Your guide to important and everyday Bahrain laws you need to know
Time Out Bahrain staff
Many of us residing here in Bahrain are away from our home countries but, even if you were born and raised on the island, then various situations throw up numerous questions about what the rules actually are. With changes to laws regarding property and consumer rights in the recent past, it can be difficult to keep track of everything. So we did the research, and spoke to the experts, so that you can know where you stand on the everyday stuff that matters.
You and your home
In February 2015, a new lease law went into effect which cleared up any major inconsistencies from the past. Here’s what you need to know…
Lease registration It is the landlord’s responsibility to register the new lease, within one month of signing, on services.bahrain.bh, or at the new notarisation offices in each municipality, in order to make it enforceable. If this doesn’t happen, the tenant may register and deduct the fees from the rent (BD5 for residential and BD10 for commercial). It’s important to note that if your lease contract is not registered, then you won’t be able to raise any disputes.
Rent hikes According to Tom Carter, head of agency at Cluttons Bahrain, rental rates can now be increased every two years. The increases can be, he says, ‘Seven percent for commercial and five percent for residential. However, this can be contracted out, meaning that if both parties agree to increase by say ten percent annually and sign a lease to this effect, then that increase is valid and binding.’
A landlord must give the tenant written notice of the rent increase not less than three months from the expiry of the two year period.
Rent disputes One of the biggest changes to the lease law in 2015 was that a Rent Disputes Committee was established to ease the burden on national courts. Now, all rent and lease disputes can be resolved outside of court in much less time, as long as your lease has been registered with your municipality (note that your statement of claim must be in Arabic). The resolutions may still then be appealed by either party, however.
Essa Jawahery of local law firm Elham Ali Hassan & Associates explains: ‘The Rent Disputes Committee may hear disputes relating to rent increases, eviction, safety and maintenance of premises, and/or any dispute provided for by the Lease Law.
‘In connection with rent increases and unlawful termination, if your landlord refuses to accept the rent from you then you should immediately open a file at the courts and deposit the monies there as proof of fulfilment of your contractual obligation so that the landlord does not have cause for eviction relating to non-payment.’ If you’re having any disputes with your landlord, or if you’re unsure of your rights in any specific situation, you’d be well advised to contact your letting agent or lawyer first.
Lease expiry and renewals Leases expire at the end of their term and if you want to continue renting the premises, with no objection from the landlord, the lease will be seen as extended for a similar period and on the same terms and conditions. If you want to leave the premises on expiry, or even renew the lease, you must give written notice at least three months in advance.
Fees and repairs The landlord is required to firstly hand over the property in a suitable state and condition, and then must make any essential and necessary repairs thereafter. If the landlord fails to make the repairs, the tenant can seek compensation.
Generally, however, the tenant is responsible for minor repairs. Also, unless agreed otherwise, and stated in the lease, the tenant will pay for utilities (water, electricity, telephone etc.).
Deposit When initially signing the lease contract, the landlord is entitled to ask for a deposit equivalent to three month’s rent (but no more than this) and he must refund it, subject to any deductions (for example, in case the tenant leaves the property in a questionable state), once the lease expires or is terminated.
Home insurance Whether you’re a property owner or simply renting accommodation here in Bahrain, it is worth thinking about taking out home insurance. Your landlord’s insurance only covers the building so in the event of a fire or burglary, for example, your personal belongings are your responsibility.
Subletting Subletting is now punishable by eviction. There may be instances where a tenant comes to an arrangement with the landlord of the property but if a property is sublet without prior permission, the tenant could face eviction before the end of the lease and lose the remainder of the rent or deposit they might have already paid. Whoever you rent from, make sure they are either the landlord or, at the very least, that they are authorised to rent the property.
Living arrangements It is technically illegal for unmarried or unrelated men and women to live together but it’s a bit of a grey area as it’s not strictly monitored. However Essa Jawahery tells us, ‘Regardless of your religion and beliefs, given that Bahrain is an Islamic country as per its constitution, unmarried or unrelated men and women cohabiting together may be deemed to be contravening public morals. You should be aware that such cohabitation, even if you commit no public indecent act, could result in a jail sentence and/or fine if the authorities decide to prosecute you.’
