The UAE Renter’s Guide

You may not know how long you’ll be staying in the UAE. But even if you know you’ll be in the country a while, renting has its perks. You won’t need to foot the bill when something breaks, and if you don’t like where you’re living now, you can pick up and leave without too much trouble. Lastly, homes in the UAE are quite expensive. For most people, renting is the only option available.

We created this renter’s guide to make it that much easier for you to find a place. We’ll go over the essentials, including how to find a good rental, how to spot a bad one, and how you can insure yourself against lost property during your stay there.

Finding the right rental

Much like home buying, renting requires plenty of searching before the ideal one can be found. Location is one of the most important factors. You may want to be located near a social hub, or perhaps you want to be walking distance from work. In either case, make sure you’ve targeted a general area where you want to live, and then get to work finding an apartment or villa for rent in that area.

Rental Tip:Before you select an area, make sure it has access to nearby transportation links, such as buses, taxis, or subway stops. Find out what everything costs, add it into your monthly budget, and ask yourself if you can still afford to live in the area.

You’ll definitely want to check the actual rental out before you make a decision. Don’t just ask to see the show room that they have available. You want to visit the vacant apartment where you’ll be living.

Once there, start vetting the place. You’ll want to look for any damage within the apartment itself. This isn’t just for your comfort—it’s to help you get your deposit back. But more on that later. For now, you’re looking for the following problems, all of which could be deal breakers:

  • Water damage. Look for damp spots, mould, condensation, or a musty smell. Check the walls and feel them. They may not look damp, but you’ll notice it immediately once you put your hand on it.
  • Check for cracks. Because you’re just renting, this isn’t as big of a deal breaker as it would be if you were buying the home. But all the same, cracks have a tendency to get worse. You may want to ask about them, and visit other apartments in the same complex to see if they’re having problems as well.
  • Is your phone working? You may be in a dead zone. Probably not worth renting if your phone never works while you’re there.
  • Check the plumbing. Flush toilets, turn on spigots, and check the sinks and faucets. You don’t want to deal with a broken pipe the minute you move in.
  • Check all electrical outlets and switches. You’d be amazed at how often electrical outlets don’t work in apartments. They aren’t always tested after someone leaves and the landlord can drag his feet when it comes to fixing them. Test them all along with the switches and make sure everything works.
  • Check the locks. It goes without saying, but this is very important. A broken lock isn’t just sketchy; it also means someone may have broken in before. You’ll want a solid lock and if the landlord doesn’t look like he wants to comply, look for another place.
  • What are the neighbours like? You probably won’t feel comfortable knocking on doors and asking people what they think. But you can still hang out in the parking lot and see what kinds of people are living there. Are they expats? Families? Middle class? Ask if you could see yourself living there.
  • How is the broadband? You’ll need to contact the phone company and ask them whether it runs well in this particular apartment. You can also ask around and see what other people are experiencing.
  • Is there contents insurance? The landlord should have buildings insurance (which means you don’t need to have it) but you should still ask just to be completely sure.
  • Finally, vet the landlord. You’ll either be going through a landlord or a letting agent. Make sure you speak with whoever is in charge. Does the person seem distant, bossy, unreasonable, or mean right off the bat? If so, forget the place. Landlords can cause a ton of stress and no place is worth having a bad one around.

Don’t be shy about asking questions. The UAE Money Expert recommends that at the minimum you ask these questions of your landlord:

How long has this apartment been up for rent? Where will my deposit be held?
What length is the contract? What’s the average cost of utilities?
Will the rent go up after my contract ends? Who pays for maintenance? Who do I call when something breaks?
Do you have furnished and unfurnished apartments? What is the average stay for someone in this complex?
Is parking included? How many spaces? Do you keep up the grounds? (The pool, gardens, etc.)

 

When it comes to asking about your rent, make sure you stay within your budget. It’s very easy to go over it if you find a place that you like. Also, you need to know what else you’ll be charged while renting from a particular location. Holding deposits, credit checks, admin fees, and many more subtle charges can easily sneak up on you and drain your account if you’re not careful.

To make sure you stay within your budget, check out our free Budget Planner.

What to do after you’ve found a place

This next section is crucial, because it will save you a lot of trouble (and money) later on down the road. The first thing you should do when you select a rental is to take photos. Find any damaged areas and write them down (usually the landlord will give you a form to fill out, make sure you’re thorough!)

