Sunday, April 05, 2015

Life as a Tenant in Kuwait



There is a lot of “play” in Kuwait on tenant rights.  If you’re new to the country, or even some of us who have never played the game with an unethical landlord, knowing what to do and how to protect yourself becomes really important.  [And even then – unfortunately, it is if-y as to whether you will get your rights or not (because of landlord wastah, courts, nationality, etc)] 

I believe that having another expat’s perspective is invaluable.  I’m writing from my perspective so that maybe others can benefit from my story and what I have recently gone through.  Hey, maybe someone can pass this along to a Kuwaiti lawmaker considering a change to the Kuwait Law of Tenancy as a case study.

Prior to this, I had never had an issue with landlords.  I’ve been in Kuwait for almost 19 years now and landlords had always treated me kindly and with dignity (thank you – both branches of the Al-Essa Family – for making me believe in the integrity of property owners in my host country/second home).




The “How You Pay Your Rent” Scam

I moved (from an Al-Essa high rise property)  into a lovely private villa. The villa is surrounded by a pretty little garden.  My basement apartment has a wrap-around terrace with potted plants, private entrance, plenty of parking.  It is quiet and private; I don't see anyone and they don't see me (unless they try to).  It's perfect for my dogs and for sitting outside.  It is the envy of all who visit it - at quite an affordable and decent rent.

The owner lives in another villa in a different area/township of Kuwait.   His charitable contribution to his family (mother, sister, and brother) appears to be that he allows them to live in the adjoining villa to where I rent. 

All of the rental tenants at the address are Westerners.  There are approximately 5 rental apartments in the 2 adjoining villas.  That was a key selling point to me.  I was hopeful that I would be able to meet my neighbors even and get to know them.  (Most have come and gone so fast that I haven’t ever been able to establish friendships.)

Soon after I moved in, I had a distinct impression that something hinky was going on; as they would not give me rental receipts and asked me to pay through electronic fund transfer to the hariss* (the landlord's sister - who is actually not a hariss but is acting in that capacity - although I wish she would take out my trash because I believe that would be her only benefit/redeeming quality to me).   It seemed rather odd, but it was what the other tenants were doing, so I obliged. 

* For those unfamiliar with the term:   A “hariss” is a building superintendent/janitor/guard. It is usually a male in Kuwait, although in other Middle Eastern countries, the hariss may be a female (“Bawab” or “Bawaba”, for example, in Egypt).  The hariss in Kuwait often works in the capacity of owner’s representative, collecting rent every month.  He usually gets paid extra money by tenants to wash their cars and take out the trash.  (My hariss doesn’t do this, sadly.  I would love to see her wash my car and wrestle with a few Hefty bags.)

Who/how I pay might have been an issue within the first year of my residence in their property: The landlord could have claimed that he was not receiving rent from me (as I was paying to someone else’s bank account under someone else’s name – and not to him directly). During that first year, they could have scammed me (or an unsuspecting tenant) into eviction and possibly owing them not only back rent,  but future through the term of the contract.  However, now, years down the road, it is a moot point.  

Advice to those having the same issue is to immediately demand receipts for rent.  If they do not provide receipts, it is cause for you to pay immediately through the rental court.  If you want to use electronic fund transfer (EFT or bank transfer):   or on your electronic fund transfer form, state that the payment is for flat rental, payable to (owners name, CID # if you have it, and his/her address – exactly as it is stated on the rental agreement).  My hariss is not very intelligent and gave me copies of both her CID and her bank card so that I could make EFTs.  I retained copies of both.  I scan/save everything.

Raising the rent part-way through the term of the contract

About a year 
... after I moved in; one night at approximately 9 pm, an unknown-to-me older woman (only time I've ever seen her before or since) knocked on my terrace door and demanded that I move my barbecue grill inside.  First, I had no idea who she was, but then it dawned on me that she was the owner's mother.  She didn't know what the grill was.  I told her (in Arabic) and she said that maybe someday I could cook fish for her.  (Huh?  Ok, whatever.) She said that they would be painting soon, so she wanted me to move it.  I did.  2 years later (yes, you read it correctly), they started painting without notice (lasted 6 months - awful noise and disruption).  Shortly thereafter...


