Homefront: 'Can we vacate our poorly maintained Abu Dhabi villa without paying a penalty'

The resident says paying two-month's rental is unreasonable due to the poor quality of the property

United Arab Emirates - Abu Dhabi - April 07 - 2010 : Abu Dhabi skyline seen from an helicopter during a trip by FAS , Falcon Aviation Services. ( Jaime Puebla / The National )
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We have lived for the past six years in an old villa in Abu Dhabi. Our managing agents have progressively withdrawn from maintaining the building, which is a problem, as there are cracks in the walls both externally and internally, one of the first floor balconies is steadily decaying and a water pump has been leaking water onto the roof for many months. We have repeatedly asked the managing agents to attend to these issues, to no avail. Water damage has stained the ceilings of several upstairs rooms. We are concerned about the long-term prospects of the building. It needs maintaining. The managing agents are generally elusive and did not sit down to talk to us about renewal until the final two weeks of our existing contract, which expires soon. Those talks broke down when the agents offered us a slightly reduced rent with the proviso that we look after all external and internal maintenance. They made an alternative offer to stay at the same rent with "full maintenance", which based on recent performance we know will amount to no maintenance at all. We have decided to walk away and move elsewhere, as whatever trust was in the relationship has been broken beyond repair. The managing agents are beginning to play tough with us and have made veiled threats about needing to pay for a notice period, which we think is unreasonable given all of the above. We have already told the agents that they can keep the security deposit we paid at the start of our tenancy six years ago. What advice can you give us? NM, Abu Dhabi 

The maintenance of a rented property is generally the responsibility of the landlord. I say generally because there are instances that would require minor upkeep and in those circumstances the tenant usually steps in. It appears from your information that these issues have grown into larger problems due to the lack of proper maintenance on the part of the landlord/managing agents.

In any dispute, communication is key and despite your efforts, this has not been of great satisfaction on their part too. Having said all this, your options are fairly limited because the law states that if you do not wish to renew your tenancy contract, you have to give 60 days' notice to your landlord or face potential fines. Your contract should clearly state what those fines are for not adhering to the notice.

Even if a tenant wants to break a contract early, they are at the mercy of the landlord who has full discretion as to what happens next.

Your only choice now would be to go to the rent committee to file a complaint against the landlord/managing agents for unreasonable behaviour, especially given your decision to allow them to keep your deposit.

My sister was living with me until last month. I was hoping to take over and live alone but can't afford it. Can I legally advertise and sublet the room or do I need the landlord's permission? SM, Dubai 

Subletting is not allowed unless the landlord is aware of it and has agreed to it (in writing). If you decide to still go ahead and advertise the room without the landlord's permission, you put yourself at risk of being evicted (along with the roommate) should the landlord ever find out.

My advice would be to reach out and speak to the owner to explain the situation. Given you cannot afford to live there by yourself, I’m sure the landlord would be reasonable; the alternative is that you move out too and, taking into consideration the current market, the owner may be left with a property that either remains empty for a period of time or gets rented but at a lower rent. These alternatives may help you secure his permission to go ahead and rent out the room.

Mario Volpi is the sales and leasing manager at Engel & Volkers. He has worked in the property sector for 34 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