Buying a new flat is always fraught with risks because you rarely get what you are promised in advertisements, brochures or even sample flats you inspect yourself.
For instance, the size of rooms in a sample flat is bigger than what you actually get. That is because the walls in the sample flat are wafer-thin which makes the carpet area larger. No brochure tells you clearly how close the next flat would be to yours.
It comes as a rude shock when the three-side open flat you have paid for actually looks into your neighbour’s kitchen. Also, there is no telling how the bathroom and kitchen pipes are placed. It is only when you and your neighbour move in and use the taps do the damp patches on the walls start showing up.
Then, there are those missed project deadlines. Forget the private builders, the record of the Delhi Development Authority, one of the biggest sarkari builders in India and also known as the Zamindar of Delhi, is equally bad.
At least 16,000 allottees in the 2010 housing scheme of DDA had to wait for an average two years to get possession of their shoddily-built flats. There was no one to complain to because DDA, the builder, was also the regulator.
Finally, we have the Real Estate Regulatory Authority Bill that promises to redress some of these common grievances of home buyers once it gets passed in Parliament.
The Bill defines the term “promoter” to include not only private developers but also government agencies such as DDA, Ghaziabad Development Authority, Noida Authority and Haryana Housing Board in the National Capital Region.
It seeks to appoint a tribunal to look into the complaints of home buyers, proposes to make it mandatory for a builder to register with the regulatory authority before launching or even advertising a project, and disclose building plans and carpet area, timeline and other information to prospective clients.
It will fix penalties for defaulting on deadlines and deviating from original building plans.
The Bill, however, covers only projects that will come up on plots bigger than 1,000 square metres. A large number of neighbourhood property developers who take up a small plot or two, or just convert a self-constructed single storey into multi-storey “builder” flats, are out of its ambit.
Delhi is awash with such constructions not just in unauthorised colonies but also in middle-class neighbourhoods.
It is common for these neighbourhood builders to illegally add a balcony, a room or even an entire floor by paying bribes to municipal officers.
In unauthorised colonies, most constructions are totally illegal. It is left to the buyer to figure out what portions of a flat are legally constructed or if a building is structurally safe.
There are enough provisions in our municipal, consumer and criminal laws to stop builders from breaking rules. The real estate market is unregulated because these laws are rarely enforced.
It did surprise many when Ghaziabad Development Authority sealed 170 flats in a gated community in Indirapuram last year because the builder had constructed them on land meant for a landscaped green area.
Similarly, it wasn’t until the courts ordered a demolition drive in 2006 that we realised more than 75% of Delhi homes and shops had violated crucial building norms.
The new Bill raises hope by seeking to address all concerns under one law and creating a single-window dispute resolution mechanism. But like all laws, its implementation depends on the political will of respective state governments.
Lack of it would only make this regulatory mechanism just another layer of bureaucracy.