Owning property In 2003, it became law that foreign nationals can own real estate on a freehold basis in Bahrain in designated areas (usually residential developments). Under this law, the owner of the property will have access to a residence permit. The permit allows the property owner to sponsor his spouse – as long as she doesn’t work – and children under 18. Expat home owners also have the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
If you’re thinking of buying property in Bahrain it is advisable to not only go through a real estate agent, but also hire a lawyer to aid you through the entire process as these laws often change or are updated.
Behaviour in public
It’s important to remember that we’re living in an Islamic country and therefore should follow appropriate codes of conduct outside our own homes.
Relationships Common law relationships are tolerated but not officially recognised. If an unmarried woman gets pregnant outside of marriage, both her and her partner may face imprisonment and/or deportation. There will be legal issues when registering the birth with local authorities, too.
Public displays of affection – kisses or cuddles in public spaces, for example – are not acceptable, particularly during the Holy Month of Ramadan. Married couples are generally permitted to hold hands in public, however.
Homosexuality is an offence under Bahraini law and could result in imprisonment and deportation.
Single men Approaching women randomly in public is not allowed and could land you in some serious trouble if she feels harassed and complains to local authorities.
Dress code The general rule of thumb when dressing in an Islamic country is to cover your shoulders, knees, chest and midriff, and don’t wear anything transparent. However, these rules are not enforceable by law (although during Ramadan it is particularly taboo) and it’s up to you to employ common sense when dressing for certain occasions. For example, you wouldn’t wear something to the mall which you would wear to a nightclub. On private beaches and at private pools, bikinis are permitted but one should refrain from wearing anything too skimpy. When you leave these areas, make sure you cover up. All of these rules apply to both men and women.
General behaviour Refrain from making any lewd or obscene gestures in public, or verbally insulting anyone, as there may be consequences if you offend someone. This includes during bouts of road rage (which may occur regularly).
Alcohol Alcohol is available in licensed venues in Bahrain and the legal drinking age is 18 or 21 (it depends on the establishment’s rules). Alcohol is only allowed to be served in four- and five-star hotels and standalone licensed venues, and it is possible to buy alcohol for private consumption at select stores (or online for home delivery with certain brands). Drinking in public, or being caught inebriated, however, is not tolerated.
There is zero tolerance on drinking and driving throughout Bahrain, and if caught new traffic laws state that you will incur a fine of BD500 to BD1,000 plus a jail sentence of one month to one year. If the drunk driving causes an accident, it will result in a sentence of two months to two years, plus a fine of BD1,000 to BD2,000. If the offence is repeated within a year, the penalty will be doubled.
Drugs Drugs are strictly forbidden in Bahrain. Essa Jawahery says, ‘Any person in possession of drugs/narcotics with the intention to sell and distribute may face the death penalty or life imprisonment and/or a fine not less than BD5,000 and no more than BD50,000. Any person in possession of drugs/narcotics with the intention to use may face up to a six months jail sentence and/or up to a BD10,000 fine.’
With regards to prescription drugs, Essa says, without medical permission their use may be deemed a crime so it is advisable to carry your doctor’s prescription. ‘It is considered a crime for a doctor to prescribe such medical drugs for a patient that is in no need of the drugs prescribed,’ says Essa. ‘A list of prescription drugs is periodically updated by amendments to the law.’
You and your retail rights In general, it’s a matter of ‘buyer beware’ but there are some rules and regulations, which can protect you.
Shops: returns, refunds and exchanges The Consumer Protection Law in Bahrain, which was released in 2012, protects you when ensuring your right to health and safety on purchasing a product, as well as the right to get accurate information before purchase, and demands all products or services to be in good working condition.
Essa Jawahery explains: ‘You should always take note of a shop's policy on refunds. 'You are legally entitled to a purchase receipt that must include the name and address of the shop, the details of the items that you purchase, the price, and the quantity (this forms your contract with the shop).
