Whether you rent or own your property, the moment everyone dreads is something going wrong. If you rent, is the problem yours or your landlord’s? If you own – is the issue yours or the building’s?

Luxury apartment flooded

Luxury apartment flooded

I’ve hit this dilemma recently. I’ve owned my apartment in the Tecom area for seven years without too many problems, but in March, a leak started pouring through the ceiling in my main bathroom. Lifting out the false ceiling tiles, I could see it was coming from the top corner of the concrete ceiling – so was the leak in my apartment, someone else’s or coming from within the building itself?

First, I called in my home maintenance company (I have a monthly plan). They dug around and decided the leak was *not* in my apartment – so their job was over. Next, I had to contact the building maintenance company. They drilled through the concrete wall into the building shaft to try to find the leak. Now the fun began…

Holidays slowed down fix

My apartment is on the third floor, #317. Within the week, the building maintenance guys had managed to get access to #417 above to break through the same wall above the false ceiling in the corner of the master bathroom (i.e. directly above my leak) to see if there was a leak in the shaft from that level. No joy.

The owner-occupier of #517 was on holiday, so it took another two weeks for them to do the same there. Meanwhile, they cemented the hole back up for #417. Although my leak slowed and then stopped, after several weeks of dripping it had by now spread not only to my bathroom wall and ceiling tiles but two adjoining walls in my bedroom and, from there, the floor, damaging my skirting boards and wooden flooring.

Back to #517 and, after the owner’s return off holiday, the building maintenance company came in and smashed through the same area above the false ceiling in their master bathroom – and still couldn’t find the leak. Subsequently, the owner of #517 revealed he had actually suffered a leak from the toilet in #617 – which hadn’t been properly sealed around the base of the toilet fixture – about the same time as the leak started in my apartment.

[Search home insurance plans]

Peace of mind

So four weeks ago and after a chain of emails from myself and #517, the building maintenance company came back with a camera, smashed open the wall above the false ceiling in #417 for a second time and, looking into the shaft itself with the camera, determined the leak came from ‘somewhere above’. Almost 12 weeks on, this is as far as identifying the issue seems to have got!

The only thing giving me peace of mind in an otherwise nightmare scenario is that I’m covered. All round. Whether the leak’s in my apartment (my maintenance plan), if it’s in someone else’s (their problem) or in the building shaft (building maintenance problem), I have compulsory buildings insurance with my mortgage which should cover off the subsequent damage to my apartment. Of course, what I have no control over is whether the leak, wherever it is, actually gets fixed properly or whether I’m going to keep having this problem.

I’m by no means the only person in this boat. My friend Amy came back off a week-long holiday to her apartment in Dubai Marina to find her floors swimming in three inches of water, due to a leaking toilet hose. Luckily she had both emergency call-outs in a maintenance plan, paid for by her landlord, and home contents insurance to cover the cost of the damage.

Sinking car ports

Talking to my colleagues, one living in the same road as me, two have leaky bathroom issues – one looks to be a leak from the toilet in the apartment upstairs and one the shower upstairs. In neither case has the leak been fixed, even after several weeks.

It’s not just apartments. In one forum on Expatwoman.com, Dubai residents discuss issues with sinking car ports, which seemed to be caused by a hidden leak underneath – tenant’s, landlord’s or Dewa’s problem? Apparently the landlord’s if the issue lies within the property boundaries; Dewa’s if outside. But of course, the person experiencing the problem is the tenant. It’s not as urgent for anyone else, even the landlord (out of sight, out of mind). The Rent Committee, users say, can help with getting the landlord to cough up to fix the issue and to pay for large water bills due to any leak.

And a recent letter written by a tenant to The National described a problem where a landlord was refusing to fix the air conditioning unless the rent went up. Illegal but as The National pointed out, easier to remind the landlord of their duties under the law and persuade them to fix the problem than to take it to the Rent Committee.

So whose problem is it?

  • House? Air conditioning? Yours or your landlord’s problem, as air conditioning units are not shared.
  • House? Leak? Almost definitely yours/ landlord’s problem unless it’s from a pipe coming in from the road.
  • Apartment? Air conditioning? Probably central and therefore you’ll need to get in touch with building maintenance (ask your landlord or the security guard if you don’t know who maintains your building), unless you have split or window units, in which case they’re inside your apartment.
  • Air conditioning maintenance or cleaning? You – but you may be able to negotiate with the landlord – it’s in their interest for the property to be well maintained, after all.

Things to consider…

  • Be clear in your tenancy agreement what constitutes minor and major maintenance, especially of air conditioning.
  • Insist on a maintenance contract in your tenancy agreement. And if you’re an owner, get one.
  • Even though maintenance is the landlord’s issue, it is often down to you as the tenant to organize the quotes and supervise the work.
  • As an owner – ensure you have buildings insurance. If you don’t personally, check with your mortgage company. It’s in their interests too to keep your property protected.
  • Can’t contact a neighbour and have a suspected issue like a leak from theirs affecting yours? Lodge a complaint with the police.

In summary

If it’s inside your apartment’s walls or house’s property boundaries, it’s your problem or yours to argue out with your landlord or, if all else fails, the Rent Committee. If it’s outside, it could be the utility company’s if on a public road or your building’s if in an apartment block – or another apartment’s. Use your common sense and stay calm, endlessly patient and polite as you deal with these issues – they can take a lot of time here in the UAE.

And a final tip…

If you do have buildings insurance, call your insurer; they may be able to help. Mine sent out a loss adjuster who oversaw the buildings maintenance men while they inspected the leak and helped them understand the seriousness of the situation – although obviously it’s still ongoing…