Cohabitation in the U.A.E.

Lawgical with LYLAW & Tim Elliot

07 January 2020

Tim Elliot:  Hello and welcome to Lawgical, wherever in the world you’re listening, this is the regular weekly podcast from the Dubai-based law firm, HPL Yamalova & Plewka, still the Gulf Region’s first and only legal podcast.  I’m Tim Elliot, here at the offices of Yamalova & Plewka with the Managing Partner, Ludmila Yamalova.  Lovely to see you.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Good to see you too, Tim.

Tim Elliot:  Good to have you along.  Now, Lawgical is a weekly chance to consider legal questions particular to the U.A.E.  You’re always welcome, if you’re listening now, thinking there is something on my mind, get in touch for legal answers.  The best way to find us is via LYLawyers.com.  Now, in this edition, the laws surrounding cohabitation in the U.A.E.  Now, Ludmila, finding an affordable place to live when you first arrive in a big city can be hard.  Lots of us have been through it.  It can be expensive, which is why so many city dwellers in the big cities of the world, London, New York, Paris, wherever it is, have roommates.  However, the issue has been a subject of continuous debate and speculation locally, so let’s break it down.  Is it legal or not for a male and a female to become roommates in the U.A.E.?

Ludmila Yamalova:  In short, unless the male and the female are married, it is technically speaking not legal for them to cohabitate in the same space.  That is the short answer.  Therefore, obviously married couples and all of their extended family, first and second degree families, they can cohabitate under the same roof, but those of opposite sexes, unless they’re brother and sister, so if they are relatives they can, but if they are unrelated, then that is technically speaking under the law not allowed.

Tim Elliot:  Okay.  Who would be penalized in the case of an unmarried male or female cohabitating as roommates?

Ludmila Yamalova:  Both.  Obviously, the circumstances of that cohabitation are important.  If they are just cohabitating, i.e., they are just roommates, perhaps penalties are going to be of one type, but if they are in fact in a relationship and they are living together, that is something else so the penalty would be different.  It can, in short, lead to criminal sanctions and ultimately, again depending on the extend of the relationship and the circumstances under which perhaps they are apprehended, if you will, there could also be a penalty of deportation from the U.A.E.

Tim Elliot:  Okay.  What of a situation such as two or more men, or by the same token two or more women, cohabitating, sharing a house or maybe an apartment?

Ludmila Yamalova:  Yes, that is allowed, though legally speaking there are some nuances as to how that particular landlord/tenant relationship is structured.  For a number of women, or a number of men, in other words, those of the same sex, they can legally cohabitate and share an apartment or a house, however, in terms of the relationship with the landlord it’s not really customary or even legally allowed.  For example, let’s say five women are renting a villa together.  The parties to the agreement with the landlord will just have to be one person.  In other words, you cannot have five people sign the agreement with the landlord for that villa.  In a way what ends up happening is that, for example, it is five women.  One of them signs the agreement with the landlord and the other four ultimately become sublessees of the property, so they sublet from the woman that is on the contract.  That is typically how it is structured here and for a number of reasons landlords will not really entertain assigning that same one agreement with five people in that context.

Tim Elliot:  So there is nothing in the law that allows for a specific number of people to live together per se?

Ludmila Yamalova:  There are certain laws that limit the number of people that can live physically in a specific property.  In other words, you cannot, for example, have one bedroom and have 20 men living in that one bedroom.  The general law is about one person per 10 square meters or 100 square feet, but also it depends on the community.  Different communities have different regulations related to that particular requirement or different municipalities or community regulations.  For example, there are some communities that are mainly family communities.  They will disallow expressly, for example, a number of men to cohabitate together.  Two or three, for example, for a two bedroom is okay, but if you have a one bedroom you cannot have more than let’s say two men living in it.  That’s because, as you said in the beginning, rent is expensive and there are a lot of people here that obviously are here to earn a living and save some money, so however they can save money, they do.  Often what companies do as well is they will rent an apartment and they will place their workers or their employees in that apartment, and as a result they are trying to maximize the use of the particular property and house as many people as possible, so what you may end up having is a one-bedroom apartment that is hosting 10 or 15 men in it, and obviously for a number of societal reasons and legally, there are certain communities that want to preclude that kind of arrangement, perhaps because of the demographics of that specific community.

Tim Elliot:  There are very specific laws, aren’t there, over building code and how, I guess, living environments have to be constructed, have to be partitioned, in other words?

Ludmila Yamalova:  Yes.  Generally, if it is a one bedroom, you can only really house a maximum of two people that are unrelated in that one bedroom, though much of it comes down to enforcement.  We have seen a number of cases where people will rent the one bedroom and partition it into 10 small areas.  That is much more about enforcement than the law.  If many communities like this and many properties like this exist and people live happily without any incidents, but technically speaking, if it is a one bedroom it can only house two people.  If it’s a two bedroom, a maximum of four people, and so on and so forth.

Tim Elliot:  You mentioned that when it comes to a lease agreement or a rental agreement, a tenancy agreement, it’s really the case that one person’s name is on that agreement, even if a few people are sharing say a house.  How does that work in terms of when two or more people share a space, how does the sublet agreement work?  Because contracts, I understand, do offer the possibility of subletting.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Ironically enough, there isn’t really a structured way of documenting these arrangements.  It’s much more built on practice and just history of these kinds of practices existing.  For example, let’s say if I am the primary person or party on the contract and I have four other roommates, it’s not that I would necessarily have an agreement with each one of them who will have to pay me the rent.  Legally speaking, if you wanted to do things right, that’s what you would want to do, but in practice that’s not really typical.  Instead what happens is that I have that agreement with the landlord where I am the party, but in fact the five of us pay rent separately to the landlord.  It’s not even that I necessarily collect the rent and then hand it over to the landlord.  Legally speaking, the responsibility is on me to pay for the rent, but in practice most of the time I am just one of the tenants but each one of the tenants has its own relationship with the landlord, although in most cases they are not legally documented in the sense that there isn’t really a contract between the remaining four tenants and the landlord.

