Renting in Dubai: Everything you need to know

31.08.17
10 minute read
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Dubai is billed as the land of opportunity, and attracts huge numbers of expats looking to live and work in this desert oasis. The lifestyle can be glamorous, but it’s not cheap. Renting a one bedroom apartment in the city centre will cost, on average, €1766 or €1209 outside of the city centre. These costs are similar to London, but some 60% more than you might expect to pay on average in Paris.

Naturally, what you pay in rent will vary enormously based on location, and some people choose to swap the inner city for smaller outlying communities, where villas are more readily available.

Before you start to look at homes in Dubai, it’s a good idea to narrow down your search area, based on where you'll work. If you’re moving with kids, then take into account the location of their school, too, as they’ll also need to travel at peak times. By looking at the transportation options you can pick a few neighbourhoods which will allow you to commute without spending hours stuck in traffic, which can be congested in places.

There are some distinct differences in how the rental property market works in Dubai, compared to other countries. Doing your homework in advance will mean that you’re better prepared to navigate the process, and avoid any scams. If you’re thinking of moving to Dubai for work, then check out this guide to renting in Dubai.

How does the rental process work?

The rental market in Dubai is developing fairly rapidly. There’s a lot of new construction, which means that the stock of housing for rent in certain areas is pretty good. In these places, you should be able to view properties without worrying that they’ll be taken immediately by other tenants. However, in some of the more prestigious neighbourhoods you can expect the market to move at dizzying speeds, because there are more prospective tenants than there are apartments. Talking to an agent can help you get a feel for the pace of the market in the areas you choose.

If you’re looking for a place to rent, you can find ads direct from the landlord on one of the Dubai property sites (see below for some examples). Or, if you want a bit more assistance on your first go, you can always get help from a real estate agent. Especially if you’re unsure of the market in your area or where you’d like to live, then brokers can offer invaluable advice.

The Dubai Land Department has a list of approved Dubai real estate brokers. If you’re planning on using an agent, it’s definitely a good idea to work with one of them to avoid potential scams. You should see the registration card of any broker you choose to use, which shows that they've registered with the Real Estate Regulatory Agency (Rera).

Are flats generally furnished or unfurnished?

There’s a huge range of options in Dubai, from completely unfurnished places, to others which come completely furnished with services such as security and cleaning thrown in. It’s worth considering what you need in advance, as some areas will have a larger stock of one accommodation type. Therefore, the type of home you’re looking for is also likely to influence the location you end up in.

What do I need to know about renting in Dubai?

The rental market in Dubai might not be quite the same as in your home country. Avoid any nasty surprises by doing a little research before you make your move.

Tenant laws and rights

As a tenant in Dubai you have rights which are legally protected.

In most cases a properly registered tenancy agreement is very well protected. Although to take advantage of these rights, you’ll need to be sure your contract is registered with the local authorities. To do this, you have to register your tenancy with* Ejari* (which is the Arabic word for ‘my rent’). Only by registering here do you get your full rights as a tenant. You can read all about the process in English and register your tenancy online.

Landlords cannot arbitrarily raise rents in Dubai. You must be given 90 days notice and the new rent must be based on the rental index published every quarter by Rera. If you’re paying under the market rent for a similar property, your landlord can legally raise your rent according to a formula, which will gradually bring the rent back into line with the market. This means that if your rent is less than 90% of the market rate for a similar property, you can expect it to go up. If you’re paying less than 60% of the market value, then the rent hike can be up to 20%. Keeping an eye on the rent index when it’s published should mean that you’ve got some advance warning if your landlord might be raising your rent soon.

If you think your landlord isn’t treating you fairly, you should contact the Rent Disputes Settlement Centre, where specialists can help you negotiate with your landlord and resolve any issue.

General rental property rules and regulations

One really important difference in the rental market in Dubai, which takes many newcomers by surprise, is that it’s fairly common for landlords to ask for significant amounts of the annual rent upfront. You may find you’re asked for the whole year’s rental costs in one go or that you’re asked to make out a series of post-dated cheques which the landlord will then cash at various points during the year. If you’re used to paying a monthly rent this can feel very alien.

If paying your rent upfront, or split across a small number of payments over the year is a problem, then get an agent who can help you find landlords who can work on a monthly payment system.

The other notable difference is that subletting in a place that’s already rented by someone else might cause you a problem. This is because the law frowns upon unmarried males and females living together. Dubai police tend to be pragmatic, and it’s unlikely to be a huge issue for a foreigner, unless you find yourself in contact for the police for some other misdemeanor. However, respecting local law and culture is equally a part of expat life.

Contracts and deposits

The contract you agree with your landlord is likely to be binding for at least a year, so there will be a penalty to pay if you want to leave before the initial period is up. The exact details of the contract can be agreed by you and the landlord, as long as they adhere to general tenancy rules. That means it’s worth asking for any changes you might want making before you sign.

When you agree a rental, you’ll be given a blue tenancy contract by the broker. However, this isn't legally valid unless it's registered with Ejari. This can usually be done online and gives you all your legal tenancy rights.

