Owner’s pride?

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Realtors promise heaven but when a  buyer moves into his dream flat, he finds that the builder has actually cheated him in several ways. One needs to become assertive and opt for legal recourse.

By Ritu Goyal Harish

During the realty boom a decade ago, as the demand for urban housing increased, builders and developers in metros and Tier-I cities rose up to the challenge. Not only did they build apartments, they reinvented themselves to cater to the need of aspirational homebuyers. 

Projects and apartments became fancier—residential complexes came with clubhouses, gymnasiums, swimming pools, gardens, even Spas and jogging tracks. Soon, the buyers were spoilt for choices. The lure of a housing complex, replete with desired amenities, became overpowering and projects that sold as self-sustaining units became popular. 

As the market turned bad—especially after 2008—the bubble began to burst. Buyers realized that builders adopted unfair trade practices that hurt their interests. Complexes were not based on plans approved by the local civic bodies, promises related to amenities were not kept, there were delays in giving possession and conveying of the property, and homes were beset with bad construction and sub-standard materials.

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In addition, the realtors cheated on per square foot (PSF) related to carpet, built-up and super built-up areas. Owners were charged additional amounts for parking spaces (which is illegal in Maharashtra).The list of grievances of the buyers continued to rise over the years. Their woes got accumulated and litigations followed.

Sandeep Raj, 34, a software professional from Pune, bought his dream apartment in 2006 after much deliberation. Indeed, he liked the project so much that he convinced his UK-based sister to purchase a flat in the same housing project.

When he got the possession of his three-bedroom apartment two years later, he was in for a rude shock. There were construction flaws, which included slanted beams, low-height ceilings and damaged sanitary. When the builder did not respond to his complaints, he approached the District Consumer Court in Pune. He was not alone; among the 23,000 cases filed in court, over 20 percent pertained to housing cases against builders.

All that sparkle

One of his problems was about the brochures and promotional materials that are used to sell dreams to the potential buyers. Most often, the actual plans vary from the brochures, and the customer gets to know about it only after the possession. “Builders have unique ways to cheat you. At the design stage, they show you the frills that are not feasible, like elevated gardens. When you move into your home, they say, ‘sorry, the design was not approved by the fire department’. This is common,” says Sandeep. Builders charge a “lifetime maintenance” fee but by the time the society or the complex is built, it is exhausted. They serve you with bloated bills for expenses such as 24-hour power back-up, 24-hour water supply, and maintenance of common amenities, which the residents have to accept. Often, the buyers are not automatic members of club house, gymnasium, and swimming pool. They have to buy the memberships; these amenities were earlier shown as part of the project, but later given to third parties. Worse, builders add a discreet clause that states that common amenities (for which the buyers paid a premium) can never be owned by the residents’ welfare association, and will be in the control of the builder. A few agreements state that while the buyers are free members of the pool and club, they will have to pay for “using” them.

Cutting corners

Ravi Karandeekar, a real estate watcher in Pune, explains: “Builders cheat by not giving what they promise. Buyers are victimized and feel that they have become prisoners of the developers.” Adds Sandeep: “The builders use common spaces for transformers (a requirement of the electricity board that cannot be denied), which is never mentioned in the builders’ brochures. The problem is that for irregularities in construction, the builder has to pay a miniscule fine to the civic bodies.”

For example, the ceiling heights are reduced by several inches. In a 10-storey building, a reduction by 8-9 inches results in huge financial savings. Most buyers do not notice them. Therefore, buyers need to be careful about these issues. “Buyers should look at one of the earlier projects of the buil-der and talk to residents. They should also retain a copy of the brochure,” suggests Sudhakar Velankar, founder of Grahak Hita-vardhini, a Pune-based organization. “Buyers must become more assertive when faced with such contentious situations,” he adds.

Sandeep, who won a substantial compensation from the district forum, but who opted for an out-of-court settlement when the case went to the Supreme Court, spent about three years fighting for his rights. “Builders take the buyer for granted. The laws are in place, all we have to do is to take up the fight,” he says. “No one in my complex was willing to fight with the builder although their apartments had the same issues. There was a lack of motivation and collective responsibility,” he adds.

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