New Delhi: Amit Jain was just 32 when he decided in 2004 to wind down his export business in the United States and come back to India for good. His aging parents were back home, he missed India and since he had spent 30 years of his life in the country, he thought, "How bad can it be?"
As it turned out, things got very bad for Jain.
A decision in 2006 to invest in an upmarket real-estate project from one of India’s premier developers – DLF Ltd – has blown up in Jain’s face. To this day, the project hasn’t been completed, and, worse, the company, which had missed several deadlines for handover of the apartment, cancelled his allotment, claiming he had fallen behind on his payments, and retained Rs 50 lakh as forfeiture money.
For years now, Jain has been on a cruel runaround of the developers’ office, the courts, and the regulators for years. The entire experience has left him wracked by doubts about the wisdom of his decision – to invest in the DLF project and, at a more fundamental level, to return to India, where overly lax real estate regulatory laws have thrown thousands of prospective homebuyers like him at the mercy of developers.
"It was my first ever property buy in India and I was a first-time home buyer. But it was also the worst experience of my life,” Jain recalls. “I was traumatised and so mentally stressed at times that I kept thinking to myself, 'Why did I come back?' There were days when I'd just feel like running back."
Jain’s ‘house of horrors’ experience began in August 2006, when he paid a Rs 20 lakh down payment on a Rs 1.85 crore, four-bedroom apartment in DLF Belaire, an upmarket condominium complex in Gurgaon. At the time, he was living and working in Gurgaon's Sector 53; the Belaire project was to come up very close to the rented apartment he was living in.
Barely a couple of months later, the developer asked him to pay his second instalment of Rs 19 lakh. Since Jain lived nearby, he knew that no work on the residential apartment complex had begun as yet. He was concerned that he was being hustled to pay, particularly since he still didn't have an agreement of the purchase. But with few choices open to him, he paid the money.
Things got progressively worse from there on. In 2007, DLF sent out a letter to the prospective buyers of Belaire telling them that the company was changing the terms of payment to a construction-linked plan and increasing the number of floors from the originally planned 19 floors to 29 floors. Even then, construction at the site had barely begun.
"We (the prospective buyers) paid our instalments regularly, but then realised that (DLF) was cheating us,” says Jain. “By 2008, I had paid about 55 percent of the value of my flat, but only a skeleton of the building had come up by then."
Jain, and other prospective Belaire apartment owners, were beginning to get worried – and gave voice to their concerns to DLF’s representatives. From time to time, they sought appointments with DLF chairman and CEO KP Singh and vice-chairman Rajiv Singh, but were repeatedly fobbed off.
Jain recalls that DLF officials were insistent that buyers should keep paying their instalments.
He says he kept asking for an appointment with KP Singh, and asked to be reassured that the project would be completed on time, by December 2009. “They kept saying it would, but refused to give us a date,” he adds.
But by December 2008, having already paid DLF Rs 1 crore with nothing to show for it, Jain had had enough. He stopped paying his instalments.
In April 2010, DLF sent him a cheque for Rs 50 lakh saying that it was cancelling his flat allotment and was retaining Rs 50 lakh as forfeiture money.
"I went to their office, wrote letters and pleaded, saying that if they could explain why they were taking our money without having built much, then I was willing to give up my money,” Jain says. “They even told me that they resold the apartment I’d been allotted, and that they couldn't return it to me."
Since then, Jain has been on a royal runaround of the courts and regulators’ offices, trying to secure justice against the cavalier manner in which DLF had dashed his dream of a home, and even forfeited his money. He doesn't have a regular job and, both he and his parents live in rented apartments, cumulatively paying up to Rs 1 lakh per month as rent.
The experience of Jain and other members of the Belaire Owners Association echoes similar experience that thousands of prospective homebuyers across India face in an environment where regulatory rules are lax and weighted heavily in favour of the developers.