Both the blue contract form, and the Ejari record, should include a record of the deposit that you have paid to the landlord. Usually this will be in the region of four weeks of rent, which might have to be given to the agent when you reserve the property. Make sure you get a receipt and use a reputable broker.

You shouldn't hand over cash as a deposit if possible. Your agent might ask you to make out a cheque to the landlord, or use a bank transfer. If you’re making an international money transfer that includes currency conversion, it’s worth finding the best possible deal with a company like TransferWise so you don’t get slapped with poor exchange rates. More to come about paying from abroad in a later section. TransferWise uses the real exchange rate and applies a low fixed fee

Utilities and bills the renter is responsible for

Before you finalise a rental agreement, you should make sure you’re clear on the terms. Which utilities and other bills you’re responsible for will vary from place to place, with some apartments coming with everything included, and some set up so that the tenant pays the bills direct. Often a more fully serviced apartment will come with an ‘all in’ price tag to include utilities and the costs of maintaining the building.

If things like the phone, electricity and water bills will be paid by the tenant then your landlord should be able to give you an idea of the average costs before you sign the contract. Depending on the type of accommodation, you might also have service fees to cover communal areas and maintenance, security and management of facilities such as a pool or gym.

Can I negotiate the rent with the landlord?

It’s okay to negotiate on the rental cost. It’s also worth asking in advance what fees are required for maintenance if you’re in an apartment block and what the usual utilities costs are. That way, you should get a better view of the cost of the property.

You might be able to get a lower price if you pay more of your annual rent up front, or offer to pay in a smaller number of installments over the year.

Can I get an apartment without a job?

There’s no legal reason why you can’t get a flat without a job. Though individual landlords might have their own requirements. Landlords will certainly want to check that you’re able to pay the rent for the duration of the lease. As such, if you don’t have a job yet, you might need to offer additional proof in order to rent.

What are the documents or requirements for renting?

To finalise a rental agreement you’ll have to prove your residency status, and identity. Usually you’ll need to hand over copies of your passport and visa, or proof from your employer that your residence visa is being processed if you don’t have it yet.

If you’re not paying the full rent up front then most likely you'll have to prove that you’ll be earning enough to cover your costs and service any outstanding debt. You’ll probably have to prove you’re capable of paying the rent by providing paperwork showing you have adequate savings, or your employment contract stating your salary.

What types of rental agreements are there?

Your contract will be agreed between you and your landlord, sometimes with a broker acting as an intermediary. There isn’t a standard contract, and as long as you comply with tenancy regulations you can tailor the contract terms to suit your situation.

Monthly rentals can be arranged through specialist short term agencies, but come at a premium.

Can I pay my bills from abroad?

Many expats tend to travel back home frequently, and there will be times when you need to pay your rent or bills but might be out of the country. You might even find that you have to pay a deposit or fees to secure your rental before you’ve opened a local bank account or moved to Dubai. If you’re making an international money transfer to cover your costs, then it’s worth remembering that your home bank might not offer you the best deal.

Banks tend to include almost carefully hidden administration fees and hide their cut in a poor exchange rate when transferring your money across borders. A specialist provider like TransferWise moves your money using the real exchange rate you find on Google. Not to mention, fees are clearly laid out and quite transparent. Leaving you with a fairer, cheaper, and likely faster option.

What are the best sites to find a place to live?

The best way to get a head start on finding a place to rent in Dubai is to look online. Make sure you choose a registered broker if you’re going through an agent on your house hunt. The Dubai Land Authorities have a list of approved brokers, and this is a good place to start when finding an agent. Great websites to find a house or apartment to rent include:

  • Property Finder is one of the largest property sites in the UAE, and they offer everything from homes and apartments to let and buy, to commercial and business property.
  • Just Property is a similar umbrella site, where you can find lots of accommodation throughout the area.
  • Dubizzle is a classified site operating throughout the UAE and beyond. You can search for homes and apartments to rent, which are either through agents or direct from the landlord.
  • Technically, flatsharing might be problematic, as the rules about unmarried males and females living together are strict. However, there are lots of rooms available on Dubizzle if this is what you want to arrange.

Finally, how can I make sure I'm not being scammed?

Like anywhere else in the world, you might encounter issues when renting a place in Dubai. However, the law does protect tenants in Dubai, as long as your contract is properly registered. Your landlord can’t raise your rent without notice, and any rise should be in line with the average property price of the area, for example - but these rights only apply if your tenancy is registered with* Ejari*.

Don’t forget though, that you have to be sensible about your dealings even before you sign on the dotted line. Choose a reputable agent, who is registered by Rera, and don’t hand over any money without getting a receipt and being clear about what it’s for. It’s not unheard of for scam agents to take the security money of a would-be tenant and disappear.

If you have any problems you can’t resolve directly with your landlord, then Rera is the place to look. The Dubai Land Authorities have much of the information you’ll need, in English, to help you understand your rights and how to resolve issues like unfair rent rises.

Good luck, and enjoy your new life in Dubai!

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