MahaRERA Bar Association To Provide Free Legal Aid to Needy Homebuyers from 1st February
In what is being hailed as a pro-home-buyer move, the Bar Association of MahaRERA has given home-buyers a reason to smile. People struggling with issues against developers will be provided free legal consultancy and represention before tribunal by lawyers registered with MahaRERA. The petitioner will only have to pay Rs5,000 as fee to MahaRERA for filing the complaint.
This is in addition to the conciliation option that is already being offered by MahaRERA which lacks awareness among home-buyers. MahaRERA is already offering conciliation as an alternate dispute redressal (ADR) mechanism to litigants, which is also cheaper as the buyer needs to pay just Rs1,000 as fee. Earlier there was no room for clear communication and fair negotiation between builders or developers and buyers. Conciliation forum was launched by MahaRERA in 2019 is an effort to bridge that gap.
Cases that come up for conciliation are generally closed within three to four hearings over a period of about 45 days in the presence of the respective parties directly without the involvement of lawyers from both sides. The idea is to circumnavigate the conventional legal process, which turns out to be a lengthy and costly dispute. Because of the amicable nature of the process, parties are given options without any bitterness or ill will, which in turn leads to higher levels of compliance unlike conventional legal disputes where there is always room for appeal in a higher court.
One of the leading consumer activists says that conciliation is a far better option than litigation, cheaper (Rs1,000 MahaRERA fee), easier and faster resolution.
From 1st February, deserving litigants will be assisted by the lawyers and chartered accountants (CAs) registered with the Bar Association of Maharashtra Real Estate Regulatory Authority (MahaRERA).
Last month, Justice Indira Jain, president of MahaREAT (Appellate Tribunal) first proposed the idea for helping litigants, who cannot afford to hire professionals.
Responding promptly, the MahaRERA Bar Association acknowledged her proposal. It is now in the process of making a final list of lawyers and CAs, who are practicing RERA matters and are willing to offer free legal aid.
In a pan-India survey on efficacy of RERA conducted by Moneylife last year, a lot of home-buyers had said that state RERA portals did not have sufficient information on how to file a complaint. They also pointed out that whatever little information was available on these portals was not helpful.
Launching a user-friendly website is an important aspect of the RERA Act in order to provide home-buyers specific information regarding under-construction projects, names of developers, approvals, precise project details, possession date, registered agents, and so on. The Act mandates that the state RERA authority website must enable home-buyers to file complaints online. While some states do not have a fully functional website yet, some of the existing websites do not have adequate information and are of little help to the home-buyers.
Anil Dsouza, honorary secretary of the Bar Association of MahaRERA and MahaREAT, says, “Although self-representation by litigants is encouraged, some litigants are unable to present their grievances in the right manner and format, which would have enabled the presiding or adjudicating officer to deliberate on the issue and give appropriate relief.”
He shared several anomalies like flat purchasers not giving entire data and proper information upfront in their complaint such as the exact amount paid, dates of payment, specific details in the registered agreement like date of possession and importantly if there is a grace period already allowed in the registered agreement.
Besides this there are other terms and conditions in the registered agreement, which the flat purchasers have already agreed and signed upon. All these important details surface when the presiding/ adjudicating officer painstakingly interrogates the parties concerned. All this leads to a huge time lag and also exasperates the system.
In fact, one presiding member has even come up with a simple format that captures the summary of the entire case on one page. And these issues are just at the drafting stage.
He says, “When the matter comes up for hearing, before the presiding member or adjudicating officer, builders or developers usually have very suave, learned and experienced lawyers or law firms to represent them. On the other hand, the home-buyer might not be able to launch into a verbal duel with these counsels to put forth his points in a coherent manner. Although I must add that not only the MahaRERA legal team and legal assistants but even the judges are very supportive while even the builders’ lawyers handle the situation carefully. But complainants, due to inexperience with the legal sphere, might find themselves at a disadvantage. Even the legal procedures and stages of a court case may sometimes baffle and intimidate him.
"Attendance can also be an issue for those, who are busy in their jobs and business’. Already the litigant is reeling under the weight of EMIs or rent or both and cannot afford further costs such as advocate fees”.
He further added, “In this logjam, between builders and flat purchasers, the Legal Aid Cell, by the Advocates of the Bar Association of MahaRERA and MahaREAT is the perfect fit. Most of us, have been practicing at the MahaRERA since its litigation arm started in June 2017. We are only too happy to help anyone, who needs assistance, clarification and information. In fact many of us, have anyways been doing this pro-bono. We have conducted several workshops across Mumbai to raise awareness about The RERA Act 2016, the MahaRERA, and the MahaREAT and this Legal Aid cell is a natural extension of our social cause”.
Hence this free legal aid is a good move and will help litigants who cannot afford high lawyer fees and who are not conversant with legal procedures and process.
It remains to be seen how well this would work out in the long term.
MahaRERA has led from the front in terms of RERA implementation and has the highest number of ongoing real estate projects registrations: 23,795. As of now 22,800 agents have been registered. A total of 7,130 cases have been disposed of from a total of 9,490 cases registered.