Approximately 3 years into the contract, the hariss (owner's sister, but I'm going to keep calling her "the hariss" because I. Like. It.)  called me with a happy-go-lucky tone in her voice (the voice of greed), explaining that I had been there for 3 years and they were going to raise my rent. (Laaaaa wallah?!  ... Oh... is it because you need to pay the painters?)  I asked how much.  She said by 50KD.  I recited the Kuwait Law of Tenancy  – that they couldn’t raise the rent until 5 years had passed, BUT,  ‘because we were such good friends.’ I was going to go ahead and pay the increase as long as they provided me with a new contract.  (This was at the advice of a lawyer – thank you, Amer, it's really helpful now!)  They did.  I did.  All good.

Until about a year later….

I was "bestowed" with a puppy/big dog (who never barks and who I clean up after constantly).  I already had one small dog (which was written into the contract by the owner - legally acknowledging acceptance of animals in the apartment - not that it matters; legally you can have pets as long as they aren't disruptive).  My contract states that I'm not allowed to use the front entrance to the villa and I'm further not allowed to use any of the common areas (like the garden) because I have a dog. I never have.   I don't even walk my dog in the neighborhood; I literally drive him to a secluded area away from the house to be considerate.

Brother of the owner (lives at the adjoining property) saw me and said, “My mother is concerned about where the dog goes to the bathroom.”  Really?  Where does your mother go to the bathroom?  Irrelevant.   

Several days later, the owners driver knocked on my door, demanding to know where my "big dog" was.  (Luckily,  he was in Kabd at obedience school for 2 months.)  Driver say, "Madame said a big dog was scratching at her door last night and barking."  I said, 'Ok.  Not my dog.  Maybe it was a djini."  I thought at the time that they were just messing with me; making up excuses to make my life difficult. (I heard later that there was actually a stray German Shepherd in the neighborhood making the rounds around our villa.  Isn't that odd?!  I never saw it.  Ghost dog sent to mess with me.).  

Shortly after that discussion, I received an SMS from the owner stating, "You need to get rid of the dogs.  My mother doesn't like dogs." That was the full extent of the missive.  (Well hello and howdy-do to you too!  Nice to hear from you!)   I don't have a legally-binding contract with his mother and I don't know the woman.  My mother doesn't like pizza.  So what?  It’s all irrelevant.  I tried to call the owner.  He refused to answer.  Rude.  Therefore, I ignored him.   All was quiet and I hadn’t heard from them for any reason in approximately 1 year.

Eviction Letter Delivered

Approximately a year later….
(Perhaps it is cyclical thing with them?  An annual piss-off-the-tenants event?  Other places might have barbecues for their tenants, but noooo….)  I heard that his mother was still not happy that I was living there; this time, heresay from someone who knows the family. “(The Mother) says that you are having sheesha parties”  Really?  I don’t even smoke and I have asthma. Is that the best she can do?  Followed by,  “Do you invite men to your apartment?”  ‘Does mother invite men to her apartment? I’m not doing anything immoral or illegal.’  Irrelevant.

IF you rent to Westerners, expect them to be Westerners.  Don't treat them poorly when they pay rent on time (or in advance) and have made improvements to your property; while at the same time wanting to have a quality of life. Should be simple. You are getting paid for a service or product.  Deal with it.  If  you think you’re not getting enough for that service or product; you should have written it differently into the initial agreement.  For example:  You don’t sell someone a car and then decide in a year to change the price.

So, I was recently served with an eviction notice (from the owner- not a lawyer or court), but through the hariss.  (No eye contact.  Mumbling.  Head lowered.  Girl, if you know you're doing something wrong or you don't feel good about it - it is a pretty good indication that you shouldn't do it.)    Last sentence of the letter was, "Good luck."    (In local Kuwaiti dialect, “Good luck” translates to the US Southern version of “Bless your heart.”)  Well... I wish him good luck too.


Did you know this?  I didn't...

The letter has given me 2 months to vacate stating that he wants the unit for his family: This is illegal. If he wishes you to vacate for "family use", there are several stipulations: 1) your unit must be the only unit in the villa for rent. 2) He/she cannot own more than one home.  (And although I'm not 100% sure of this, I believe that the law further states that the "family use" rationale applies only to immediate family - like daughters or sons, mothers or fathers, who want to use the apartment for their use.)

In my case, my landlord failed to meet those criteria.   I can easily prove secondary residence ownership because I know where he actually resides - with his 4 children under the age of 17.  I  have the house PACI (Public Authority for Civil Information) numbers (which will reveal ownership).  Even if I didn't have access to the numbers, any lawyer can do a search for property ownership through the Kuwait Land Registry Authority.

