Take it or leave it. Renters forced to pay a year’s rent up front

Abu Dhabi housing prices increased dramatically during 2008

Abu Dhabi housing prices increased dramatically during 2008

I know I’ve kept many of you waiting for the second instalment of our housing nightmare. Here it is: As I wrote previously, Dubai’s boom was beginning to filter into the UAE capital, driving housing prices through the roof, creating a goldmine for landlords while many expats arriving in Abu Dhabi in 2008 were left at the mercy of hordes of greedy homeowners determined to make a quick buck. And there were no laws to govern the ridiculous increase in rental prices. Apartment and villa rents had increased dramatically over a decade. I had met many people during my time in the capital who can recall having paid about USD10,000 at the beginning of the millennium for an apartment overlooking the stunning Abu Dhabi Corniche. As the demand for housing increased, unsurprisingly, so did prices. During Tarek’s apartment hunting days before we arrived, he was shown many two- or three-bedroom apartments in run-down buildings within walking distance to the beach that were fetching about USD80,000 in annual rent. And, wait for it, if he wanted to secure it, Tarek was asked to pay an immediate cash deposit and write one cheque covering the entire year’s rent. Of course, everyone has $80,000 lying around! Finally the call I had been hoping for came just a week before Tarek was due to fly back to Sydney to attend his brother’s wedding. He had put a deposit on an apartment. It was still under construction, but it was due to be completed in mid-July. Problem solved. OK. Not exactly. One month after arriving in Abu Dhabi, we went to have a look at the apartment. The owner had illegally partitioned a two-storey six-bedroom villa and planned to rent it to desperate expats, such as ourselves, seeking accommodation. Three families or six single people would share a common area and listen to each other’s personal conversations through the thin walls, like some graduate dorm facilities in the United States. Even if we had agreed to move in, there was absolutely no way it would be ready in July or even by October. The foundation was set, and the structure was complete but very little thought had gone into adding kitchens and additional bathrooms into these ‘apartments’. ‘Just let me know where you want me to put the kitchen’, said the real estate agent, pointing at a small area lacking any windows. ‘What do you mean, tell you’? I asked. ‘It’s your job to show us how this is going to work.’ This wasn’t an apartment; it was more like an attempt to put a Band-Aid on the housing problem in Abu Dhabi. Tarek and I looked at each other. We knew we had no choice—we just had to sit tight until it was completed. We had now exceeded our four-week stay at the Hilton Hotel Residency, and it didn’t look like we were moving into this villa anytime soon. After three months of being crammed into a one-bedroom apartment, sitting idly and at the mercy of the construction workers and landlord, Tarek received a call from the agent. ‘Come and collect your deposit’, he said. What the hell! The landlord had received a better rental offer for the apartment. We had been shafted—caught up in a web in which unethical and greedy homeowners would do just about anything to make a quick buck. I was two weeks’ away from giving birth, and my mother and brother were also arriving to care for the girls while I was in hospital. The absolute last thing Tarek and I needed was to head out in 45-degree temperatures to search for another place to live. Not long after receiving the call, news spread throughout the emirate that the Abu Dhabi Municipality was planning to crack down on families sharing partitioned villas. It was a blessing in disguise. Alhumdillah (Praise be to God.)
(Coming soon – the desperate search for housing takes us to a dodgy car park in Al Muroor)

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