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In a bid to control the Coronavirus outbreak, the Indian prime minister ordered a 21-day lockdown that started on March 25, 2020, which has now been extended till May 3, 2020. Social distancing, which is crucial to avoid the spread of the virus, is being followed meticulously by housing societies across India barring a few. These exceptions are mainly people who belong to complexes that do not have a society in place that can enforce and take disciplinary action. Moreover, some residents continue to lead life like always within the society, with children playing in the park, people walking in the complex, etc., which should not be the case.
Who should implement COVID-19 rules in a housing complex?
Newly-built housing complexes that do not have a society in place, may have trouble implementing rules pertaining to the entry of visitors, house helps and drivers, among others. In such cases, the onus falls on the developer of the complex. “Assuming it to be a newly-constructed building in a Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA)-registered housing project, compliance with Section 11 of the RERA Act will be mandatory. Under Section 11, till the time the maintenance of the project is handed over to the society, it is the developer’s responsibility to handle all the affairs. This transfer of control, under Section 17, must take place within three months of obtaining the occupancy certificate (OC). Therefore, till the time the conveyance is executed, it is the developer who has to implement the restrictions and COVID-19 safeguards,” says Aditya Pratap, an advocate at the Bombay High Court. Usually, in a project with multiple buildings, the completion and handing over of possession of different towers/ buildings, happens over a period of time. So, the tower/ building which gets possession initially has residents moving in, while residents are yet to move in the remaining towers/ buildings that are yet to be completed. “In such cases, it is more practical to continue the management and maintenance of all towers/ buildings, including those completed and those under construction, by the same agency. Once the project is completed, the agency mandated by the developer to maintain the project moves out and the residents’ representative committee/ federation takes over. Managing the common amenities enjoyed by all residents, regardless of which cluster or tower one resides in, is usually done by the federation and not individual societies. At the initial stage, there is no federation and so, the developer maintains those aspects,” explains Niranjan Hiranandani, national president, NAREDCO.
In Maharashtra for example, assuming that a society is in place, it will be governed by the Model Byelaws of Cooperative Housing Societies and the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act. “Byelaw 87 provides rules for the first general body meeting of the society. In this first general body meeting, a president is elected (for the meeting). Then, the new (or first-time) members are duly admitted. Then, a provisional committee is constituted. The newly-formed provisional committee will have all powers and functions of a standard managing committee under the Act, Rules and byelaws. It will hold office till the time regular elections are held as per the byelaws. Therefore, in new complexes, the provisional committee will be vested with the responsibility of implementing COVID-19 measures,” adds Pratap. Industry experts mention that in case of any breach in the rules laid down by the provisional committee, they can always approach the authorities to help them set things in place and mitigate the risks associated with the spread of the Coronavirus. It is mandatory for the provisional committee to follow the rules laid down by the Indian government, to combat the spread of the Coronavirus. “Given the current situation, the priority should be on controlling access for visitors, house helps, etc., by setting access rules and implementing it during the lockdown. Once we are out of the lockdown, I am sure, across projects where most home buyers have moved in, the delayed society formation procedures would be completed. At NAREDCO, our member developers have been advised to do the needful and register the society, once the project is completed,” shares Hiranandani. An ad-hoc society can also temporarily work for the residents and the developer, with mutual consent, till the handover happens. “In this situation, there are some residents in societies, who are always in touch with the developers and help in the running of the society, by collecting funds or safeguarding the society and its residents, with the support of the developer. We have two buildings where the society is yet to be handed over to the residents and our local staff are taking care,” says Dinesh Doshi, managing director, Tulsi Realty. Finally, in view of the current situation, all housing societies – new or old – should strictly ensure that residents follow social distancing. They can also help the local municipal authorities, by collecting travel details and health records of all residents. Home quarantine prescribed to residents in the complex and norms associated with cleanliness and sanitization, should be strictly followed.
Who should maintain the society before OC is given?
Under Section 11 of the RERA, it is the developer's responsibility to handle the maintenance, till the project is handed over to the society.
By when should a developer hand over the society?
Under Section 17 of the RERA, the developer must hand over the control to the residents' welfare association, within three months of obtaining the occupancy certificate.