[Since this writing, the hariss has come down and asked me to return the eviction letter that they submitted to me.  What - was it a joke?  Funny ha ha.  You don't see me laughing.  I posted my attorney's business card on my door and told her that I didn't want her bothering me anymore.  She can call him.  I've had enough emotional distress.  "Good luck."]

Worst-case scenario

If he/she files a case against you (stating that they "really do need the property for family use") and wins, the court will order him to pay you 6 month’s rent or give you 6 month’s rent free (or 3 months free and 3 months paid).  It is further NOT legal for the landlord to give you an eviction notice and a vacate date without it being court-ordered.  Owner's letter to me also stated that I should be sure to pay my rent through the notice period on the 1st of every month.  Also illegal.

Advice to my friends out there

Don't discuss anything verbally with your landwhore - make them put anything they have to say to you in writing.  I will no longer accept phone calls or SMSs as a form of communication with my landlord or hariss. (The "Block/Delete" option is the beauty of most modern-day smart phones.)

Change your locks.  If they enter your residence for any reason without your permission, it is cause for an immediate CRIMINAL court case against the landlord (call the police immediately and have a copy of your lease agreement handy). Further, should they illegally enter my home without my permission and get bit by my German Shepherd (or your canary, cat, pet snake, son/daughter....), the law is on my side as it is an illegal home invasion.

Why not just move?

I know that this all seems like a whole lot of drama, and is it really worth it?  But....

I love my apartment.  It has all the amenities I want - and that are hard to find in the market.  The dogs have plenty of room. I have plenty of room. The (agreed upon!) rent price is right.   There is also an economic factor to moving:  Why should I incur that extra expense when legally I don't have to?

The drama has been taking place at approximate 1-year intervals.  I have timed it now (and I also don't have to talk to them anymore).

It took me 6 months and a lot of time and effort to find this apartment (read previous posts on "how to find an apartment in Kuwait").  It is my sanctuary.  Why should I be placed under psychological duress for an issue that I, as tenant, and he, as landlord/owner agreed upon? I signed an agreement with my landlord - on his terms and conditions:  Why should I move when he agreed to the TandCs on HIS contract, with his signature, that HE wrote?!   I pay fair rent, as it was mutually agreed upon. 

Further, this guy is the Devil I know.  Who is to say that I moved somewhere else, it wouldn't be worse?  How do you know?

Do I look like I'm a stupid foreigner??

Perhaps I may appear to some people that I am a stupid foreigner and I don't know the law,  but I don’t back down when it comes to (important) rights.  Little things (for example – not a real-time scenario at all for me) like getting a day of vacation that I’m owed or whatever – that stuff isn’t important.   Where I live is.  Moving is traumatic for me.  I don’t like it.  It is an upheaval that I try to avoid.  I was moved around a lot as a child.  I’m an adult now and I make the choice not to.  (I was in the Al-Essa apartment for 11 years.  Paid my rent in advance or on time throughout. I invited the Hariss - who was more like a Nubian brother to me - to dinner and barbecues with my friends and I. We both cried when I moved out.  What’s the problem?  Why can't people just be kind to each other?)

If there are any kind,decent Kuwaiti landlords out there who have a rental property and would like to rent to me, write to me (amerab@gmail.com).  I'm a dream tenant (I'm never home!) and I'll even bake you cookies or a delicious American apple pie.  Yummmm.

This landlord has, from what I have heard (and this is heresay),  played out the same negative scenario with other Western tenants and have gotten away with it for years (to include the former GM of a very well-known formerly Italian hotel on the Gulf Road – because his wife cooked curry and the mother didn’t like it!). Perhaps they received the same eviction notice as I did?   Perhaps the landlord increases the rent every time a tenant moves out or is whimsically "dismissed" by the owner's mother at the wave of her chubby hand and sceptre?   Perhaps it is just giving in to supposedly keep family peace (at least for another year)?  

Someone needs to grow some balls and do the right thing. Man up. Karma is a bitch.  They have children in the family.  What goes around, comes around.  How are those kids (who are going to the US to study) going to be treated by others?    The hariss knows she is doing wrong; to the extent that she holds her head low, mumbles, and won't make eye contact with me (prayer doesn't give you a free ticket to being unethical and unkind to others.) She openly told me several times how those (other Kuwaitis) are ruining Kuwait.  (No honey, YOU are ruining Kuwait.)  The landlord has western friends and business associates and touts himself as being "open minded".   I love Kuwait and hate to see what kind of hypocritical behavior is happening here by some (not all).

