I refer to two letters to the editor and a news item appearing in the Business Times on April 8 under the captions ‘Property development projects-grave danger to city dwellers” by P. Rubini, ‘Investments on apartments and condos,’ by Mahinda Wimalasena and a news item on ‘Kollupitiya resident complains against high rise builder’. This is [...]

Business Times

Condo developers and unsuspecting buyers


I refer to two letters to the editor and a news item appearing in the Business Times on April 8 under the captions ‘Property development projects-grave danger to city dwellers” by P. Rubini, ‘Investments on apartments and condos,’ by Mahinda Wimalasena and a news item on ‘Kollupitiya resident complains against high rise builder’.

This is not the first time complaints/warnings of this nature have been made by the affected parties. In fact we should be thankful to the Business Times for having brought to light various aspects of condominium living.

Letters and articles
On a perusal of the Condominium Management Corporation (CMA) files of a condominium apartment, I came across numerous cuttings of articles and letters regarding the trials and tribulations faced by the owners before/ after purchasing the apartments, in good faith. It may be relevant to mention the dates/captions of some of the letters and articles which appeared in your newspaper in the recent past and earlier.

Interested parties may refer them: Crescat residents get respite (8/7/2008),Prevent Condominiums becoming vertical slums (3/10/2010),Woes of Wellawatte apartment dwellers (9/5/2010),Developers have wrecked Dehiwela (24/6/2012) ,Urgent need for condominium owners association (16/3/2014),Condominium residents sans title deed soon to be granted relief (25/5/14),Justice delayed in condo issues (6/7/14),Justice still awaits residents of Colombo condo (15/3/15),Colombo Apartments, residents waiting in hope for the title deeds (13/12/15 ).

Almost all the above articles/ letters arise from the fact that the cause of the problems was due to the developers not adhering to the original approved building plan, backed by the law enforcing authorities CMA, Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) and Urban Development Authority (UDA). The developers coax their clients to occupy the apartments even before completion, promising to legalise/regularise the matters early. I am aware of some owners of the apartments being called upon to pay additional sums to ‘satisfy the authorities’ concerned to obtain the necessary documents to finalise matters. Even after payment, some are unable to regularise the pending issues.

It may be mentioned that with regard to the issues raised in item 7 and 8, I understand that the verdict is still pending despite the fact that the hearing was concluded in June 2016 at the Supreme Court after approximately five years of proceedings.

Inquiry commenced at the CMA where the CMC and the UDA were associated along with the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) on whose initiative the inquiry at the CMA commenced in 2005 and went on till 2015. Complaints to the CMA were ignored despite the fact that they were considered the “Guardian Angels” for the apartment owners. Hence the CAA’s assistance was sought to commence the inquiry. The need to represent matters by way of Fundamental Rights petition to the Supreme Court arose due to deliberate delays experienced at the CMA.

A total of over 12 years have elapsed from the time the inquiry commenced at the CMA. If not for the intervention of the Supreme Court, the CMA would not have submitted their findings and order to the Supreme Court even in December 2016. I understand i.e. approximately after 10 years from the commencement of the inquiry at the CMA. The case is pending at the Supreme Court from the year 2011.

Ping Pong
Item 3 indicates the fact as to how the developers and the trio play ‘ping pong’, ball with the apartment owners. The developers have informed the MOH (CMC) that once they hand over the apartment to the purchaser, their responsibility ceases. This is a deliberate misrepresentation of facts .The developer gives a minimum 10 year guarantee against structural defects. Therefore it is their duty to ensure that it is adhered to. It is indeed a pity that the MOH who was interviewed by the press was not even aware of it? Of course one cannot expect anything better from a CMC employee whose primary responsibility is to safeguard his colleagues and through them the developer.

It is customary for the developers to put out attractive brochures about their condos under construction with over 10 years or more guarantee on construction. Would-be purchasers are taken for a ride. They unhesitatingly give an advance based on the brochure and the sweet talk by the developer, even before the foundation is laid to take advantage of discounts offered. Thereafter they are at the mercy of the developer unable to get their advance back or get their apartment in time with the certificate of confirmation (COC) and deeds. Once they occupy the apartment without deeds they are compelled to stay put, unable to move out or sell the apartment.

At this point, when the purchaser demands the COC and the deeds, the developer turns arrogant and abusive as they are hand in glove with the law enforcing authorities like CMA, CMC and UDA. The purchaser becomes helpless and becomes a victim, between the devil and the deep ‘Blue Ocean’.

Test check
As a test check, it will be interesting to find out from the CMA the number of condominium apartments completed and occupied in Wellawatte, (referred to as Flat-watte) how many apartments are awaiting the COC and deeds, and the reason for non-issue of COC and deeds? How many are under construction and are they being constructed according to law. If not, what action the CMA, UDA, and CMC have jointly and severally or individually taken to regularise matters? Have the developers provided adequate parking space? Have the developers provided the building plans, the drawings of pipeline for water service and electricity wiring plans and fire fighting facilities? In some cases the developer has provided only the fire hoses without proper connection to water supply point. The building plans are not available even with the developer; leave alone the trio- CMA, CMC, and UDA, How many apartments collapsed totally or partially? I wonder whether the Right to Information Act will be of help in this regard.

Lack of foresight
It would be pertinent to state here that where there were three to five houses on a road, the number of houses increase to 200 to 300 with the construction of condominiums. But the width/length of the road remains the same. The pipe lines for water supply and sewerage too is not increased, e.g. Station Road, Wellawatte. It is the practice in Sri Lanka to wait till disaster happens, rather than adopt preventive measures.

As stated by P. Rubini in a letter to the Business Times, the number of houses is damaged when excavations take place. The warning by Mahinda Wimalasena with regard to the financial aspects is also a food for thought.

Have the trio ever obtained the services of the National Building Research Organisation (NBRO) which comes under the Ministry of Disaster Management, (may be an appropriate Ministry for condo apartments too) to certify the quality of the condominium apartments constructed especially with regard to water proofing and moisture presence prior to handing over the apartments, to the owners?. Invariably, almost all the apartments are burdened with defects of various magnitudes, especially easily untraceable water leaks.

It appears that condos are constructed by ‘bricks of deception’.

Unfortunately the CMA, UDA, and CMC are not keen to assist the owners because it appears that they are under obligation to the developers. It is similar to a situation when the police are ineffective, the thieves have their way and so is the trio it appears. The developers have their way with impunity.

The Chairman and the General Manager together with the board have changed after the so called Yahapalanaya government came in, but the officers in charge continue with the same deceptive attitude. Can somebody clarify as to which of the trio has the final say with regard to advising the purchaser, that the ‘apartment is fit for occupation.’ Is it not possible to have a one stop shop to regularise matters rather than sending purchasers from pillar to post?

K. Anaga.

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