Towering trouble
By Marisa de Silva
What is needed for action to be taken on a building that is a public hazard? A three-storey apartment building constructed less than a decade ago has been a source of grave concern to the owners of the apartments and residents of the Rajagiriya neighbourhood where it is situated.

Grayline Cove is now an eyesore in this picturesque suburb. Its construction is visibly flawed. Many of the walls have deep cracks, making the entire building unsafe for occupation and a threat to residents in the vicinity.

Constructed some seven years ago, the six apartments in the building were sold to different parties. Most of the apartments are no longer occupied and the one on the top floor has been unoccupied for more than two years. Recently a sunshade built on the third floor came crashing down due to a severe infestation of white ants, said a neighbour. The shade next to it, also on the third storey now looks in imminent danger of collapse.

Many children play in the neighbourhood and several vehicles are also parked below, so parts of the building breaking off at random intervals could cause severe injury to people or damage property, neighbours say.

After repeated complaints from residents, the UDA decided to take action. UDA Director Enforcement Shirani Ariyathilaka said the UDA had written to Grayline Homes (a defunct subsidiary of the main Grayline group) on numerous occasions over the past six months.

Now, the Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte Municipal Council (SJKMC) on the recommendation of the Director Buildings, Department of Buildings, has acquired the building and condemned it. Notices written on the walls state that all walls showing signs of visual structural distress should be demolished immediately. However, Grayline is now trying to remedy the situation saying that they will attend to the repairs, but neighbours remain fearful that unless action is taken immediately, homes adjoining this building too could be in danger.

The saga of this once-plush apartment block began over seven years ago and according to some owners we spoke to, it proved a bitter experience for those who hoped it would be their dream home.

*Mr. Fernando (name changed) who holds the power of attorney for his brother who is currently residing abroad, told The Sunday Times that his brother had bought the apartment in 1996. After having completed all the payments within a month, he had been promised the deeds. Up to date, however, he is yet to receive the deeds. One year after purchase, Mr. Fernando had noticed cracks and leaks with water seeping into the apartment. There were other structural problems too, he says. He noticed that the building seemed to be tilting slightly towards a neighbouring house. The original switchboard installed by Grayline also had to be replaced by him, as it had fused due to the use of cheap electrical equipment, he said.

Complaint after complaint addressed to the Chairman of Grayline brought no response, not even a telephone call. Therefore, he said, he filed suit against Grayline Homes, demanding either a money back guarantee plus the 12% interest he was entitled to by law or the long overdue deeds to his apartment. The trial date was set for August 26.

At the last hearing, Grayline had promised to hand over Mr. Fernando's deeds within two weeks. Already three weeks have lapsed and he is yet to see the deeds or receive any communication from the company, he said. Mr. Fernando said if he at least had the deeds, he could reconnect the water supply to the apartment.

Immediately after the demolition notice was put up, there was a flurry of activity at the building and a security guard was deployed by Grayline. A construction team was also sent over on September 13. They had, however, begun repairs on the bottom half of the building but neighbours had made a complaint to the police who put a temporary stop to Grayline's repair attempt. So what are the obligations on the part of the company that constructed and sold these apartments? The Chairman of Grayline was not available for comment despite repeated attempts by us to speak to him.

UDA's Ms. Ariyathilaka says that if Grayline wants the building, they would have to meet both the Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte MC officials and the Director Buildings and submit their plans for the apartment building. Only then under their supervision, can Grayline begin repairs. She also adds that Grayline would need to do the repair work very carefully ensuring safety of adjoining buildings.

K. Kodagoda, Operations Manager, Grayline Group of Companies, said both he and his structural engineer attended the Planning Committee meeting at the Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte MC, last week, to discuss whether Grayline could undertake to do the necessary repairs themselves. Kodagoda assured that all walls with severe cracking which posed a threat to adjoining houses, would be brought down and reconstructed on Grayline account.

On reviewing Grayline's plan, Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte Mayor Ranjith Cooray said the Planning Committee, with his approval would allow Grayline to go ahead with the necessary repairs. However, the project must be conducted under the strict supervision of Municipal Engineer B.S.S. Wijeratna.

But after years of apathy, neighbours are doubtful. Unless action is taken quickly this apartment building may come crashing down, injuring them or damaging their property, they say. It is now upto the UDA and the municipal authorities to ensure that the promises are kept and the safety of residents assured.

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