Tag Archives: Arabia

Tenants at the mercy of Abu Dhabi landlords

Celebrating Janah's 3rd  birthday in our new Abu Dhabi apartment

Celebrating Janah’s 3rd birthday in our new Abu Dhabi apartment

I do apologise for not blogging sooner – I had a very busy weekend celebrating my birthday.

Just to recap: The real-estate agent called my husband, asking him to come and pick up our deposit – the partitioned villa apartment was no longer available because the greedy landlord had accepted more money from someone else. Although Tarek and I were annoyed, it was a blessing in disguise – the Abu Dhabi Municipality later announced a crackdown on these illegal villas.

In the same breath, the agent tried to rectify the problem by giving Tarek the contact number of a man who we were led to believe was a representative of an Emirati landlord looking to lease his three-bedroom apartment.

Al Muroor was a little further from where we had planned to settle – 20 minutes from the Abu Dhabi CBD and the Corniche. Tarek made the call and agreed to meet him in a car park outside a Yemeni restaurant situated at the corner of Al Muroor Rd and 31st Street.

When we arrived, three men approached the car. Tarek had a brief conversation in Arabic with the landlord’s representative, and while I was sitting inside our car I made a note of their car registration. We were led to an old building within walking distance of where we had parked, below was a tiny general store. The watchman, a short Asian man, took down our details, before we were ushered to the lifts. An Emirati man, who I assumed was the landlord, greeted us at the front door.

“Asalamu Alaikom,” he said.
“Wa alaikom wa salam,” we responded.

For anyone who has been house-hunting, getting a positive vibe about an apartment, location and neighbourhood is important.

The Arabian décor consisted of gold wallpaper, maroon and gold drapes hanging from a large window, and a large crystal chandelier lighting up the large family room. Once the tour ended, the girls and I walked back to the car while Tarek stayed behind with the landlord and his representatives to discuss the lease terms and conditions.

“He wants 200,000 dirhams (USD55,000),” said Tarek, as he turned on the car’s ignition. Before I could respond, Tarek painfully revealed: “He wants one cheque.”

It looked like we were just about to finance this young man’s new car, I thought. Our housing allowance covered 90 per cent of the rent and we would have to borrow the balance from the bank. To add insult to injury, Tarek was told his employer would not pay the large sum in one cheque – the company’s policy was two instalments.

Part of the reason why we had moved to the United Arab Emirates was to get ahead financially; instead we found ourselves having to finance half of our rent as well as an additional 10% agent’s fee. Tarek was asked to return later that night with a USD5000 deposit. The previous day he had picked up the deposit from the other real-estate agent but he was short a few thousand dollars.

We returned to the same car park many hours later. Tarek gripped the brown paper bag tightly as he walked towards the men. They had no qualifications, no receipt book and no proof of who they were. Many questions and scenarios rushed through my mind. Was this a scam? Had we trusted them too much? I drew comfort from knowing this was the Muslim world and if this was a scam and the men were caught, they would be facing many years in an Arabian prison.

I looked over at Tarek, and after what appeared like a brief conversation, he handed over the money. I waited anxiously for him to get a receipt and the key. Nothing. No receipt and no key. We had no record this transaction ever took place.

Tarek was asked to return in a few days to pick up the key from the landlord. Neither of us spoke on the drive home. The next 48 hours were stressful. Either way, we needed to get our finances in order and find a way to fund this astronomical rental fee.

In 2008, there were no laws protecting tenants who had made a lump sum payment on their apartment or villa. If a tenant lost his or her job and were forced to leave the country, they could not recoup the balance of their rental payment.

True to his word, the landlord called. He asked Tarek to meet with him at a nearby café to pick up the key and sign the lease. We moved into the apartment a week before I was due to give birth.

Tarek maintained a great relationship with the landlord, whose wife’s family owned the building we had just moved into. Al Muroor was a lovely traditional neighbourhood. While we didn’t have the luxuries of other expats living in compounds with access to a swimming pool and gymnasium, I was just happy that we were part of the Arabian experience.

Janah & Serene had enough space to bike ride in the hallway of our new apartment

Janah and Serene had enough space to bike ride in the hallway of our new apartment

Next: Beggars come knocking

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)

Welcome to My Arabia.

The stunning Dubai skyline has become iconic in the Middle East

The stunning Dubai skyline has become iconic in the Middle East

With millions of people around the world blogging about their experiences, it’s time I joined the chorus of writers that has made a success out of blogging.
After having lived in the UAE for six years, I think it’s now time to share my unique journey with the world.

My early years were challenging. I arrived in Abu Dhabi pregnant with my third daughter, scared and unaware of how the health system operated. I would often question my obstetrician’s decisions—and rightly so. Moving from Australia meant I had to learn to drive on the other side of the road without killing my children, any unsuspecting drivers or myself.

What makes my Arabian journey different from that of any other expat?

I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, and am the daughter of Lebanese migrant parents. Until I moved to the UAE in 2008, I had never travelled to the Middle East. My view of the Arab world was limited to what I had seen on the evening news and to what my parents had told me about their native country. In Australia, we have a strong Middle Eastern community predominantly composed of Lebanese. But with so many issues surrounding this minority group, I’d distanced myself from my culture. As a Muslim growing up in Australia, I felt that everything in my father’s eyes was forbidden. While I looked the part of an Aussie kid, I never felt it.

The opportunity to move to the UAE was a blessing. Like many expats, we set a two-year deadline on our experience. We were lured here by the tax-free dollars and incredible expat-package, where housing, health insurance and education were all covered. I moved from suburban Sydney to Palm Jumeriah, which offered a lifestyle I knew I could not afford back home.

It has been a roller-coaster ride.

This blog will cover my personal journey, I’ve met many strange and wonderful people along the way. I became fascinated with polygamy, and I discovered during my second year here that a friend of mine was part of what I call a ‘second wives’ club. More on that later.

I had no choice but to hire help after my husband was forced to relocate to Saudi Arabia due to the global financial crisis. My daughters and I chose to stay behind until we knew his job was stable. The treatment of these domestic workers would make anyone shudder. I have plenty of stories to share on this topic.

Education, I believe, is a right and not a privilege, but tell that to the businessmen and women who take advantage of parents, charging up to USD10,000 a year for a five-year-old to start kindergarten. I often joke that I have spent my girls’ university tuition on nursery school fees. It’s true.

I reinvented my career in the Middle East. I followed my passion in sport and worked with FIFA on a number of football events—from the 2010 Club World Cup and the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. I was even invited to join the Beach Soccer Worldwide team in Barcelona, Spain, to travel the world promoting this fabulous sport.

Today, I work with brands such as Disney Live and Disney on Ice, building the campaigns and promoting these events in the Middle East. Mickey Mouse is my BFF.

This is both my personal and professional journey. Welcome aboard.