- What is ‘Pro Bono’?
- What is a Pro Bono clinic?
- Who is eligible?
- Who can volunteer?
- Do volunteers need to register?
- Tenant FAQs: renting in the DIFC
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The words ‘pro bono’ are Latin: they mean ‘for the public benefit.’
In 2009, the DIFC Courts were applauded by the region’s legal community for implementing the first Pro Bono Programme of free legal advice in the Middle East, which was in turn derived from a need in the community for pro bono legal representation. This initiative allows individuals who cannot afford a lawyer the ability to seek free advice and representation from volunteer lawyers and is headed by the Pro Bono Programme Leader, Hayley Norton. The Programme is a public expression of the DIFC Courts’ mission to provide swift, transparent and accessible justice to DIFC Court users and to ensure that all parties are on equal footing in proceedings before the Courts, which is supported by the DIFC Courts.
A successful applicant may use a full range of legal services, from basic advice to full case management and representation in proceedings. Individuals who meet the eligibility criteria (explained below) will have their case details sent to all the volunteer firms.
Legal advice offered by volunteer practitioners will focus on issues that fall, or might fall, within the DIFC Courts’ jurisdiction. Legal assistance will not be provided on matters which are criminal in nature or governed by personal laws, such as family or inheritance laws, as well as those originating from organisations or transactions outside the DIFC Courts’ jurisdiction.
The DIFC Courts Pro Bono Programme (“Pro Bono Programme or Programme”) is only applicable to the Small Claims Tribunal and the Court of First Instance. If the case is to progress into the Court of Appeal or an additional claim is to be lodged, both the pro bono litigant and the volunteer practitioner agree to continue the representation into the appeal or additional claim.
Pro Bono Clinic
Periodically throughout the year, the Programme can be accessed through a Pro Bono (free legal advice) Clinic outreach initiative. Clinics are held bi-weekly on Thursdays in the DIFC Courts Office. They offer potential pro bono litigants one-to-one quality time, in confidence, with a registered pro bono volunteer practitioner who is always legally qualified and is often a specialist in-house legal counsel. He/she can advise the potential litigant on possible case scenarios and offer a course of action – or can provide the pro bono litigant with a wide range of options for further consideration. No appointments are necessary for the Pro Bono Clinics, which operate on a walk-in, first-come, first-served basis.
The Pro Bono Programme is a scheme set up for those who cannot afford legal representation. The main criterion, therefore, is the financial need for legal representation based on the inability to afford it. The merits of the case – that is, whether the case has a reasonable chance of success if it goes to trial – are also taken into consideration.
DIFC Courts welcome new volunteer lawyers and we have recently broadened our rules to encourage wider support from the UAE legal community.
Law firms and individual practitioners wishing to participate in the Pro Bono Programme should be registered and in good standing under Part I or Part II of the DIFC Courts’ Register of Legal Practitioners. Each firm or individual practitoners should complete a registration form (which can be found here) law firms should include the contact details of the firm’s liaison associate for pro bono matters. This should then be submitted to the Programme Leader (email@example.com).
DO I HAVE TO USE A BROKER / AGENCY?
No. You are not required to use a broker/agency. However, using brokerage firms or an agency to source your DIFC residential premises is useful as they will handle all administrative aspects of your rental. If you find a property that is being rented directly from the landlord, you can act on your own on behalf.
WHAT LAWS APPLY TO ME AS A TENANT IN THE DIFC?
A wide range of laws set out the rights and obligations of tenants in the DIFC. The fundamentally relevant laws are:
ARE SECURITY DEPOSITS REQUIRED?
WHAT SHOULD I DO BEFORE I MOVE IN?
DO I NEED A LEASE?
Yes. If you are renting a residential premises, the landlord must provide a written lease agreement which includes the following details::
A DIFC Residential Lease Agreement Template is available on the DIFC website at the following: https://www.difc.ae/files/3315/8012/3497/Residential_Lease_Template.docx
WHO CAN ENTER INTO A LEASE?
In order to enter into a contract of any kind in the DIFC (including a lease) an individual must be over 18 years of age and of sound mental judgement. In the event a lease is entered into by an individual under 18 years of age or who was mentally defective, the lease may be voided (annulled) by that individual, their representative or by an order of the DIFC Court.
DIFC LEASE REGISTRATION
The landlord is obliged to register lease agreements with a term exceeding 6 months with the Registrar of Real Property (the “Registrar”), within 20 days from the date of the lease agreement, failing which the landlord can be subject to a fine of USD 1,000. For all lease agreements with a term of less than 6 months, registration with Registrar is optional.
The landlord can complete the registration of lease agreement and upload the required documents, online through the DIFC client portal and the registration fee is based on the lease term:
CAN THE LANDLORD ENTER THE RESIDENTIAL PREMISES?
The landlord can enter the residential premises at such time the tenant agrees to, provided the tenant is provided with at least 2 days’ prior notice.
CAN THE LANDLORD TURN OFF THE UTILITY SERVICES?
No. Landlords are not permitted to disconnect utilities services. If this happens the landlord could be liable to a police or court case.
WHAT HAPPENS IF SOMETHING IN THE APARTMENT BREAKS?
