Homefront: ‘How can I check if a property has service charge arrears?’

A prospective tenant can ask their agent to check the status of the owner’s service charge payments

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I have viewed a few apartments to rent. Is the tenant responsible for paying for any maintenance issues in a property they rent? Or is this the landlord’s responsibility?

An agent mentioned that for any maintenance issues costing up to Dh500, the tenant has to foot the bill, while the landlord is responsible for anything beyond that amount. Does this depend on which community you rent in? For instance, in the current community where I live, I do not have to pay for maintenance issues in the property.

Also, is it important that a tenant check if there are any service charge arrears on the property they intend to rent? Where can I find this information? And why is this important? Will a tenant be unable to access common areas, such as a gym or pool, if the landlord has not paid service charges in full? MU, Dubai

The subject of maintenance is very emotive and often the reason for breakdowns in landlord/tenant relationships when things go wrong. Most tenancy contracts today have provisions for who is responsible for what level of maintenance within a given property.

The norm is that any maintenance amount less than Dh500 is the responsibility of the tenant and more than Dh500 is the landlord’s responsibility. The actual location or community of the property does not determine this provision.

If you do not currently pay any maintenance towards your rented property, I must say you are very fortunate as this is not the norm. The tenant, too, has responsibilities towards the upkeep of the property.

With reference to the owner’s status of service charge payments, this is indeed an important point. In the past, some developers have blocked tenants from accessing facilities within the building or community because of landlords who were, or are, in arrears against the service charges.

Thankfully, this has now proved to be illegal but often developers have had few other options available (other than lengthy legal cases) to get the rogue landlords, who are often either abroad or absent, to pay up. Applying this kind of pressure on the tenants has proved to be an easy way to get paid.

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A tenant cannot force a landlord to pay off any outstanding service charge debts owed, especially once they are already residing in the property

A prospective tenant can always ask their agent to look into the status of the owner’s service charge payments. Alternatively, the tenant can make inquiries directly with the management company.

Obviously, a tenant cannot force a landlord to pay off any outstanding service charge debts owed, especially once they are already residing in the property. But at the beginning of a tenancy agreement, the tenant does potentially have some leverage and could use this to get the desired effect.

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

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