Cohabitation: What does the law say?

People of opposite sex cannot be alone together unless they’re married or family

It is no secret that a large number of expatriate couples and friends in Dubai resort to cohabitation (or house sharing). This practice is most common among Western expatriates and seen as a norm in most big cities. Tenants in London are being forced to share rooms, often with complete strangers, as rent in the UK capital becomes increasingly unaffordable. Finding a chambre de bonne, studio or one-bedroom apartment or flat as a newcomer in Paris can be a daunting task, which sounds easier when shared between two. Finding affordable apartments in New York can be next to impossible, which is why so many New Yorkers have roommates. However, the issue has been a subject of continuous debate and speculations locally; Is it legal or not? Who would get penalized in this case? What are the repercussions of such practices?

propertyfinder clears the fog around the matter and answers the key questions regarding cohabitation and the laws around the specific matter in Dubai.


Is it legal?

No, it is not. The UAE follows the Sharia law, which deems cohabitation among people of opposite genders, who are not married or blood-related, as illegal. However, it is very common seeing unmarried couples living in the same house or friends of the opposite sex sharing apartments, making the subject a grey area.

This is based on the Tawajed clause, which states that people of opposite sex cannot be alone together unless they’re married or family. This law also applies on sharing hotel rooms.

Practically speaking, the law does not permit cohabitation of opposite genders. Unmarried couples living together get into trouble if their neighbours complain to the police or if they get into legal trouble and the police visit their home to investigate.

In conclusion, even though the law might be mostly theoretical, couples living together are taking their chances with the law and should consider alternative solutions.

What are the repercussions?

Article 356 of the UAE Penal Code states that anyone convicted of engaging in consensual sex outside of marriage, and if caught under such circumstances, are likely to be punished with a jail sentence, followed by deportation.

When it comes to friends of the opposite sex sharing an apartment, it is twice as illegal because subletting apartments without the landlord’s consent is illegal and so is cohabitation between unrelated opposite-sex individuals.

As for the case of sharing hotel rooms, most hotels in Dubai turn a blind-eye to unmarried couples checking into the same room. However, if by any chance, there happens to be a problem or a scandal and the police gets involved, Article 356 will be applied.

image of apartment sharing

Are there alternative solutions?

Many foreign expatriate couples resolve the issue of cohabitation by getting married. When it comes to sharing an apartment with your friends of the opposite sex, you might consider moving in with a friend of your same gender, or be extremely careful not to draw negative attention to yourself.

Let’s always remember, we are guests in a city where many cultures co-exist that allows everyone to live freely. However, we are expected to respect the moral codes of the land and not abuse our rights.

The above article does not represent legal advice. Readers are urged to speak to their lawyers for more clarification. 

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