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Posted at: Jul 8, 2018, 1:23 AM; last updated: Jul 8, 2018, 1:23 AM (IST)CONSUMERS BEWARE!

Construct lies, pay up for them

Hold builders accountable if they sell properties that don’t comply with building bylaws
Construct lies, pay up for them
The buck stops here: A builder must refund any cost incurred on correcting illegalities in construction

Pushpa Girimaji

Two years ago, I bought a flat from a builder. At the time of purchase, he assured me that the flat complied with all the laws and regulations. He promised to hand over the completion certificate, but never did, despite repeated requests. Meanwhile, in January this year, I got a demolition notice from the authorities. On enquiry, I was told that there were gross deviations from the sanctioned plan. When the builder did not take up the issue with the authorities despite my repeated requests, I myself talked to them and finally made some corrections in the building and paid a compounding fee of Rs 5 lakh to get the flat regularised. I feel that the builder must reimburse the money as he was the one who violated the laws. However, he is not responding to any of my letters or phone calls. What should I do?

The builder must refund the amount that you paid as compounding fee, besides the cost incurred on account of correcting the illegalities and any other expenses that you incurred as a result of the builder’s failure to comply with the law. In fact, he also has to pay you compensation for the harassment and mental agony caused to you on account of the threat of demolition. If you had to borrow Rs 5 lakh from a bank to make this payment, then he has to reimburse the interest too.

For your reference, I must quote here a similar case that came up before the apex consumer court recently. Here, the complainant had bought from the owner, a flat on the third floor of Krishna Kunjan apartments in Telengana in 2002. At the time of purchase, he asked for the sanctioned plan, but was never given. In 2008, he got a shock of his life when he received a demolition notice from the civic authorities. Finally, through Right to Information Act, he obtained the sanctioned plan and found that the builder had obtained permission to build only up to the second floor!

The complainant finally paid a compounding fee of Rs 79,000 to get the flat regularised. In fact, he paid Rs 10,000 in 2008 and the rest of the money on October 30, 2009. After that, he filed a complaint against the sellers and the builder seeking recovery of the money. 

The District Consumer Forum directed the four opposite parties to jointly and severally pay Rs 79,000, besides Rs 20,000 as compensation and Rs 2,000 towards costs. This was upheld by the State Consumer Commission and dismissed at the admission stage by the National Consumer Commission. In fact, before the National Commission, the opposite parties argued that the consumer court had no jurisdiction to hear this case and the complainant should have filed a suit for recovery before the civil court. The National Commission dismissed this argument. It also disagreed with the contention on limitation raised by the opposite parties and pointed out that the flat may have been purchased in 2002, but the question of recovery of the amount paid to the civic authorities arose only after the complainant paid the last instalment on October 30, 2009. So, the complaint was well within the limitation period of two years. (Kumari D. Umbala and Anr Vs B. Laxmikantha Rao and Ors (RP NO 2893 of 2017, decided on June 7, 2018) 

What are the legal papers one should look for while buying a flat?

There are a number of papers that you need to verify. For example, land use as per the master plan, environmental clearance, approved building plan, title deed, approval from the local bodies, encumbrance certificate and completion certificate. If it is a re-sale, you need to make sure that all the taxes have been paid by the previous owner and there are no dues. Similarly, you have to check whether any bank had financed the property. If so, have all the dues have been. It is best to take a reliable lawyer to check all the documents, including the registration papers. Do not buy if any papers are missing and the seller/builder promises to give them to you later.

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