Renting a property in Dubai can be a daunting prospect, especially if you are arriving in the city for the first time.
The nuances of the market and the hoops you'll need to jump through may be confusing at first, but with a bit of research and advice all will become clear.
Here is The National's rough guide to everything you need to know about finding your first home.
How to find the right home in Dubai?
The number of apartments and villas available to rent online is so vast it can be overwhelming. Dubai is a fast-growing city and new areas pop up all the time. Scrolling through so many is also time consuming.
It helps if you have done your homework on the area where you would like to live.
Downtown Dubai and Dubai International Financial Centre are popular with professionals, but can be expensive.
Bur Dubai and Deira are much cheaper and are packed with family run restaurants but have much older housing stock. Dubai Marina is popular among Western residents and a younger crowd, while the middle-income districts of the Greens and Springs offer cheap flats and villas. The list goes on.
Don't be afraid to ask your new colleagues, check up-to-date price guides from The National and join community Facebook groups for advice.
What are average rents like in Dubai?
The amount you'll pay obviously varies depending on the size of the property and the location. At the upper end of the scale, a one-bedroom apartment in Palm Jumeirah will set you back Dh110,000 a year on average. A two-bedroom apartment is Dh155,000 and for three bedrooms you can expect to pay Dh200,000. Downtown Dubai would be similar prices.
There are much cheaper areas, such as Deira and Bur Dubai, with one-bed prices starting from Dh50,000 a year. Two-bedroom villas are available in the Springs and Jumeirah Village for about Dh85,000 – but you'll likely need a car.
Don't be afraid to haggle and drive a hard bargain. Average rents fell by 21 per cent between 2017 and 2019, making it a renters' market.
“The trend of being able to find bargains for everything from lower prices, an increased number of cheques as well as other incentives such as free utilities are proving popular among renters,” said Lynnette Abad, director of data and research at Property Finder.
As of August, the average median annual rent is Dh79,650 for apartments and Dh166,667 for villas, according to Property Finder.
What are the most common issues to look for when renting?
"There are a number of things to check before signing any lease," says Keren Bobker, a financial adviser with Holborn Assets who writes a financial advice column for The National.
Tenants need to be sure that the rent is fair and based on the current market.
“If dealing with an individual landlord, ask for proof of identity and ownership. This may sound excessive but there have been scammers and any genuine owner won’t mind you asking," she said.
“If dealing with an agent, do check the company is legitimate. The deposit and cheques should be payable to the landlord, not a third party, and you need to get a receipt.”
The owner/landlord should be responsible for maintenance costs and it is important to watch out for leases that try to make this responsibility the tenant's.
“If renting an apartment, ask who is responsible for the common areas and see if you can speak to any other tenants to check the place is looked after,” Ms Bobker said.
“If renting from an individual in an apartment block, you would be wise to check that service charges are paid to date as tenants have experienced issues when this is not the case.
It's worth noting that owners often employ more than one property agent to let out their home to create competition.
What other costs might there be?
If you are renting a property through an estate agent there is a five per cent commission fee, based on the annual rental price.
Additionally, a deposit must be paid to the landlord, which is a further five per cent of the annual rental price if the property is unfurnished and 10 per cent if it is furnished.
Most properties are unfurnished and that often extends to white goods, so you may need to budget for a refrigerator and washing machine.
It's worth bearing these upfront costs in mind before you move to the UAE and ensure you have savings you can dip into.
You will often see properties described as "chiller free" – that means the landlord or developer pays the air-conditioning bill. This is common in Emaar-run apartment buildings but not villas.
“In some apartment buildings there is an additional ‘chiller’ charge on top of the main utility bill so ask at the outset so you don’t get a surprise," said Ms Bobker.
How is rent paid?
For a long time, Dubai tenants were expected to pay the entire annual rent upfront, usually in the form of a single cheque.
This has, sensibly, become much less common, with many property owners happy to take two or four post-dated cheques for the year.
Despite the rise of internet banking and easy money transfers, paying rent is almost always done in cheque form.
There are a handful of exceptions, such as Asteco, which allows direct debit payments instead of cheques.
Perhaps the most important aspect to be aware of when renting, after the price of the property, is the number of cheques required per year as payment.
What documents do I need to provide?
You will need to provide the agent or landlord with copies of your UAE residency visa and passport.
If you have not yet received your visa – it's common to start work once the application is in – you can provide a letter from your employer stating the process is under way. A chequebook in your own name is also required to make the rental payments. This can be a common initial obstacle as it is not possible to open a bank account without a visa.
The contract has been agreed – what should I do before signing?
It is important that you identify any maintenance issues and get the agent or landlord to resolve them before you sign the contract and move in to the property.
Check that all the facilities are in good working condition.
Take pictures of the apartment or villa before you move in to avoid any problems when claiming back your deposit at the end of your stay.
Good landlords will ensure a property is freshly painted before you move in. You may be expected to do the same when you leave.
What do I do once the contract has been signed?
A rental agreement in the emirate is not legal until it has been registered with Ejari, the online portal of Dubai's Real Estate Regulatory Agency. Registering can be done either on their site – ejari.gov.ae – or through a customer service centre throughout the city. The Al Manara Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road, next to Noor Bank Metro, is the government's main one-stop-shop for services.
The Ejari process is in place to guarantee your rights as a tenant.
Registration for Ejari – 'my rent' in Arabic – costs Dh220 and you will need to provide a copy of the title deed from the landlord, tenancy contract, your Emirates ID as well as passport copies of both the landlord and the tenant. If the previous tenant's Ejari has not been cancelled, you may need a photo or photo-copy of their document to do so.
How to I sign up to Dewa utilities?
Once you have registered the rental agreement with Ejari you will need to activate the water and electricity through the Dubai Water and Electricity Authority. To do this, you will once again need to bring a copy of your passport and Emirates ID to a service centre – some are called "customer happiness centres". You will also need to provide the Dewa number that is unique to your property. It is usually printed on a tag on the front door to your apartment or villa.
The application can also be made online.
Additionally, a deposit of Dh2,000 for apartments and Dh4,000 for villas is required, as well as fees of Dh130 to activate your Dewa account. Larger properties can cost Dh330. Once you have registered the deposit, you will be able to move into the property within 24 hours.
Can I cancel my contract early?
If you want to leave the property early the landlord is entitled to seek two months’ rent as a penalty fee. In some cases, the landlord may waive this if you are able to find someone to rent the property in your place. You will often find tenants on Facebook community groups advertising their landlord's property. This is sometimes a way to cut out estate agents and save on their five per cent fee.
If you are not planning on renewing your contract, you must give the landlord 90 days’ notice that you are planning on moving out.
Similarly, if they want you to vacate the property, they must give you three months' notice.
What are the most common mistakes made by new arrivals?
“Don’t rent anywhere on a long-term basis too quickly,” said Ms Bobker.
“You need to be sure you will be staying, and not everyone does, before you commit to a year.”
Take some time to read your tenancy contract and ensure you are happy with the small print.
“I have seen cases where people have blithely assumed that leases and laws are the same as in their home country, and signed paperwork without realising that they really are tied in for a full year," said Ms Bobker.
"And find they will be penalised for breaking the terms.”
Another is sharing apartments with people you are not related to. Flatshares are widely and openly advertised online, particularly in areas like Dubai Marina, JBR and JLT, but are against the law.
“Many seem to be unaware of the UAE’s laws regarding cohabiting and subletting. The former is illegal and so is the latter without the landlord’s formal permission," said Ms Bobker.