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Has a builder pulled a fast one on you? Here’s what you should know  

Stickers for elevators, one swimming pool instead of six, an ugly block of apartments in place of a park—there are thousands of instances of builders failing to deliver on promises. Buyers can seek legal help but can avoid the mess by doing some due diligence.

A builder stuck stickers in response to residents demand for a second elevator.

A builder stuck stickers in response to residents demand for a second elevator.

When Prakhar Sharma moved into his park-facing apartment in Uttar Pradesh’s Noida Extension a few years ago, he was in for a shock. Instead of the promised lush green garden for which he paid an extra Rs 100 per sq ft as location charge, Sharma found himself staring at an artificial grass patch.

 It gets better. Recently, a group of 100 residents of nearby Elegant Ville found ‘lift’ stickers covering the cavity where they had been asking for a second elevator to be installed.

"This is an absolute hoax. A builder cannot possibly presume that a buyer is so gullible that he will pay preferential location charges for a fake grass carpet instead of a park-facing apartment or simply watch the builder stick life-size stickers to cover the cavity of the second lift, which not only amounts to deficiency in service but is also a major safety hazard,” said Vaibhav Gaggar of legal firm Gaggar & Associates. “Buyers have legal recourse available and they should exercise it.”

Six swimming pools reduced to one, an ugly block of apartments rising in the area set aside for a park or a 2BHK unit converted to 3BHK and billed to the buyer—there are thousands of instances of homebuyers being taken for a ride by builders.

The gaps between the glitzy brochures and the completed unit can be huge. Consumer courts are flooded with homebuyers complaining of deficient services—which can range from a cranky lift to a missing apartment block.


Stickers for elevators

The residents of Elegant Ville moved into their apartment without the developer receiving the occupation certificate (OC).

Sachin Gupta, one of the residents, told Moneycontrol that most buyers had booked flats in 2010 and were promised delivery by 2014. Burdened with loan instalments and rent, most of them signed the ‘fit-out’ agreement in 2017 and moved in without the builder receiving OC.

A developer has to seek clearance from local authorities before handing over the apartments to buyers. The document that gives occupation rights is called an occupancy certificate, which is issued after authorities inspect the property for adhering to fire safety, elevators, electrical wiring, water supply and waste disposal norms.

 Elegant Ville buyers were forced to take possession after signing the fit-out possession agreement without the OC. The builder promised that all facilities would be in place in three months, Gupta said. 

 “As on date, 100 families are residing across three towers without any proper park, electricity panelling, proper sewerage lines or the fire-fighting equipment,” he said. An FIR was registered against the builder in 2020 after a fire broke out in one of the blocks.

Elegant Ville is not an exception, Many developers in Noida have been offering ‘fit-out possession’ to harried buyers, hit hard by delays. 

The letter typically says that the builder has applied for an occupation certificate and that the buyers can take possession for interior work or fit-outs as they are called. 

Buyers have to pay up the entire amount and are responsible for their safety, too. The letter doesn’t provide a timeline for getting a completion certificate from authorities.

For three years, Elegant Ville residents have been asking for a second lift because the one they have keeps breaking down.

“Besides there are several elderly people who cannot be expected to climb stairs. The buildings have 18 floors. To our surprise and horror this week, we found that the builder had stuck life-size lift stickers to the cavity of the second lift across all three towers,” Gupta said.

Buyers have individually filed 25 cases with the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) for deficiency in services, Gupta said.

Balwinder Kumar, member, UPRERA, told Moneycontrol that the authority would look into the matter if the buyers collectively filed a complaint. Gupta said they were planning to do that. 

“We will inspect the project and look into the facilities promised. We will take cognisance and subsequent action against the developer if a complaint were to be filed with UPRERA,” Kumar said.

Not what the brochure promised

Stories of new towers coming up on land reserved for a park highlight how deep the problem runs.

Buyers have faced a host of issues over the years, Gaggar said. “A developer permitted installation of a massive robotic locker by a tenant bank in the basement of one of the towers, leading to major changes in the structure, that too, in an earthquake-sensitive zone. In another project, a six-lane entrance and exit has been reduced to one,” he said

Building plans, which are not to be trifled with, are often given a go-by. Amenities and specifications promised at the time of booking are found missing once the work is done, say legal experts. 

Forcing buyers to take possession for fit-outs without obtaining a completion certificate was a common practice, said Abhay Upadhyay, president, Forum For People's Collective Efforts and member, Central Advisory Council, RERA, MoHUA.

Builders take the complete payment and also get buyers to sign documents that absolve them of their responsibilities. “They know that they have not completed projects as promised and hence these signed documents serve as a protective shield against legal cases,” Upadhyay, who works with homebuyers, said. 

Developers have refused to transfer the ownership of clubhouse or reduced the green area to pave the way for a new project or additional towers, say others.

“There have been cases wherein a pool was constructed barely 10 ft from a temple in a project. Another case involved a Rs 2.5-crore apartment wherein the alignment of the bathroom was such that the door almost touched the bidet. A builder installed local air conditioners instead of the branded ones promised in the brochure,” Aditya Parolia of PSP Legal told Moneycontrol.

Buyers have been forced to turn to consumer courts.

A buyer booked a unit in a township project in Punjab’s Mohali town. A 2BHK house with a cupboard in each room, a modular kitchen, two bathrooms with modern bath fittings was the promise. 

Three years later, when the buyer went to inspect the flat she found were no covers on electrical switches, windows were missing glass, there were no cupboards and not even a hint of the modular kitchen.

In her complaint to the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (NCDRC), the buyer also said the bathrooms were not made to the plan nor were the fittings done accordingly… “it is not possible to sit in the bathroom as the western seat is placed in such a way that no one can take a shower sitting in the bathroom," she said. 

NCDRC asked the builder to refund EMIs worth Rs 4.10 lakh at an interest rate of 12 percent. Moneycontrol has reviewed a copy of the order. 

The residents of an upmarket project in Kolkata too had to move NCDRC after the builder turned the plan upside down.

The project comprised six towers with 25 floors and a building with ground and three floors for domestic helps. Seventy-five percent of the occupants were to be NRIs. 

The builder constructed a seventh tower with 62 apartments, doing away with the accommodation promised for domestic helps. 

 The buyers complained to NCDRC that the new block had deprived them of common amenities. Most of the units in the new tower were sold to Indian residents, violating the 75 percent NRI occupancy condition imposed by the state authority while allotting the land.

There were other complaints too—the swimming pool was smaller, one tennis court instead of two and the badminton court had been done away with altogether.

NCDRC said the changes were in contravention to what was promised in the brochure and also in the initial plan. The developer was told to pay interest at the rate of 10 percent on the amount deposited by buyers and to provide all the amenities within eight weeks. The developer also had to pay Rs 3 lakh each to buyers for depriving them of accommodation for domestic helps.    

What should buyers do?

Legal battles are never easy. They take time and for homebuyers hit by delivery delays, it only compounds the problem. But there are a few things buyers can do to avoid getting conned by developers

Make sure the project has all the sanctions and permissions in place, is registered with RERA and keep a tab on the progress of construction.

 “In case of laxity, buyers should approach the relevant authorities. They should make sure that the brochure given by the builder and the agreements signed with the builder are in sync with each other–the devil lies in the detail,” Gaggar said. 

The track record and financial stability of the developer should always be looked into. It would also be prudent to check if the developer has cases pending against them.
Vandana Ramnani
first published: Feb 20, 2021 03:06 pm

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