When to take legal help
Generally, most home buyers remain in a dilemma: to file a case against the developer or not? Most don’t want to get involved in a long drawn legal process. Some are even scared of going against a builder. “The larger and less wholesome truth is that the current legal dispensation is ill-equipped and under-regulated to offer complete consumer protection in matters related to real estate,” said Anuj Puri, chairman and country head, JLL India. But, “many examples of customers obtaining favourable decisions upon approaching consumer courts exist, and the power of these forums should not be underestimated,” he added.
So, if you are an aggrieved home buyer, you should not hesitate in taking legal help. “Once the due date for possession is over, the buyer should visit the site and take stock of the situation by trying to assess whether the period of delay will be negligible or considerable. If the buyer feels that delay will be considerable, it would be pointless to wait further, and she should immediately file a case,” said Jehangir Gai, a Mumbai-based consumer activist.
You can also approach the court for other issues as well. “When it comes to deviations from the original project plan, which can result in a shortfall of common amenities or drastic changes to the units themselves, the customer should take action as soon as these deviations come to light,” said Puri.
But do remember that there is a stipulated time frame within which a case has to be filed by home buyers. “The consumer court will not entertain a complaint after the limitation period of two years is over from the date of cause of action. Hence, the consumer has to be very alert and should immediately file a case in the consumer court. Don’t keep the matter pending,” said Arun Saxena, president, International Consumer Right Protection Council. However, “with regard to real estate, since there will be a continuous cause of action, this provision (2-year timeline) may not strictly apply,” said S. Saroja, director, consumer advisory and outreach, Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group.
There are different avenues that you can take. “A homebuyer can approach the consumer court, civil or criminal court, or the Competition Commission of India (CCI), depending on the nature of complaint,” said Saroja.
Things to do
As in any legal matter, you should posses evidence to prove your stand or allegation. Get all papers and documents ready—advertisement brochure, booking receipts with payment details, any letter sent by the developer, signed agreement, all payment details, emails exchanged, photographs collected, and others. Avoid verbal communication.
“It is important that the consumer maintains written correspondence with the builder at regular intervals during the course of construction, highlighting issues then and there, as this will be a strong point in her favour when she approaches the Consumer Fora at a later stage,” said Saroja.
However, before going for legal action, you should have raised the issue with the developer. “Buyers should always send a legal notice before approaching any forum or court with their grievance. They should have taken objection with the builder against violations or illegal demands by sending a letter so that evidence can be created in their favour to be produced at the time of proceedings,” said Pathak.
So, if you are an aggrieved home buyer, contact others and form a group. Note down the issues and information available with each person. Approach the developer as a group. If no resolution is in sight, take legal advice from an expert.
Delay of six months to a year has become commonplace in residential real estate, and most buyers expect it. But a longer delay puts additional financial burden, and filing a suit against a developer is justified.
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