If something in the apartment breaks, you should notify your landlord in writing. The landlord is liable to carry out repairs within 60 days of the notice.
AM I LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES?
Tenants are not liable for damages that constitutes fair wear and tear, if the tenant took reasonable care to avoid such damages; or if the damages were caused as a result of the landlord’s failure to perform its obligations under the Leasing Law or the lease agreement. However, the tenant can be held liable if damages were caused due to a failure or the fault of the tenant.
CAN I MAKE CHANGES TO THE APARTMENT?
Tenants may not make changes to an apartment without the landlord’s consent. If any changes are made, the tenant must restore the residential premises back to the condition they were in immediately before installation.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE LANDLORD WANTS TO INCREASE MY RENT?
Your landlord may not increase the rent before the lease ends.
If a landlord wants to increase the rent for the next lease period, you must be informed at least 90 days prior to the expiry of the existing lease to give you the opportunity to decide not to renew the lease.
IS THERE A RENTAL INCREASE CALCULATOR FOR DIFC?
Under Dubai Decree No. (43) of 2013, which applies to the DIFC, the maximum percentage of rent increase can only be as follows:
|Rent of a Property is less than average rental value by:||Percentage Increase Permitted:|
|11% to 20%||5% increase permitted|
|21% to 30%||10% increase permitted|
|31% to 40%||15% increase permitted|
|More than 40%||20% increase permitted|
CAN I SUB-LET MY LEASE WITHOUT LANDLORD CONSENT?
In order to sub-let the lease, the landlord, tenant and sub-tenant will need to sign a sublease and a DIFC sublease consent and submit the documents to the Registrar. Unless expressly specified in the terms of the lease agreement, your landlord has no obligation to consent to the sub-letting of the premises by signing the sublease or DIFC sublease consent.
The sublease will need to be drafted and agreed by the landlord, tenant and sub-tenant, and if the sublease is for a term exceeding 6 months, the sublease agreement must be registered with the Registrar. Specialist legal advice should be sought to help the parties to accurately record and document any conditions which have been agreed in respect of the sublease.
MY LANDLORD IS SELLING THE APARTMENT. WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS?
The registration of a transfer of ownership of the apartment to a new owner transfers the rights, powers, privileges and liabilities of the previous owner to the new owner who will automatically become the new landlord under any lease of the apartment. Unless the lease contains an explicit right for the landlord to terminate as a consequence of sale and transfer, the new landlord will continue to be bound by the terms of the lease until its expiry and the rights and obligations of the tenant under the lease will not be impacted by the sale of the apartment
MY LANDLORD PROMISED ME SOMETHING, BUT IT IS NOT WRITTEN IN THE CONTRACT. WHAT CAN I DO?
Although oral variations to agreements are permitted, the Leasing Law mandates that leases (including all of its terms and variations) must be in writing. Oral agreements may not be legally enforced by the DIFC Courts. Any promises should be offered and accepted in writing.
HOW CAN THE LEASE BE TERMINATED?
A lease can be terminated by agreement between the landlord and tenant before the lease’s expiration date. A lease can also be terminated by court order (for example if the tenant has not paid rent for 30 days or more from the agreed payment date).
DO I HAVE AN AUTOMATIC RIGHT OF RENEWAL?
The DIFC Leasing Law does not provide an automatic right of renewal for tenants. Any right to renew for a successive term must be expressly included in the lease Agreement.
CAN MY LANDLORD ENTER THE PREMISES WITHOUT PERMISSION?
The landlord may enter the leased premises, only when:
HOW DO I HANDLE A DISPUTE WITH MY DIFC LANDLORD?
The DIFC Small Claims Tribunal has exclusive jurisdiction over all DIFC rental disputes that do not exceed AED 1,000,000.
The filing fee is 5% of the total value of the claim, with a minimum of USD 100.
The purpose of this guide is to provide brief answers to frequently asked questions often posed by tenants in relation to the residential renting process in the DIFC.
The Pro Bono Clinic programme falls under the jurisdiction of the DIFC Courts; its volunteer lawyers can only advise on matters arising within the DIFC. This guide therefore applies only to residential property within the jurisdiction of the DIFC Registrar of Real Property and the DIFC Courts.
If you are uncertain as to whether your property is within the district boundary of the DIFC, a map is available online at www.difc.ae/files/1814/8870/5844/DIFC-Location-Map.pdf. Please note that the boundaries of the DIFC may increase in future as more properties are developed. Official sources should be consulted for the most up-to-date information. Disputes pertaining to leases of property of under 10 years outside of the DIFC will be subject to the jurisdiction of the Rent Disputes Settlement Centre or arbitration, and the laws of the UAE and of Dubai will apply, and not DIFC law.
This guide is not intended for commercial landlords or tenants, of either office or retail space, who should seek specialist legal advice. This guide covers the following frequently asked questions
The above information and FAQ’s are provided free of charge as a community service by the Pro Bono Programme and drafted by our registered volunteer lawyers. Such information/FAQ’s provided as a service is of a general nature, and is not specifically provided for the purpose if, or use in, any court case. The information/FAQ’s are given as a matter of general guidance and by way of broad pointers only. It is not intended to replace, supplement or do away with the need for professional legal advice and/or legal action.