Once you’re done, verify your list with the list the landlord made. These should be similar. If you noted everything, then that damage will not count against you when you leave the apartment, which in turn will save your deposit, which can often be as large as two month’s rent or more.

As you assess the damage, you may want to consider asking the landlord to negotiate a different price. If the tiles are slightly cracked, or a faucet doesn’t work well, or the carpet is in general disrepair, mention it, and you may get a better deal.

Next, ask to see the finalized contract. You want it to be completely up to date. Don’t just scan it—read it from top to bottom. If anything jumps out at you, ask about it. Don’t sign it until you’re positive you can live with each and every requirement.

Seal the deal

You’re ready to sign the contract—but the owner of the rental may feel like dragging his or her feet unless you’re 100% prepared. Remember, you may not be the only one that’s checking this place out. To make sure you’re the one picking this place up, take heed of these smart rental tips:

Tip #1: Have references ready. It pays to know people that are already situated in the UAE and can vouch for you. Usually this is a family member, a co-worker, or a boss. It’s very likely these individuals won’t be contacted. That’s fine. You’re doing it to build some clout.

Tip #2: Have the money ready to go. This means your first month’s rent and your deposit. Sometimes you’ll be asked for the last month’s rent as well. Just make sure you have the cash on hand or the cheque written up and ready to go.

Tip #3: If you see a place you love, don’t think about it too long. Some caution is good, but if you simply love the place, and it’s right in your budget, then you may want to get the deal moving sooner rather than later. Ask about a holding fee. If they have one, pay it, get the contract from the landlord, and make sure you have everything ready within the set time period.

Tip #4: Maintain a friendly attitude. Being open and friendly goes a long way. There may be a few people looking at that particular apartment, but the landlord will choose whomever he likes the best.

Don’t release any cash to the rental quite yet

You may have found a place you love, but if you’re told that you need to wire money via MoneyGram, Western Union, you should get suspicious immediately. These platforms are known for their lack of transparency and traceability, meaning that if you are scammed, you won’t be getting your money back.

Bank transfers can have this happen too. The only difference is they’re easy to trace by police. If your landlord is requesting something other than a bank transfer or a check, you need to look for another option.

Caution is your friend. You’ll want your landlord’s verified contact details before handing him any cash. If you’re going through a letting agent, make sure he or she is part of a real organization. Verify this.

Moving day

Moving day can be chaotic, challenging, and stressful. You’ll want to be at least somewhat prepared for it when it comes. That’s why we recommend setting up an essentials box filled with kitchen utensils, coffee, food that’s easy to make, your toothbrush—anything that you don’t want to go hunting for once all of your boxes are heaped up on the floor.

Once you’re (somewhat) more comfortable, it’s time to bother your landlord with some more questions. You may not know where certain things are, or how some of the appliances work. Go ahead and ask about the fuse box and the water stopcock (very important, and could save the entire rental from flooding!) Next, ask about instruction manual to all of the appliances in the home (these are probably already in the apartment, check the drawers). You’ll also want number to the local phone and electrical company to set up bills.

Some literature may already be in the home, so check that out. This is where they’ll address garbage pickup, phone sockets locations throughout the rental, and other important facts. If you’re confused about something, ask away. You can be completely annoying on the first month, and then fly under the radar during the rest of your stay.

You’re finally home! But you’ll want to protect your deposit

That cash deposit you left with your landlord is still yours—and you’re going to want it back when you leave. To make sure that money comes back to you:

  • Talk to any other tenants/roommates. While you may not have caused damage to the rental, someone else might have, in which case it will be your responsibility.
  • Get permission from the landlord before you make any changes or redecorations to the rental. It goes without saying, but remodeling the rental is certainly not in the leasing agreement. Use your best judgment here. Even putting nails into the walls could be seen as property damage. You may be able to paint the inside, but again, you need to ask before you do it. Get the permission in writing as well as a signature.
  • Use picture strips. These tiny strips replace nails and are just as strong.
  • Check the lease for anything that needs to be completed upon leaving. If the lease agreement calls for a carpet scrub, or a deep clean, then take care of it and save the receipt! Don’t let your deposit get picked away at.
  • Go over the entire rental for damage. Even minor holes should be patched, including nail holes from previous picture hangings. Also make sure that no appliances are missing, or if your apartment is furnished, that you get rid of any stains yourself.
  • And that concludes our renters again. Again, UAE Money Expert wants to make sure your stay in the UAE is as comfortable as possible. If you have any questions at all, feel free to get in touch with us.

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