Abu Dhabi Rental Index
Proposals for a new rental index in Abu Dhabi to replace the cap that was abolished in November 2013 should help to relieve spiralling housing costs, which nudged inflation in the city to a six-year high of 5.3 per cent in April.
The index, which is being drawn up by the Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA), could be introduced by the end of this year, according to comments made recently by Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council’s executive director, Mohamed Al Khadar.
The capital is expected to mirror Dubai’s adoption of an index that would split the city into various zones and then set a guide rent for each zone. Attempts to contact the DMA to verify the format and the timeframe of the index were unsuccessful.
Simon Gray, the managing director of Chestertons Mena, says the removal of a rent cap in Abu Dhabi “basically led to a unrestricted increase in rentals, increasing rental inflation and making most properties unaffordable, as they are beyond the current income bracket of most residents”.
Meanwhile, a new Q2 Property Watch report by Land Sterling says rental growth has “become a pressing issue in the absence of rental caps” in Abu Dhabi.
Craig Plumb, the head of research at JLL Mena, says rents in the capital increased by 4 per cent in the first quarter of the year, continuing a trend that had increased by 11 per cent last year and by 17 per cent in 2013, which he also attributes to the removal of the cap and the “limited quality supply across all price points”.
Ben Crompton, the managing director of Crompton Estate Agents, says there has been “a popular clamour” for a return to a rental cap ever since its removal in Abu Dhabi. However, he argues that, in the long run, caps are not good either for landlords or for Abu Dhabi’s property market.
“If you build a property and it’s immediately tenanted, then over time the market increases ahead of the cap. You can have tenants in there who end up paying rents at a discount of 30 to 40 per cent of the market around them. When that happens, landlords are able to stop providing services and proper maintenance in the knowledge that the tenants can’t go anywhere.
“They don’t have the ability to vote with their feet and move elsewhere, because they can’t afford it. It’s not a long-term solution in a rising market.”
Faisal Durrani, the international research and business development manager with Cluttons, argues that an index, which calculates typical price rises in an area and gives tenants a basis for appeal against extortionate increases, works better than a cap but even that is not perfect.
For instance, the Dubai index gives a general guidance for prices within a certain area but does not take into account the age, layout or condition of specific buildings. Despite this, he says “in an emerging market, it is always good for landlords to have a barometer to calculate market performance”.
He says many landlords who have invested in Dubai do not live in the UAE and can sometimes have an unrealistic view of rental values. An index gives both them and their tenants some reassurance about market conditions.
Yet an index only goes so far in addressing the issue of affordability. The other issue that needs to be tackled is the lack of supply in freehold areas