‘You should notify the shop within 15 days if the item you purchased is faulty.
'A shop is only required to replace/fix defective goods or refund the amount paid in full without extra costs if the item that you purchased does not conform to the legally approved specifications.
Some shops may allow you exchanges or vouchers within a certain number of days for convenience but this is not a legal requirement.
You can only demand a refund if the item is faulty or if it does not conform to the specifications on the label.’
If you have a complaint, or are unsure of your rights in any way, you should check with the Consumer Association or the Directorate of Consumer Protection under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, or check with your lawyer. Find a complaint form on www.moic.gov.bh.
Taxis Taxis in Bahrain can be fairly expensive but it’s good to know Bahrain’s policies in order to avoid being ripped off (which can happen). Firstly, all taxis are required to turn on their meters so make sure to check as soon as you get into the cab. Do not let any driver tell you otherwise (and get out if they say it’s ‘broken’). Also, be aware of illegal and unlicensed taxi drivers which operate around the country offering lower fares.
According to the Bahrain International Airport, the official rates for public taxis start at BD1 during normal tariff hours (6am to 10pm) and costs 200 fils per kilometre thereafter, or BD1.250 during the second period (10pm to 6am) increasing to 250 fils per kilometre after. There’s a 50 fils charge for each minute of waiting during both periods, and a BD2 one-time fee for distances over 254 kilometres.
For every passenger, over five passengers, there’s an extra 500 fils cost (only for permitted vehicles). If you’re getting a cab from the airport, there’s an additional BD2 initial cost, or BD1 for hotel taxi ranks. During public holidays and weekends, the second period fare is applicable, and on Islamic holidays an extra BD1 is charged. If you have any complaints, then call 1778 2828.
In the event of arrest
Essa Jawahery of Elham Ali Hassan & Associates explains the protocol in the event of arrest. ‘In order to avoid being accused of obstruction of justice, you should fully cooperate by not resisting the arrest and by providing full identification details. You will be informed of the reason for your arrest and you may take up your right of remaining silent until such time that an attorney represents you. If you are arrested during the weekend or a public holiday for a felony or misdemeanour that is deemed serious, you may be held in temporary custody overnight (up to 48 hours) until a prosecutor at the Public Prosecution is back on duty.
‘During the investigation, which will be held within 24 hours from being referred to the Prosecution, in the presence of your attorney (if you elect to have one), you will give your statements and respond to the charges being brought against you. You may request a translator if you do not speak Arabic. You will be required to sign the transcript of the investigation. Thereafter, you may be acquitted, released on bail, or your imprisonment may continue until your case is referred to the Criminal Courts.
‘You will be treated in a humane manner at all times and you will have the right to contact a relative or friend to inform them of your arrest. You will need to be patient and maintain calm as the police and relevant officials may have numerous cases that they are managing at any one time.’
Complaints in restaurants
Raising issues about food can leave a sour taste in your mouth but, if handled properly, it should benefit all parties. We speak to Adalberto Tun, assistant director of food and beverage at The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain, to find out the rules.
‘The latest consumers’ protection law came into practice recently in 2012. It gives ways for guests and consumers to have a share of voice. This share of voice provides the ground for further consumer law development. Aside from consumer law, the local authorities are also extremely active in maintaining highest standards of food quality, sourcing and tracking. The Ministry of Tourism is also conducting regular audits of hotels and restaurants in Bahrain. All of this also participates in the prevention of guests’ dissatisfaction and complaints across Bahrain.
‘The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain is driven by quality and guest engagement, so we are open to receive feedback from our diners at any time. Our goal is to ensure that our guests leave our establishment raving about the services provided. We understand that quality could be subjective to the guest perspective, therefore guest perception is reality. In reality, the diners have the liberty to raise their concerns at all times. They may raise a concern even before their dining experience has started because it begins from the reservation process, to finding parking, being hosted at the reception, and so many other invisible steps in between. Another fact is that they may not want to complain at all, which is the worst scenario for a restaurateur because they will not even have the chance to identify what went wrong in the guest’s perception.’