The Consumer Forums are taking a much needed tough stand against erring builders who think they are above the law and are resorting to all kinds of unfair and illegal practices…
Swati Deshpande| TNN | Updated: Sep 23, 2016, 08.08 AM IST
MUMBAI: The Maharashtra State Consumer Commission has come to the rescue of 25 flat buyers who put their service class life savings in booking small homes 22 years ago, only to be asked to cough up Rs 41.5 lakhs each, almost ten times the original price, to get possession. The commission said the escalated demand was nothing but “pressure tactics” and “unfair trade practice” by the builder to get the buyers to accept his offer of Rs 14 lakh and cancel the bookings in “Rajendra Kunj’ a project in Borivli (east).
The commission directed the builder, Truly Creative Developer Pvt Ltd, to hand over possession of flats in two months at the original price and with all agreed amenities. The order is to also pay damages of Rs 50,000 each to 25 buyers for the mental agony that the unprecedented delay has caused them.
The flats were booked between 1994 and 1998 by 112 persons, mostly employees of Excel Industries, at prices that ranged between Rs 4 lakh and Rs 6 lakh. Most had paid over 50% of the flat’s cost. In 2011, the developer demanded Rs 41 lakh more from each buyer and said the market rate in the vicinity was around Rs 80 lakh for similar-sized flats. The developers, Rajendra Barde and Dattatray Barde, directors of the firm, also initially offered them an 8% return on the money they had already paid. The lawyer for the buyers, Dilip Kulkarni, argued that it was not money, but flats they wanted, as entitled in law. The builder wants the buyers out so that he can sell the flats at the current market rate which would attract a price of around Rs 1 crore, they argued.
The commission panel presided over by judicial member Usha Thakare and Dhanraj Khamatkar observed that in some cases, “flats were booked in 1994, agreements executed in 2005. And no possession handed over till date”. The buyers had approached the commission in 2013. The work was stopped for a year in 1998 and three years since 2005 after disputes landed in the city civil court. But there was no stay on construction between 1999 and 2005 and since 2008. Yet the building is far from complete.
The builder’s lawyer, Ajay Karwath, resorted to every legal arsenal to have the buyers’ complaint dismissed. He questioned their status as consumers, calling them investors, and even challenged the jurisdiction of the commission which can hear claims above Rs 20 lakh. The commission said the buyers had claimed damages of Rs 60 lakh with interest. Hence, the jurisdiction was not flawed, and they were all employees who purchased small flats for their residence with a valid agreement and continued to pay amounts which the builder demanded over the years, hoping for completion and possession, hence they were consumers. “They would not have waited for 16 years to get possession if they were investors.”
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