Section 14 of the Real Estate Regulation Act, 2016 (RERA) prohibits changes to the flat or project layout without the consent of the homebuyer. Similarly, no changes are permitting to fittings, fixtures, and amenities after they have been disclosed to the homebuyer and he has booked the flat on the basis of the same.
Time and again, instances have come to light where developers unilaterally amended project plans seeking greater profits. Flat sizes would be reduced, building layouts would be changed, more floors would be added – all to seek greater profit. The ultimate sufferer would be the homebuyer, who would face mammoth project delays, cost overruns and reduced quality of life as a result of changes made.
Before RERA came into existence, each state had its own individual flat ownership laws. In Maharashtra, Section 7 of the Maharashtra Ownership Flats Act, 1963 (MOFA) prohibited any changes in project layout without prior consent of the homebuyers. If a builder did so, he would face criminal prosecution under Section 13, punishable with up to three years in jail.
Even though the MOFA prohibited unauthorised changes to project plans, its enforcement left a lot to be desired. Criminal cases under MOFA would be investigated by the local police, whose questionable integrity resulted in developers going scot-free. Post-construction amendment of project plans became rampant, as the controversial case of Kamla Landmarc would show.
With the establishment of RERA, homebuyers now have a specialised authority to investigate cases where Developers illegally amend project plans. There is a prescribed format for filing a complaint under Section 31 of the RERA Act. Expeditious disposal of cases means that there is no pendency and homebuyers can expect quicker justice in the matter.
With the law firmly in place, homebuyers can exercise reasonable diligence while booking their flats. They must access the RERA website and download the project plans. The plans uploaded by the Developer must bear the stamp and sign of the municipal corporation (or local authority). After studying the plans, the homebuyer must visit the site to confirm whether construction is in accordance with approved plans or not.
If the homebuyer detects that the construction is at variance with the approved plans, he can serve a legal notice to the developer calling upon him to cease and desist. If the Developer refused to comply, a complaint can be filed under Section 31 of the RERA Act before the authority.
Once the RERA receives the complaint, it will inquire into the allegations made by the homebuyer. Since RERA has the powers of a civil court, it can engage an expert architect to visit the site and compare the actual construction with the approved plans. If he filed major variation, he may prepare a report which will be submitted to the authority. Based on this report, which is admissible as expert evidence, the RERA can pass its orders against the Developer.
It is needless to add that if RERA concludes that the Developer illegally amended project plans, it can impose a fine up to five percent of the project cost. Further it can cancel the builder’s project registration.