(MENAFN- Khaleej Times)
Published: Mon 17 Jan 2022, 7:10 PM
Last updated: Mon 17 Jan 2022, 10:54 PM
When a holiday home agency in Dubai announced a two-week break for the New Year on December 22, its 30-odd employees were pleasantly surprised and intrigued at the same time.
Little did anyone suspect that their bosses were preparing to shut shop and disappear overnight without paying their salaries while raking in over Dh30 million from elaborate rental scams.
A Khaleej Times investigation has found that the audacious crime has left hundreds of Dubai residents in dire straits.
Homeowners who signed contracts with the fraudulent Evernest Holiday Homes Rental LLC said they have not only lost tens of thousands of dirhams in annual rent income but have also been denied access to their own homes.
The situation is no less bleak for the tenants who had separate contracts with the agency.
Now, they are living in constant fear of eviction. Many already had utility services disconnected.
The modus operandi
Reprising tactics used by con artists in 2019, Evernest approached homeowners in upscale Dubai neighbourhoods and offered to sublease their properties above prevailing rents. Those who agreed were given four post-dated rental cheques. Another team, meanwhile, reached out to prospective tenants who were offered the same properties way below market rates.
But there was a catch: the renters had to pay the entire year's rent upfront.
Not to miss out on the opportunity, hundreds of tenants grabbed the offer.
Once Evernest owners had collected around Dh30 million in advance payments from over 230 renters, they sent out a mass email, entitled 'Happy Holidays', to their staff, downed shutters, and vanished without a trace.
The scam came to light when the post-dated cheques issued to homeowners bounced due to insufficient funds.
Victims narrate the harrowing plight
It was too late by the time the homeowners rushed to Evernest's 17th-floor office in Sidra Tower in Al Sufouh.
Another shock awaited them when they visited their homes, looking for answers. On reaching, they found that the properties were occupied by people who had paid the full year's rent to Evernest and had contracts to show they were rightful tenants.
'It's clear Evernest had no intention to pay us,' said an Arab expatriate, clutching Dh80,000 worth of dud cheques issued against his one-bedroom apartment in Dubai Marina.
The same unit was sub-leased by Evernest to an Indian expatriate who paid the agency Dh60,000 through a single cheque in November last year.
'This effectively means that the tenant will be living in my house without paying anything to me until November 2022 while I still pay for maintenance and mortgage,' said the Arab.
A two-bedroom apartment in Downtown Views was given away in a similar fashion for Dh144,100 while an identical size unit in Dubai Marina was let out for Dh145,100. Their owners were promised upwards of Dh170,000 in four cheques. Only the first cheque got encashed.
An American businessman said they paid Dh95,000 for a one-bedroom apartment in Index Tower in DIFC, hoping to rent the place for his wife and daughter.
'We were promised a handover on January 8. The date suited us as my daughter was supposed to relocate from the US around that time to start work in Dubai. The scam has ruined all our plans besides burning a deep hole in our pockets,' he rued.
'We're among the worst affected victims as, unlike many other tenants, we didn't get possession of the house even for a day despite paying 12 months rent in advance,' he added.
A Turkish woman who paid Dh145,100 through wire transfer for an apartment in Marina Gate 2 shared a similar plight. 'I'm devastated. I'm still in Turkey, so I can't even go to the police,' she told Khaleej Times.
A German woman who rented a one-bedroom apartment in Boulevard Crescent for Dh73,000 said she has been asked to vacate by January 22.
'Last week, the staff of a real estate agency representing the landlord even tried to sneak into my place using a different set of keys. My annual tenancy contract is valid until May. Unknown to me, the Russian property owner had given the apartment to Evernest for only six months. The DEWA connection is under the landlord's name. He can deactivate it anytime,' said the woman who lives alone.
Carlos V, a French expatriate, who signed a one-year contract for a two-bedroom apartment opposite The Dubai Mall, said they are living in fear and uncertainty. 'The other day, the agency that supplies gas to the place showed up at our door and threatened to disconnect the gas connection due to unpaid bills. Evernest charged us for the service but never passed the money to the provider,' he said. 'The gas agency has told us that they won't provide the service until I get a letter from the landlord stating that Evernest has absconded. So, essentially, I'm at his mercy,' he said.
In recent days several complaints have been filed against the runaway firm. Scores of legal notices are stuck on its door.
'We are in different stages of our legal battle, but we share the same pain,' said an Asian man who is part of a WhatsApp group of duped landlords.
There's a separate group for tenants. At last count, it had 238 members.
Evernest employees, who have been unwittingly caught in the racket, said the company's South Asian owner and his three confidantes executed the scam with such meticulous planning that nobody had a whiff about it.
'They had two teams working simultaneously with real estate agents. One reached out to homeowners while the other scoured for potential tenants,' said the company's former business development manager.
Evernest Holiday Homes has a tourism licence that expires on January 22. The investigation carried out by Khaleej Times reveals that the license was modified on September 14, 2021, to change the company ownership. Further investigation showed that the company's owner has fled the country.
The authorities at Dubai's Department of Economy and Tourism (DET), where Evernest was registered, said they are looking into the matter while urging victims to come forward with their concerns.
In a statement to Khaleej Times, Khalid Saeed bin Touq, Executive Director, Tourism Activities and Classification, Dubai's Department of Economy and Tourism (DET), said, 'Dubai's Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) is constantly engaged with our stakeholders to help resolve any issues in the holiday home sector.'
He said DET consistently advises all guests and investors to review the relevant guidelines in the 2020 Holiday Home Guide to ensure their rights are protected and that the Dispute Management Team is always available to support all parties and find amicable solutions.
'Whenever a complaint is received from tenants, they will be directly informed of the outcome by DET after the investigation is completed. DET also regularly reviews the legislation and guidelines according to the development and evolution of the international tourism and hospitality industries. For those seeking help, we recommend that they escalate their concerns to our team at or [+971] 600 55 5559,' the statement said.
In 2019, around 200 Dubai residents were hit by a similar scam after two holiday home firms — Don Holiday and Place Holidays — had shut shop and disappeared.
Real estate clears the air
The chief executive officer (CEO) of a real estate company in Dubai has denied any links with their namesake holiday firm, which has disappeared after pulling off a Dh30 million scam. 'We've received over 200 calls from people who mistakenly thought we are part of the same group,' said Farhan Ali, the CEO of Evernest Real Estate company, headquartered in Zarouni Business Centre in Al Barsha.
'We are a reputed real estate firm which has been in the business for several years. We want to reiterate that we have no association whatsoever with Evernest Holiday Homes,' he added.