Most Western expats pay the equivalent (if not more) of a decent mortgage payment for rent in Kuwait every month.  We will never be able to own property here as foreigners.   Can we not just be treated fairly and ethically?

I have done my best to be a quiet, kind, considerate and decent neighbor/tenant.  I’ve made home improvements.  I’ve installed a sound-proof door so that in the off-chance that either of my dogs bark (and they don’t) my neighbors won’t be disturbed.  Many times the hariss has asked me for rent several times in advance (“International Bank of Desert Girl”).  I’ve obliged out of goodwill.  I’ve even tried to help the hariss find her friends jobs when asked.  Why aren’t they bestowing the same goodwill to me?

It would be in both of our best interests to just leave me alone and live quietly as I have been.


Tell us how you feel....

I spent some sleepless nights worrying and feeling sorry for myself.  I know - Boo hoo.  Then I decided to stand up and fight.

After speaking to four different sets of attorneys (different perspectives/advice/sizes of firms)  and finally agreeing on a strategy (with the help of a dear, dear Kuwait friend), I feel much better. I’m not intimidated.  I don’t believe the landlord would ever try anything stupid:   I don’t feel threatened.  I sleep with a 100 pound German Shepherd and have close police friends in the neighborhood (and actually, my new attorney lives several blocks from me).   If worst-comes-to-worst and the court (and only the court) asks me to vacate after a 6 month period of free rent, then I’ll vacate.  Until then, I’m not going to worry about it and carry on as usual.

Look, people have terrible, awful, tragic things happen to them every day.  On the scale, this is nothing compared to what they are going through.  I thank God every day, several times a day, for all my blessings.   However, when someone puts you in this position, it really is traumatic.  I feel violated in a way.  It made me feel discarded after I had been kind.

I hope that writing/posting this might turn into a blessing and I might have helped someone out there feel better and let them know they have a choice. (You're not alone.)

Next Steps 

The series of events will undoubtedly play out and I will write more as it does. 

For now, my lawyer is my voice/ representative.  They have advised me to pay my rent on time and should the landlord stop me from paying,  I will notify the attorney and we will file a case with the rental court and pay my rent through them.  If the landlord decides to try to evict based on “family requirements” and file a case,  we will go to court against them (and still get 6 months rent free at worst).  Both parties would be able to tell their side of the story, giving a fair verdict on stay/go; not a random decision made by the landlord.  "Good luck...."

My lease is up in 2017. What happens then? Well, they can increase the rent by a certain amount.  If I need to, someone from the court will come in, assess the property, and determine by how much the landlord can increase it.  Can they kick me out in 2017?  Nope.  That is another beautiful part to this scenario.  (And again, at that point, should they try to evict me, we would let the court determine if I should go or not.)

Why retain a lawyer? 

Because like anywhere else in the world, local lawyers know the court system.  They give you the best advice and they will do the leg work for you.  Plus, unless you are fluent in Arabic, you need to bring a translator with you each and every time you do something at the court.  My baby-Arabic won’t cut it in legalese.

[When I went to the Ministry of Justice to have my power of attorney approved, I was impressed because they actually wouldn't allow just a friend to translate. It had to be an official translator (the Ministry will provide if you don't have one at signing).  They do this to ensure that the English-speaking expat completely understands what he/she is signing and isn't misled.  Impressive.]

And from a different perspective:  Kuwait is a society where you are judged immediately by appearance and/or what country you are from.   A lawyer who runs in and out of the court all the time isn’t going to be judged.  He’s there to represent an invisible client;  you.

Don’t get me wrong, should you choose to work on your own, you can go to the rental court for your area/jurisdiction and ask them for advice and next steps.  Then, be prepared to take a lot of time off work, battle traffic, and go to the court numerous times with your translator. It will probably be a frustrating process. 

Papers to bring with you to discuss your case with a lawyer:

  • A copy of your rental agreement
  •  Copy of your civil ID and passport with residency page
  •  A typed chronological timeline of events between you and the landlord (helpful)
  •  Past 6 months of rental receipts or bank statements showing electronic fund transfers (the bank will provide these to you and stamp for the court.  You can black-out your balance and any other irrelevant information).
  •  Any other relevant documentation you have received from your landlord and/or his/her representative.
Referrals

I am happy to provide a referral to legal counsel (with reasonable fee)  should anyone want it (and no - I do not take commissions or referral fees).  Please keep in mind that I'm not a lawyer and I can't answer your legal questions.  Write to me at amerab@gmail.com.

