MUMBAI: Ashwini Rao, 31, had been paying a fixed amount every month to her cooperative housing society in Mumbai as maintenance charges. However, two years ago, when the managing committee asked her to cough up an additional Rs 1,000 for keeping a pet, she was taken by surprise. "It was not even our own pet. My brother and his family were going on a vacation for a few days and wanted us to look after it till they returned, but the managing committee just wasn't ready to listen," says Rao. She had no other option but to pay the extra money.
According to legal experts, housing societies cannot have by-laws prohibiting residents from keeping pets or charge them extra for it. According to an order passed by a consumer court in Mumbai, in 2010, charging residents for keeping pets is illegal. The court also directed the housing society to return the money to the member. Remember, housing societies do have the right to make by-laws that benefit all residents equally, but they cannot impinge on an individual's fundamental rights. Therefore, it is important to know your rights as a resident and be aware of the components of the monthly maintenance bill to ensure that you are not taken for a ride.
The maintenance bill can be split into several parts. "In broad terms, the key components are property tax, society charges, water charges, contribution to repairs and maintenance fund, and sinking fund," says Sandeep Sadh, CEO, Mumbaipropertyexchange.com. While some charges are distributed equally among all society members, others are decided on the basis of the area of the flat owned by each member,says Sadh.
Property tax: This is decided by the civic administration and it arrives at the amount on the basis of the age of property, type of construction and usage. For instance, a new building will require you to pay a higher property tax compared to, say, a property that is 10 years old. This tax is collected by the civic body on the basis of the carpet area of the flat occupied by a member. Om Ahuja, CEO, residential services, JLL India, says the key components of property tax also alter depending on the location.
Water charges: This amount is also collected by the local administration for water supplied to the housing society. While some societies collect the charges on the basis of actual usage by installing water meters in each flat, most distribute the bill amount equally among all members.
Service charges: This is levied by the society for providing the members all amenities. The charge includes salaries for security guards, gardeners, sweepers, premium paid for insuring the building, auditor's fees for maintaining the society's accounts, administration expenses, as well as for common utilities, such as power consumption for common areas, lifts, CCTV cameras and intercom facilities. These charges are typically divided equally among all members. However, there have been instances, where housing societies have asked the members to pay service charges on the basis of the carpet areas of flats.
Repair and maintenance charges: Such charges go into a fund pool managed by the society committee. This corpus is used to maintain the common areas and buildings, including painting or repairing the exteriors, as well as refurbishing the structure, if need be. The society calculates the charge based on the size of each flat.
Parking charges: This is the charge for parking vehicles on the society premises. The society has the power to restrict the number of vehicles parked. Some use a lottery system to provide parking lots on a rotation basis. There are several other charges, such as those for sports and cultural activities, sinking fund and non-occupancy charges, which vary from one society to the other. Besides, if the member rents out his property to a third party, the housing society may charge him extra. "However, the extra money cannot exceed the total monthly maintenance money collected from the member," says Vinod Sampat, a Mumbai-based real estate expert and lawyer.
"The maintenance charges also differ according to the age of the building and other factors such as the number of elevators. Generally, the higher the occupant density of a building, the lower the charges," says Ahuja.
Rights and duties Sampat says a housing society cannot levy additional charges unless it is specified in the by-laws drafted at the time of setting it up. "The amount can be disputed and the member has the right to take up the matter with the registrar of housing societies. The registrar can then appoint an administrator if it feels that the committee is not performing as per the rules laid down under the Housing Societies Act," he adds.
Also, the society cannot dictate terms to a member on any matter. "The member can move the court if he is not satisfied with the working of the society," says Sampat.
On the other hand, members cannot refuse payment of maintenance charges, according to Ahuja. "They are entitled to ask for the break-up of charges if they are not satisfied with the maintenance amount. The society can lodge a complaint with the registrar and follow a standard procedure for recovery of outstanding charges," he says. Sampat agrees. "On non-payment of the maintenance amount, the housing society can also impose a 21% interest on the outstanding amount," he says.