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Fraudulent broker, owner menace in Pune

Pune is a city which has a close-knit connection between the agents and the house owners, such that it can sometimes become problematic for the tenants

pune Updated: Sep 25, 2017 17:30 IST
Ananya Barua and Shalaka Shinde
Ananya Barua and Shalaka Shinde
Hindustan Times, Pune
A sign stating ‘no accommodation for students’ outside a housing society near Bharati Vidyapeeth University.
A sign stating ‘no accommodation for students’ outside a housing society near Bharati Vidyapeeth University.(HT Photo)

Pune is home to people from various states. The difficulty during the hunt for accommodation plagues students and working professionals from other oars of the country alike. What makes the hunt even more difficult for these people is the local brokers who run their business without much verification.

“Pune is a city which has a close-knit connection between the agents and the house owners, such that it can sometimes become problematic for the tenants,” said Smriti Chawla.

Chawla is a 26-year-old IT professional and one among the many tenants in the city who have had bitter experiences either with their landlords or agents. Now residing in NIBM area, she shared how difficult it was to get a flat in the area, and the harassment that followed. “I was asked to leave my place within a night by my landlord, for getting my cousins over to my house that weekend. This was even after the landlord called my parents to confirm that those at my home were indeed my cousins. I had gone through a broker, but at this point of time, he had zero responsibility.

“My one month’s rent as brokerage, was all wasted and out of the total deposit of ₹50,000 given to the landlord, he returned only ₹20,000 under countless pretexts. It was like a racket to extort money from tenants.”

In such cases, another victim pointed out, “Once a deal is done, the agent is that invisible force that only returns after a year to claim his or her second round of brokerage.” A 62-year-old professor of mass communication, requesting anonymity, said, “After having lived in a place for three years with my family, while leaving, the landlord refused to return the deposit of ₹60,000 on the pretext of making repairs. We had put up a few nails in the hall with his permission to hang family photos. While leaving, he said we have spoiled their wall and so he would need to fill those holes. For filling those holes do you seriously need ₹60,000? And, yes the broker never came to our rescue, he was just invisible.”

Advertising properties based on false promises was revealed to be a common phenomenon in the such cases. A 28-year-old Priya Maske pointed out, “I have been in this city for the last five years now and have moved through many flats and my experiences has been a mix of good and bad. But this one time, I had finalised a place in Vadgaon Sheri, through a real estate agent. When the flat was shown to me, there were a couple of repairs that were required to be done, and the agent and landlord promised to do them. But, after moving in, nothing was done and I had to spend all of it from my pocket. The landlord flatly denied making the promises.”

As part of a large racket, another Wanowrie-based broker, Vinod Patil had allegedly duped a number of individuals of over ₹2 lakh, by showing all of them the same flat in Tain Square, Fatimanagar. “He had taken ₹10,000 from us as early deposit to make repairs in the house. We wanted to speak to the landlords, but he always kept dodging stating that they were living abroad. One day, we spotted Patil’s assistant showing the same flat to another set of girls. Sensing a problem, we directly approached the society office, after which we got to know that he is a repeat offender and a fraud,” said a student from Coimbatore on request of anonymity.

Later, one of the society office bearers informed them that Patil had duped three other prospective tenants of ₹35,000, ₹60,000 and ₹90,000. According to him, even the builder of the property had been duped of ₹20,000 after which Patil was banned to enter the society, yet he would make his way into the complex. "A complaint has been lodged against the broker at Wanowrie police station, and we have been told that he is on the run.”

Aslam Shaikh of Tain Square society also said that the broker had a history of asking for money from his customers for personal reasons such as medical attention for his ailing mother. “He has duped seven-eight other such people,” added Sheikh.

This is, however, not an isolated incident. Six people were booked under Sections 420, 466, 468, 471 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) at Pimpri police station for duping a builder of ₹52 lakh. The incident is from January 2017 and the broker is reported to be on the run.

In another case from January 2016, Chandannagar police had ceased the bank accounts of a broker for selling flats worth over ₹2 crore in the name of a builder.

All the police stations have a list of brokers operating in the areas under their jurisdiction. Now, the police maintain a digital record of details of tenants and brokers provided by the owners of properties. However, the digital record does not provide centralised details of brokers as much as it helps with centralised details of tenants.

The regulation among agents/brokers was, however, done on a local level in the city through Estate Agents Association of Pune, one of the oldest associations in the city with around 230 members, according to Ravi Arora, committee member and former vice president of the association. The self-regulated body has recently run into internal troubles of their own.

However, their absence may not be badly felt due to the introduction of Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) in the month of May. Under the newly established regulator, the brokers’ fees will be accounted for and cannot be charged in accordance to the broker. The regulator registered 9,000 projects and 7,000 agents within the first three months, according to Gautam Chatterjee, RERA chairman.

The regulator was formed under the RERA Act, 2016.