Going flat out to share flats

UAE, 1 May 2005

DUBAI- "Wanted a Goan, Mangalorean, vegetarian, Hindu, non-smoking bachelor." You could be forgiven for thinking that this is a matrimonial classified, listing ideal qualifications for a groom. The fact is, it is about sharing, but only a flat, with kitchen and separate bath thrown in if you are lucky.

Sharing a house, between two families, a few singles, one single and a family is all the norm today, where rents are rising rather disproportionately in comparison with the paying capacity.

What is aggravating the rise is the fact that people are augmenting their income by letting out one or two rooms from their company or rental accommodation.

Until recently, landlords did not increase rent during the first two years of a tenant's occupancy, and only 10-15 per cent annually after that. But now it is common for landlords to increase rents by as much as 60-70 per cent before the end of the first year's contract.

"Rents have gone from Dh33,000 last year to 60,000 this year. You tell me if that is fair!" asks Shahzaad Mehta, a resident of Dubai for the last 23 years who is finding herself unable to cope with the rent rise and maintain her standard of living.

"I share my house, kitchen and all facilities so I can afford it," Mehta says.

Her requirements are simple. "The room with the attached bath is yours. We never step in. You can use the kitchen and all our utensils. But no late night guests and definitely no visitors, of either sex who stay over." In turn she tells you that she smokes, has a male visitor who leaves by 9.30pm and that she does not like to cook. "You should know all this if you want to share a house," she clarifies.

She plans to charge Dh2,000 for the single room with attached bath and use of kitchen in Bur Dubai area. If you go directly to the landlord it is possible to get a studio in that much money even today. But reports indicate that people often rent larger houses to supplement their income.

There are cases of expats who have rented a three bedroom apartment, put in an ad in the classified and rented out two rooms at a premium. In the end, they end up paying no rent themselves and in fact, making some money. "We have company accommodation of two bedrooms and we are only likely to use one, so we are renting out the other," says an expat who has advertised to charge Dh2,500 for a room in the old Pakistani Consulate area.

Sharing between equals creates its own permutations and combinations. Says Wong Wing, a single Malaysian who is sharing a house with an Indian single woman after getting fed up of exploitative rates and rules, "I could not imagine living in a boys' hostel-like space some 10 years after my graduation and in any case, I would rather share rent equally than fund someone's rent.

So when this common friend told me that an Indian girl is looking for a room, I jumped at the offer. I have the lease and I share the amount equally with her. We both mind our own business and live happily." But in this case, not ever after.

Matchmaking is still stringent. A look at the classifieds will tell you: Indian ladies preferably with afternoon and night shifts; decent Tamilian family; Europeans preferred; decent English speaking bachelor; non-cooking South Indian spinster only; Keralite couple on a visit visa; Filipino families only.

Says Sarmad Khan, a Pakistani media executive who is looking for a place in Dubai or Sharjah after being unceremoniously evicted from his previous one, "The discrimination is unbelievable. They are so specific about the kind of person they want to share the house with, that my chances are almost nil."

From the legal angle however, there is no anti-discrimination, all men and women are equal under the law that operates in this part of the world. So you can advertise to share a house with someone who likes to eat what you do and has similar tastes in computer games as well. Is sharing allowed?

For many, sharing accommodation is a genuine sharing of expenses. Families even cook together. Sometimes companies offer shared accommodation for a few years before providing independent housing.

Says Hetal Jain, an expat who together with her husband shared a two bedroom apartment with another family for a year.

"It was like living back home in a joint family and that experience actually helped us cope."

Sharing also creates special kind of kitchen mates. Indeed if sharing a kitchen means eating the same food, it could be a problem if your religion or community bans certain foods. It is possible that you would be asked to cook non-veg food only when the wife is not there, and share it with the husband! And you adjust in various ways.

Says Jayant Jain, Hetal's husband who lived in the house with the family for six months after she had gone home, "Till both our wives were there, they did all the cooking and shopping together. But if there is a stag and a couple then the stag has to pitch in washing dishes or buying grocery. And I did that."

Funny, when you wouldn't help your wife in the kitchen, you would willingly adjust to helping someone else's! - With inputs from Lana Mahdi in Al Ain, Lina Abdul Rahman in Sharjah and Zaigham Ali in Dubai.


DUBAI/SHARJAH/AL AIN - According to Dubai Municipality, sharing is not a problem as long as the tenant's intention is not commercial.

The municipality will step in to prevent overcrowding and unhygienic living conditions.

There have been instances of 20 bachelors crammed in a three-bedroom villa or five families staying in a similar space in which case the other residents in the neighbourhood might complain.

Also if someone has leased 2-3 or more apartments and is sub-leasing them to different people for a profit and the landlord complains, the sub-leases would be evicted after a two, three-day notice.

But as far sharing between two families or consenting adults is concerned, it is not an issue.

Sharjah Municipality however, frowns upon bachelors occupying a villa, though they have no issues with people sharing accommodation in apartments. But often since these arrangements are by word of mouth, protected by a month's rent, there is no legal contract.

Mohammed Ahmed Al Harthy, Head of Rents Department at Al Ain Municipality, has announced that people who make subleasing contracts will have to face lawsuits by house owners.


DUBAI -According to a survey by GulfTalent. rents this year were on average 26 per cent higher than the previous year, whereas average salaries had only risen by 1.5 per cent in the same period.

Dubai had the highest average rent increase at 27per cent, followed by Sharjah with 25 per cent and Abu Dhabi in third place with 23 per cent.

Nationwide, rents for apartments went up by around 24 per cent, while room rents shot up at the rate of 31 per cent.