If you are a local lawyer and want to help foreign guests in your country with these tenancy cases, get in touch with me.  I will make referrals at no cost to either party as long as I think you can help people.

Here is a lawyer who will take on tenant cases!
Nadia al-Mutawa, Hugo International Law - Salmiya block 11 - Baghdad st - Oval Tower - Floor 11 Tel: 25646411 email: hugo.international.law@gmail.com  

6 comments:

Kathy Travis said...

Dang, Girl, that is almost unreal. It seems to me they are deliberately harassing you. I am GLAD to hear you have a good attorney and will NOT be forced to move. Are you sure the owner isn't avoiding paying taxes since you actually pay someone else or do they pay taxes over there? I still haven't gotten around to my trip there, but things like this make me wonder if I should even continue to plan it. This is the craziest thing I have ever heard. I am really sorry this has happened to you and you will be in my prayers. Have a very Happy Easter and Good luck--keep me updated.

layla said...

Hi! I know this is the wrong place to ask, but do you know if the owner of an apartment is supposed to take care of any repairs/maintenance? We've having problems with our electricity. It keeps tripping, though we only have the bare minimum number of appliances on like the fridge, AC, tv, phone and laptop and maybe a kettle or a microwave from time to time. Even after switching off absolutely everything, we can't turn the main switch back on until like 15 minutes have passed. It trips like 7-8 times a day sometimes. Its obviously a problem with the wiring in the apartment and when we approached the harris to call an electrician, he said that the building won't take care of the expenses! Is that normal? Are we supposed to pay to get this repaired? Is there someone you know who I could ask? Not sure if our contract has anything mentioned about this. Will have to get it translated.

Desert Girl said...

Thanks, Kathy. Yes, it does seem like deliberate harassment and that's why I'm having no further contact with them. And no - there are no taxes here. The landwhores usually try to evict (unknowledgeable) tenants to bring in higher-paying tenants. Happy Easter to you too. I will keep you posted.

Layla, read your rental agreement carefully. What does it say about repairs/maintenance? It should specifically state that the owner agrees to pay for repairs. If not, repairs will be at your cost.

What I recommend you do is to bring in an electrician - immediately - for your own safety!! You don't want to wake up to your apartment in flames due to an electrical problem in your circuit box (or elsewhere). Write to me if you need the number for an electrician - I know several who will go out and look at your circuit box and wiring and tell you where the problem is.

If it is a problem with the building, contact the Ministry of Electricity & Water in your area. Don't expect them to speak English, so bring someone who speaks Arabic and can explain the problem.

If your contract does state that your landlord will pay for repairs - and he is not paying - you need to either talk to a lawyer to see what your options are - or go to the rental court yourself. Good luck!

layla said...

Thanks DG for the reply. Will get an Electrician to look at the main switch board. Has to be a problem with it and yup, will get our contract translated. I'm sure there will be something on it. Thanks for your help!

baselalhomoud said...

I have been having similar issues just like you after moving in for slightly over a year only and the landlord approached me asking me to pay more rent as he is paying too much water & electricity bill. I told him no i wont. He even begged for 25KD and i said NO. In any case i have been hearing rumor that he wants me out soon but he hasnt had the guts to confront me yet. And another thing is, I have demanded for receipts or to transfer online and he had never agreed trying to assure me that he is a good landlord. That was the impression he gave me when i first wanted to rent his apartment. He was extremely nice and i told him clearly that I have been residing in Kuwait for over 18 years and never lived with a landlord. He assures all was going to be ok. Recently, few months ago i have friends coming over and he ive been noticing that he has changed. He is never friendly to me anymore or neither does he say hello no more and i had a discussion with him and he was like no males allowed to the premises except for females. I am like WTF! and why are invading in my privacy. He just never answered me and since then i have been hearing rumor from his workers that he is finding ways to leave.

Desert Girl said...

Basel - You had better get a lawyer or go directly to the rental court immediately. If you have no way to prove that you have paid rent, then they can say that you haven't paid it - AND ask you to pay for the full term of the contract. It's a trick. Get help NOW. Or have 2 male witnesses watch as you give the landlord the rent the next time. You'll have to have those 2 men stand up for you as witnesses in court saying that they witnessed you pay him/her/it.