It is a common scenario. Your tenancy contract is coming to an end and you decide to move out.
Perhaps you plan to relocate back home, or simply want to move to a nearby area where you can have more space to work from home.
Either way, the removal company comes to box up your belongings and, before leaving, you take a final look around.
The cupboards are empty and everything looks clean and tidy, so you hand over the keys and wait for the return of your security deposit.
Only it never comes. Instead, your landlord emails to inform you that he needs to repair and repaint the property, and he is using your deposit to pay for the damage caused.
Harry Tregoning, an estate agent for Tregoning Property in Dubai, said this is a frequent occurrence, even when the tenant has looked after the apartment or villa.
“When the deposit is in the bank, there's always temptation for the landlord to see it as banked,” he said.
Ben Compton, managing partner of Compton Partners Estate Agents in Abu Dhabi, agreed.
“With individual landlords, it’s sort of a wild west, because it ends up being a very subjective decision about ‘is this painting good enough for me [the landlord]’."
The UAE has strict laws stipulating that landlords should return the deposit if the tenant has not damaged the property.
Normal wear and tear is allowed, and should not mean the deposit is forfeited.
In practice, one person’s version of wear and tear might be different to another’s, warned Mr Compton. In his experience, tenants rarely get the whole deposit back.
“From a contractual point of view, you need to leave the property in the state that you found it. So, if you found it newly painted and cleaned, you need to leave it newly painted and cleaned.
"We recommend that it is better to have it done yourself, because then you can control the cost, but then you run the risk of the landlord coming back and saying 'that's not done to the required standard, I'm going to have it done again,' so in the end you have to pay for it twice.”
Planning pays off
Mr Tregoning said this is why it is essential to plan your departure carefully.
“Two weeks before you move out, get your landlord over for a meeting so you can set your expectations,” he said.
“You need to have a sensible conversation in advance, because effectively when you hand back the keys, you've lost your leverage.”
Admittedly, it is not always easy to meet your landlord – they might be living abroad. In this situation, if you have concerns they might not return your deposit, Mr Tregoning recommended lodging your keys with the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Rera) on the day you move out.
Early planning is essential. Really, you need to think about moving out as you are moving in, he said.
“Draw up your own inventory with photographs, and share them on the day with your landlord so they are time-stamped.
"If there’s a crack in a tile on the front doorstep, take a picture, so they can’t say three years down the line that you broke it,” said Mr Tregoning, who also runs a property maintenance company.
If you want a professional check-in report, your estate agent will charge you a fee, but depending on the size of your deposit, this may be money well spent.
In the UAE, tenants are required to pay approximately 5 per cent of the annual rent of an unfurnished property and 10 per cent of a furnished one. This can add up. In 2020, villas on the Palm Jumeirah cost an average Dh440,000 ($119,800) a year, making the deposit Dh22,000 ($5,990).
"We would always recommend the tenant does it [the inspection] themselves," advised Mr Compton.
"For two good reasons – they can be in that property for 10 years and the real estate agent that does the inspection may not be around in a decade.
"Also, they're going to pick up more things than an independent third party is going to."
Dealing with a rogue landlord
These estate agents' tips should be enough to guarantee that you get your deposit back from a reasonable landlord. But what if your landlord is still refusing? There are different procedures, depending on the emirate.
In Abu Dhabi, the whole process can now be done online on the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department website. Complainants fill in the Rental Claim Form and attach the relevant documents, including a copy of the rental agreement.
There will be no hearing. Instead, if the judge is satisfied with the evidence he will issue a payment order within three days. The tenant can then alert the landlord to the decision and send him the payment order.
If the landlord still refuses to return the deposit, the complainant can submit the case online to the Judicial Department’s enforcement department. They will usually give the landlord 14 days to comply before acting.
In Dubai, the property market is controlled by Rera, a division of the Land Department.
Tenants can formally register a case with the Dubai Rental Dispute Centre for a fee of 3.5% of the annual rent of the property (at least Dh500 ($136) and not more than Dh20,000 ($5,445), plus administrative costs of approximately Dh320 ($87).
The Arbitration Department will try to resolve the case within 15 days, but if that is unsuccessful, then a lawsuit will need to be filed. The timeline for a ruling is 30 days.
Mr Compton said that, in reality, many tenants do not go through with the dispute process.
“For the amount of money, generally it's not worth your while to do it, purely in terms of the time that it takes," he said.
"You're likely to have to go to hearings, now they might be done on Zoom, but sometimes you might need to go to court several times. It's a pain."
Ten tips to help you get your deposit back
- Make sure you read your tenancy agreement before you sign it. Look for clauses that outline the details of the security deposit.
- Take pictures as you move into the property and focus on anything that is damaged. Look up at the ceilings for cracks and down on the floor for broken tiles. Email these pictures to your landlord so they are on record.
- Before you move out, arrange to meet with your landlord to agree what needs doing.
- Touch up marks on the walls, or if necessary get the whole property painted by your own contractors.
- Leave the property clean and go back after the removal men have finished their job because they can leave floors dirty.
- Do not leave any furniture behind, as landlords might charge you to have it removed.
- Pay all your bills before leaving the property.
- Ensure the water is turned off and there are no leaking pipes.
- If you are concerned your landlord might be unscrupulous, and you live in Dubai, hand your keys to Rera to hold until you get your deposit back.
- Consider the hassle factor and whether it is worth your time fighting for the return of a small deposit.
Deposit dispute helplines
For further advice in Dubai call the Rental Disputes Settlement Centre on 800 4488.
In Abu Dhabi call the Rent Dispute Settlement Committee on 800 2353.