Tim Elliot:  Let’s say, for example, I was to rent out a villa that I live in, and I have a number of rooms that I could sublet to friends, could I do that?

Ludmila Yamalova:  That is more of a traditional, classical form of subletting.  Whether you can do it depends on your agreement with the landlord.  What’s often become known as the standard or the template tenancy agreement in Dubai has a specific clause that says, no subletting is allowed unless the parties agree otherwise.  Similarly, the Dubai rental law has a provision to that effect, which is no subletting is allowed unless the parties agree otherwise.  In your case, the example that you brought up, if you were the primary tenant of the property and you have the contract for that villa with your landlord, you would need to make sure that there is a clause in there that the landlord specifically allows for the subletting.  In that case, what would happen is the responsibility stays with you, and that is you are the one responsible for the entire rent for that property, but you can sublet the other rooms and collect rent and get reimbursed yourself for the rent that you have paid to the landlord.  The landlord’s relationship is really with you.  To make it legal, you really need to make sure that is specifically stated in the contract because if you don’t, and often this is what happens, if you don’t do that then you can be evicted on the basis of subletting illegally.

Now, there is another arrangement that people, at least in the past have done, and that is let’s say the same example that you gave me that there is a contract that you have with the landlord where you are the tenant as per the contract, but in fact you don’t live in that property.  You just rent it.  Let’s say you rent it for 100,000 dirhams and you decide to rent out those five rooms for 25,000 dirhams each, so you make a lot more money than what you pay.  These arrangements have been done quite a lot in the past.  In that particular case, it’s a different kind of subletting and that is subletting is generally frowned upon.  The law is quite specific that it’s illegal unless there is a very specific clause in the agreement between the landlord allowing you to do that.  But it’s very difficult for landlords to control that relationship and there have been many cases like that.  We have seen that somebody rents the property for 100,000 dirhams and then sublets it to the other tenants and let’s say recovers 200,000 dirhams but pays it to the landlord in two installments.  You have paid 50,000 dirhams to the landlord.  You recovered from your tenants, let’s say 200,000 dirhams.  Now the other 50,000 dirhams is still due to the landlord at six months, but by that time you have left town.  Now, the landlord in that case is stuck with a bounced cheque, a breach of an agreement, with a party that’s no longer in town is one complication, but more importantly, you have let’s say five people living in the villa, all of whom have paid to the previous sublandlord.  Cases like this in the past were quite frequently seen and because of that landlords generally speaking, do not agree to subletting for that very reason.

Tim Elliot:  One final point and I think it’s worth remembering, we are guests, many of us expatriates in the U.A.E., guests in a city, in a country where cultures co-exist and allow people to live freely, but the law of the land, of course, is Sharia law, so we do and are expected to respect the moral codes of the country and not abuse our rights and cohabitating is part and parcel of that.

Ludmila Yamalova:  Indeed.  But there is another twist to that and that is in terms of the penalties that may apply to opposite sex living and cohabitating in the same place, and that is religion.  If, for example, you have two non-Muslims living together, and that in itself is illegal, but at least it’s not illegal under their religion perhaps.  But if you have two Muslims, a man and a woman living under the same roof and cohabitating, then the repercussions or the penalties that apply to them are much more severe.  Now, as we go through this line of questions and commentary, what’s important to highlight is that what we are discussing here is the legal framework that governs cohabitation.  In practical terms, it’s not that any time you have two unmarried people living in the same apartment the police will knock on the door and the trouble starts.  In practice, in fact, it’s the opposite.  Many, many people in the U.A.E. and Dubai in particular, because it’s probably the heaviest populated emirate in particular in terms of young people, they do live together.  They cohabitate for years and decades and nothing happens to them.  The practice exists, but legally speaking if there is an inspection or if somehow somebody is being reported, when the authorities get involved, the authorities look at the legal framework that governs that particular relationship, so things become a lot more formal in that case.  That’s when the horror stories that we hear happen, but it’s not that they happen on a daily basis.  This is why it’s an important topic to discuss because especially those who are moving into the U.A.E. or who are fairly new to the U.A.E., they know or they might have heard of many people who have been living together without any incidents and for them, they don’t understand the conservative approach of some if they are being told that, listen, technically speaking, it’s not legal.  I don’t want to do it because I don’t want to run into trouble.  Those who are not familiar with the legal system perhaps may think it’s an overreaction, but in fact, if you live here and if you want to be a law abiding citizen it is certainly prudent at least to know and understand what laws apply so that in an event anything happens you at least are prepared to deal with the consequences.

Tim Elliot:  Cohabitation in the United Arab Emirates, the law.  That’s another edition of Lawgical, legal issues, legal news, and much more from the offices of Yamalova & Plewka, weekly either in Lawgical Lite, a bite-sized quick podcast or in our slightly more detailed full length Lawgical podcast.  If you have a legal question you need answered in a future podcast or if you’d like a consultation with a qualified U.A.E. experienced legal professional, all you have to do is click the Contact button at Lylawyers.com.  Plus, you can WhatsApp to 00971 52525 1611.