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Home: Property Articles: History of Freehold Property in the Emirates

Non-GCC expats living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were previously only permitted to rent property, or own property on the federal law approved 99-year leasehold basis. This all changed in 2002, when the Dubai government permitted the ownership of freehold property to expats, which has changed the real estate industry in the Middle East and Gulf regions.

Dubai Freehold Property
As the emirate of Dubai is not rich with oil like Abu Dhabi, Dubai has always focused on the development of its economy by establishing itself as a trading hub between the East and West. In addition to this, it is also establishing itself as the tourism destination for the region, so it has worked heavily on the promotion of real estate development.

The Dubai government began the promotion in 1997 with the setup of the publicly quoted Emaar Properties and Al Nakheel Properties. A year later, Emaar began work on Dubai Marina and followed this by the development of the Emirates Living Community developments (The Springs, The Meadows, Emirates Hills, The Views). The Emirates Living Community developments were first announced on leasehold basis, but unfortunately weren't a big success in the market.

The major property boom in Dubai occurred in May 2002, when Dubai's crown prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoom issued a decree to allow foreigners to buy and own freehold property in selected areas of the city, know referred to as New Dubai. The same month also witnessed the announcement of Nakheel's manmade island, The Palm Jumeirah, which followed a year later by the second man-made palm-shaped island, The Palm Jebel Ali. All previously developed leasehold property was automatically transferred to freehold.

After the initial property boom, various new developers joined the market, the most popular of which are Damac Properties, Dubai Properties (Estithmaar Realty Fz), and ETA Star Properties. Freehold property in Dubai is currently limited to areas on Sheikh Zayed Road, Jumeirah, Jebel Ali and along the Emirates Road.

Dubai Freehold Property Law
On the 14th of March 2006, Dubai's government issued its long-awaited law legalising foreign ownership of properties in designated areas of Dubai (article), but doesnt give property owners permanent residence visas or an automatic right to work in Dubai (article).

Freehold in the rest of the United Arab Emirates
Once Dubai began its offering of freehold properties to citizens of other countries, the other emirates weren't to far behind to follow in Dubai's footsteps.

Ras Al Khaimah
Ras Al Khaimah was the first emirate to emulate Dubai, which included its 1,300 residential unit development named Al Hamra Village expected to be completed by 2007. The second freehold development for Ras Al Khaimah, is spread across 50 acres of beachfront land of the five-star resort facility is The Cove. Another popular RAK property is the 1 million square meter tourist development, Saraya Islands.

Ras Al Khaymah's government has setup its own public joint stock property development company, RAK Properties, which received freehold rights for all its properties from the city's ruler in November 2005 (article). RAK Properties has a wide range of projects planned for the city, which includes Julfar Towers, Mina Al Arab, Mangrove Island, and Khor Qurm.

Ajman was the second emirate to follow, when they announced its 15 freehold residential apartment buildings named Al Naeemiya Towers, which is expected to be fully complete by 2006. The same company who developed the Al Naeemiya Towers have continued their portfolio of ajman properties with Al Khor Towers, Al Rashidiya Towers, and Al Corniche Tower. Tameer Real Estate announced its development of a US$ 300 million (AED 1.1 billion) freehold residential and commercial project in Ajman, entitled Al Ameera Village, which is being built on the Emirates Ring Road and expected to be complete by 2007. Other Emirates Road projects include Emirates City, and Al Humaid City.

Sharjah has also begun offering property for foreign ownership, but it has presently stuck with leasehold. Some of its upcoming towers include ABBCO Tower, Sharjah Gate, 32-storey Al Taawun Tower, and the 47-storey Al Sandos Tower. Tameer also has various towers it will be building throughout Sharjah and Al-Hanoo is developing the 60 million square foot Nujoom Islands.

Umm Al Quwain
Tameer is also developing the Emirates Modern Industrial Area that will mainly cater to the manufacturing industry, which is being built near the famous UAQ Aviation Club. In addition to this, Tameer will also be developing the AED 30 billion Al Salam City, which will be situated along the Emirates Road in Umm Al Quwain and completed by 2010. Umm Al Quwain's property ownership law states that non-GCC nationals can own property but not the land (article).

Fujairah's efforts into the freehold market have been limited to the 43-storey 170-meter Al Jabar Tower, which will contain 270 residential apartments, commercial shops and showrooms and is being developed by Al Jabel Contracting.

Abu Dhabi and Al Ain
Abu Dhabi's property law came into effect on the 14th of August 2005, when Abu Dhabi's government announced the permitting of 99-year land ownership and renewable 50-year surface ownership to foreigners in specified areas in Abu Dhabi (article). Properties by Aldar Properties and the Al Reef Villas project by Manazel and Hydra Properties will permit foreign ownership according to the new property law.

The Definition of Freehold
The United Arab Emirates currently doesn't have a federal law defining freehold. Once the freehold property law is in effect, it will means that the property purchased by a foreigner will be put his/her name for life, which allows him/her to register the property in the Lands Department. The owner will then have full rights to the property and has the right to sell, lease or rent their property at their own discretion. Property owners and their immediate family, will obtain renewable residence visas for life, which can cost Dhs. 5,000 per person.

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