Buying a home in the city is often so unaffordable that many Mumbaiites opt to live on rent. Just as many Mumbaiites discover that their troubles don't end even after they have run around looking for a house, arranged for a loan and finally bought a flat.
For, both the tenant and the buyer have to contend with the housing society. As Santacruz resident Inderpal Singh, 42, has discovered, a well-managed society with reasonable rules and agreeable members may be an ideal, but unreal expectation.
Singh, who works as a brand manager, has been fighting for parking space with the managing committee of his housing society for the past year. "While buying my apartment, the builder charged me for the parking slot. But the society says it does not recognise it and I am being forced to park outside the building despite having paid Rs 1.75 lakh for parking," he said.
Singh says he feels cheated by both the builder and the managing committee. "The parking space allotment was done unjustly by the managing committee," he said.
The past few years have seen a steady rise in the conflicts between society members and managing committees: Now, more than 50% of the complaints in the consumer courts are related to realty disputes. "Intolerance in housing societies has reached alarming levels," said advocate Vinod Sampat, who heads the NGO, Cooperative Societies Residents, Users and Welfare Association. "Managing committee members behave like dictators, and any dissent is crushed with an iron hand."
People who rent flats are always at a disadvantage, and single women often face the worst discrimination.
Indra Naik, 35, a single woman who owns a flat in Piramal Nagar in Goregaon (West), says her society has issued a "warning notice" forbidding her from entertaining guests after 10 pm. "How can society members decide who should come into my property?" said Naik who believes she is being harassed because she is a single woman.
"I was told to my face that I would not get a flat because I am a Muslim," said Amir Rizvi, 40, who hunted for a flat to rent for three months before he found one in Lokhandwala recently. "Societies would say they have an informal rule not to rent out flats to people from our religion."
Many flat owners complain that getting a No Objection Certificate to give a flat on rent to bachelors is difficult. "Though the owner has no objection renting out to single tenants, many societies don't allow it," said Yogesh Jethwani, a broker with Evershine Property Consultants in Andheri (west).
Buying a house can be as unpleasant, with many societies permitting the purchase of flats only by members of some communities, barring the purchase to certain communities, prohibiting pets and cooking non-vegetarian food, and charging excess transfer fees, among other things.
Parag Chavan, a former Shiv Sena corporator, said he was denied an apartment in the lane named after his late father, Vithal Chavan, in Parel. "They said the building is exclusively for vegetarians and that we meat-eaters will spoil the atmosphere," Chavan said.
Housing societies also sometimes demand exorbitant transfer fees when a flat is being sold. "The society does not issue a new share certificate till its demands are met and so forces the buyer and the seller to pay," said advocate Nirmal Kothari, who deals with matters related to housing and property.
Societies often make rules, forgetting that any new rule formulated by a managing committee needs to be approved by the registrar of societies before it can be binding on its members. However, few people are aware of this requirement. "Often, societies make changes in bye-laws or form new rules that are against the Constitution," said Ramesh Prabhu, chairman, Maharashtra Societies Welfare Association.
As redevelopment projects takeoff, conflicts in societies have escalated. "Now conflicts are reaching police stations as various groups try to bring in their favoured builders," said Shreedhar Sharma, president of Revathy Foundation, an NGO that deals with housing issues.
Managing committee members defend themselves saying discipline is important when running a society. "It is a thankless job that we undertake without any payment. If there are rules and they are not implemented, there would be chaos," said Mohiuddin Ahmed, a committee member of Shantiniketan cooperative housing society in Sewri.
Inputs from Poorvi Kulkarni.