happening again, I recommend that you get contents insurance.

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