In a landmark ruling, a consumer court has ordered realty firm Ambience Infrastructure to pay Rs. 33.38 crore to a group of flat owners in Gurgaon for installing sub-standard elevators and failing to maintain them despite charging them for it.
This gives hope to hundreds of thousands of home buyers, especially in the backdrop of Supreme Court’s order on Wednesday to Supertech to refund buyers of flats in its Noida twin towers, which now face demolition. In a country witnessing rapid urbanisation, the real estate sector remains largely unregulated and home buyers are often left to deal with builders who default on delivery of promises.
According to the National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission’s ruling, Ambience Infrastructure has to pay 66 apartment owners in Ambience Lagoon complex 70% of maintenance charges collected since November 2002 within 90 days. It also has to pay 9% interest per annum, taking the total to Rs. 33.38 crore.
“The judgment was delivered on March 19 and the commission has already rejected Ambience Infrastructure’s review petition. Since the builder hasn’t appealed this, the judgment now stands as final,” said Dr Amitabha Sen, counsel for the RWA and a resident of Ambience Lagoon.
The group, which fought the case for a decade, has filed an application in the commission for implementation of the judgment.
“As our legal team is handling this, I would not like to comment,” remarked Ambience Group chairman and managing director Raj Singh Gehlot.
In their petition, the residents said the builder advertised one “high-speed elevator” for every 10 homes — that is, four lifts in each of the four blocks and 16 in all. But in the end, each block only got two lifts.
Residents also complained that the elevators were of poor quality, and weren’t maintained.
“They were slow, prone to frequent breakdowns and had no automatic rescue device. In the absence of proper maintenance, there were dangerous instances of the lifts free-falling several floors or stopping a couple of feet above the landing, forcing residents to jump out. Many people were hurt using these lifts,” said Col (retd) SC Talwar, who led the residents in their legal battle.
“We pooled in money, everyone contributing Rs. 1.40 lakh each, to replace about 50% of the old lifts with new ones,” he added.
“There is not an iota of documentary evidence... that any action, work, payment, etc, was made to the maintainer of lifts, for the last more-than-a-decade. Why then are they charging such a huge amount towards maintenance,” the commission asked.
In its defence, Ambience submitted that it had made it clear at the start that it would install two lifts and the owners would have to install the remaining two.