Buyers can seek refund if builder skips possession dates: Tribunal

Setting aside an order by the MahaRERA chairperson, the Maharashtra Real Estate Appellate Tribunal (MREAT) observed that the developers continued to skip mentioning the date of possession of flats in their allotment letters given to home buyers even two years after RERA came into place. The tribunal has asked MahaRERA to view this seriously.

“This requirement, envisaged by RERA, is flouted more often than observed which needs to be viewed seriously by the authority,” observed a tribunal bench, comprising Shriram Jagtap, member judicial, and SS Sandhu, member administrative, in a November 11 order. The bench also slammed the practice of developers not sharing a draft Agreement For Sale (AFS) containing the terms and conditions prior to asking for payment for execution of the agreement.

The tribunal also took strong exception to the Authority’s “over emphasis” on the view that home buyers need to seek reliefs under Section 18 on or before the Occupancy Certificate (OC) is obtained, and that they were not entitled to refunds under the section if they file the complaint after the OC is obtained by the promoter. MahaRERA had backed the promoter’s contention that irrespective of the delay in granting possession, once the OC is obtained or possession offered, Section 18 would not apply.

In this case, the home buyers had filed the complaint on March 17, 2021, after the promoter had obtained the OC by February 9, 2021.

The observations came on appeal filed by senior citizens, Bijon and Shanta Talukdar, who had booked a flat in Eirene project by promoter Dhruva Woolen Mills Pvt Ltd. Booked under the 9:91 scheme, the couple had paid ₹9.44 lakh and the remaining 91 per cent was payable at the time of possession.

Though the email communication between the parties indicated June 2020 as the date of possession, it was not specified in the letter of allotment (LOA) issued by the promoter on June 19, 2019 – on the MahaRERA portal, the promoter mentioned the possession date as December 2019, with a grace period of six months. Thereafter, the promoter could not hand over possession by June 2020, thanks to the lockdown; and in the intervening period MahaRERA allowed extension of possession date till December 2020.

Meanwhile, the home buyers served notice on the promoter on August 24, 2020, to hand over possession within 15 days, failing which their money be refunded with interest. They reiterated the demand in another legal notice dated January 21, 2021. Thereafter, the promoter informed the couple that OC had been received on February 9, 2021, and asked them to take possession by paying the balance 91 per cent amount as agreed.

As the demand for refund with interest was declined, the home buyers had filed a complaint seeking refund of the amount under Section 18 for delay in possession. MahaRERA had dismissed the complaint after agreeing with the promoter’s contention. Aggrieved by the order, the home buyers had challenged the September 7, 2021, order before MREAT.

The tribunal held that the promoter had replied to the legal notice only on February 26 (after the OC was obtained on February 9) declining to refund their investment, and therefore, there was no undue delay in homebuyers approaching MahaRERA seeking relief under Section 18.

The orders by MREAT can be challenged by aggrieved parties before the Bombay High Court in second appeal on a point of law.