Property scams show need to protect renters

With tens of millions of dirhams being swindled by bogus property agents in Abu Dhabi each year, the advantage as to be tilted back in favour of protecting those seeking accommodation.

One certainty in any location where people flock in search of a better life is that there will be criminals waiting to trick them out of their meagre savings. As The National reported yesterday, that dynamic is present in the UAE today, where in the last year hundreds of people have lost tens of millions of dirhams to bogus property agents in Abu Dhabi.

The scam merchants have often many advantages in their favour: those moving to the UAE for work are unfamiliar with how the local property market works, blanch at the high cost of accommodation in the capital and do not realise that advertisements for flats and villas are not subject to official vetting. The otherwise legitimate local practice of paying the entire rent a year in advance also plays firmly into the fraudsters’ hands because by the time the deal that seemed too good to be true proves to be just that, the agent – and the money – could well be long gone.

The authorities have a clear interest in helping protect those who bring their skills to help build the future of the UAE. The question is how to tilt the advantage more in favour of those new arrivals who, through reasons of unfamiliarity with the language and local ways, are most at risk of falling prey to unscrupulous agents.

Primary responsibility has to lie with the renters themselves to make an effort to understand how the market works. The rising cost of rents has the effect of encouraging quick transactions but the onus has to be on the renter to protect themselves by only using reputable property companies and agents who will clearly be in the industry for the long term. They should also take advantage of the wealth of advice found on the dozens of internet forums geared around people from the same country of origin.

But there is still a role for the authorities to play. Two obvious options are either for the government to regulate the industry by licensing property agents or to require the agents to form a professional organisation with the power to ensure all its members act appropriately. The latter would be an efficient way to make the industry self-policing to protect its own reputation.

Nobody other than criminals wins if newcomers to the UAE get defrauded. But between new arrivals doing their due diligence, the industry organised to police itself and with oversight by the authorities, fewer people will fall prey to these scams.

Published: May 28, 2014 04:00 AM

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