Dubai law pins down property defaulters

The move will bring clarity to the market at a time when there is an increase in missed payments.

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ABU DHABI // The Dubai Land Department is planning to issue an amended property law that will determine refunds for investors who default on their payments based on construction progress of the project, according to lawyers briefed on the matter. The move will bring clarity to the property market in Dubai, where a credit squeeze and the effects of the global financial crisis have led to defaults by home buyers. But some investors have criticised the amendment for being too heavily in favour of developers.

Lawyers say the amendment to article 11 of Dubai Law 13 of 2008 will stipulate that in cases where a buyer defaults and the developer has constructed at least 80 per cent of the project, the buyer loses all money paid to that point. The home can then be auctioned to compensate the developer for the rest of the cost. If a developer has completed at least 60 per cent of the project and the buyer defaults, the developer is entitled to keep 40 per cent of the purchase price.

But if a developer has completed less than 60 per cent of the project, it can only keep 25 per cent of the purchase price. If the developer has not been able to start construction "without any negligence or omission on the developer's part", the developer may keep 30 per cent of the money paid by the buyer to that point. Developers would have to refund any money due to the purchaser within one year, or within 60 days of the resale of the home.

A legal briefing from the law firm Clyde & Co said the amendment "provides much anticipated clarification regarding the procedures required to be followed by developers in respect of defaulting purchasers, as well as the rights of developers to retain purchaser monies upon cancellation". The original law specified that if a buyer defaulted on payments to the developer, the buyer would be able to recover 70 per cent of any money they had turned over to that point.

But when the property market started to face difficulties last autumn, the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (RERA) issued an interpretation of the law that said the developer could retain 30 per cent of the total price of the property. In some cases, this meant the developer could keep all payments a buyer had made to them. Officials from RERA later admitted that the interpretation was an emergency measure intended to prevent a wave of defaults that would cripple the property sector.

The new amendment, called Dubai Law No. 9 of 2009, will not only provide more specific terms but be retroactive for all property contracts signed in Dubai. If a contract between a buyer and a developer has a contrary clause, it will be rendered void, according to the Clyde & Co briefing. Emad Eldin Farouq, a senior legal counsel with the Dubai Land Department, told a panel last week that the amendment had been signed into law and would soon be published in the official gazette of Dubai, according to an article in Xpress, which first reported the story. The amendment would "maintain the confidence of investors and safeguard the real estate of Dubai", Mr Farouq said, according to Xpress.

But some investors said the amendment did not go far enough in protecting investors from developers who had delayed construction indefinitely. "It is taking away our rights from the way the law was originally written," said Nigel Knight, a homebuyer and member of the Dubai Property Investors Group. The investors' group handed the Land Department a petition last week asking for a meeting to discuss concerns it has with the amendment.

A Dubai Land Department spokesman could not be reached yesterday.