Some developers have found a new way to milk homebuyers of their hard-earned money. People who booked and paid for apartments are now getting notices from their builders asking for extra money for increase in “super area” - the space reserved for lifts, passageways and clubs in a building or society. Buyers have neither given permissions for the increase nor do they know about the exact specifications of the super area increase.
Speaking to HT Estates, Pawan Manikatalia, a businessman, said when he signed the builder-buyer agreement for an apartment in the luxury project of a renowned developer in Greater Noida in 2011, he was aware that the skeleton-structure of the apartment was ready. Its size (mentioned in the agreement) was 1950 sq ft. “There was a scheme through which I bought the apartment, paying 95% cost in 2011, with the remaining 5%, ie, Rs. 5,49,861, to be paid at the time of possession. Then, in November 2013, I received a demand letter from the builder asking for Rs. 30,71,749 for an increase in the size of my apartment from 1950 sq ft to 2120 sq ft,” says Manikatalia. After he got his flat measured by an architect friend and complained to the developer that there was no change in size, Manikatalia was told that the super area of the flat had been increased and not the covered area.
Ritu Madan Arora, a homemaker, too, got the shock of her life when she was informed by her builder that the size of her 781 sq ft apartment, booked in 2010 in a group housing project in Gurgaon, had increased by 18% in 2012 and that she would have to pay `Rs. 3 lakh before getting possession.
Homebuyers should be aware of the fact that the covered or carpet area of their apartment is very important as that belongs to the owner exclusively. So, suppose you buy a 900 sq ft apartment at the rate of Rs. 4,500 per sq ft (Rs. 40lakh), the actual covered area or the size of your apartment would be just 700 sq ft, with no exact specification of the ‘super’ area for which you paid Rs. 9 lakh.
Calculating an apartment’s super area is such a complicated process that even real estate experts admit defeat, saying there is no way to figure out an increase or decrease in the super area because it includes all of the common areas of a building. “What if a developer increases the size of the rooftop canopy of a building? Does that mean the sizes of all apartments in it have increased? A developer can include any built-up area in the super area and claim he has increased the super area. If I go by the principle of architecture, there shouldn’t be any variation in the apartment size from the day the architectural design is done and the foundation built till the time the whole group housing project is ready. It’s not possible for an apartment of size A in a building with a ready skeleton structure to grow to size B at the time of possession,” says Pradeep Mishra from Rudrabhishek Enterprises Pvt. Ltd, a Delhi-based architecture consultancy firm.
Architect Ashok Goel agrees, adding,“If a civil engineer strictly restricts the construction as per the architectural design of the building, it’s almost impossible for the apartment size to be increased. To ask buyers for additional payment for super area increase is a bad practice which real estate developers have resorted to just for extorting money.”
Many homebuyers and RTI activists say that developers deliberately include clauses in builder-buyer agreements which make it mandatory for homebuyers to pay additional amounts in case the super area of a building is increased or face cancellation of ownership of apartments.
“A homebuyer waits for an apartment for several years and when he gets the possession letter with the demand for extra charges for super area increase, he hesitates to take legal action because that means delayed possession and additional physical and mental harassment. Also, at the possession stage, the market price of the apartment almost doubles, so builders are keen to get their share of the appreciation by resorting to imposing a super area charge,” says Manikatalia.
According to Mishra, more and more developers are adopting this practice because it helps them lure more homebuyers. “The formula is to attract more homebuyers by selling the apartments a little cheaper than the market price and recover the money at the time of possession so that homebuyers feel helpless and pay the money. Initially, a very few developers were doing it but now it has spread like an infectious disease since many of them want to sell their products fast,” he adds.
Agreement is key
According to legal experts, a model-builder buyer agreement, sale of flats on the basis of carpet area and strict implementation of apartment acts are some of the solutions to solve the problem of builders charging extra for increasing super area for booked flats.
“If the flat sale happens on the actual size (carpet area/covered are) which a homebuyer can physically measure, the increase in area can be easily verified. Further, if the builder-buyer agreement refers to only the carpet/covered area and no increase or decrease in apartment size at a later stage, the issue can be addressed in favour of the homebuyers to a great extent,” says Rahul Rathod, a Noida-based lawyer.
“The most important step, would be the strict implementation of apartment acts of various states which will nip the problem in the bud. For instance, the UP Apartment Act 2010 has a provision to give true disclosure at the booking stage to the homebuyer as well as the development authority. This disclosure will clarify each and every aspect of the upcoming group housing project. The developer can’t fleece homebuyers in the name of increased super area. Unfortunately the Uttar Pradesh or Haryana development authorities have not been able to enforce the various provisions of their respective apartment acts,” says Rathod.