Denied A House? RERA's Clause Could Be A Game Changer
Are you one of those who has been denied a house because of your religion, marital status or because you are a non-vegetarian? You are joined by many others and perhaps a new clause put forward by the Real Estate Regulatory Authority may come as a respite for you.
Here is what Sumbul Basheer (name changed to protect identity) recounts as the most horrid experience so far in her life.
“I went to see the house in plain clothes and not in the hijab. The seller and his wife were quite willingly showing us around, fixing on what would be the total price, telling us about the amenities, etc. Till that time, they had just asked me and my husband about our profession. My husband is a financial consultant and I am a professor. They were happy about that. Then Mrs. seller asked me my name, and when she got to know, they glanced at each other and split seconds later said, 'We will get back to you'.”
The Basheers today live in an apartment with four floors and 16 units, each of these inhabited by people of their own community.
Although not as pronounced as Harlem and Chinatown, India, too, has its own established ghettos because either consciously or unintentionally, the traditionals want to maintain a distance from those they have excluded. These ghettos become safe riddance for those who have witnessed everything but inclusiveness.
With the Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) coming into effect, you may now find it illegal to deny housing to anyone on any of the aforementioned grounds. For instance, in Greater Noida, near Delhi, a builder sprung up with a fancy idea of catering to 'Muslims Only'. The unique selling point of this project was a mosque, a madrassa and Qibla-facing view. There was a furore against this concept and counter opinions poured in from social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Let's give the developer the benefit of doubt. Perhaps, this was required because this section of society was facing a kind of bias when it came to housing and therefore an exclusive intervention just for them. However, if the government ensures that discrimination would be illegal, chances of such actions would be close to negligible.
The main issue that calls for your attention is what made the builder go in for an exclusive project like this?
“While we talk about Housing for All, we forget that this mission was in the wake of housing shortage,” says Abdur Razaq, a broker in the city.
“To top it, there exists additional housing shortage for people of particular communities. In big cities, where younger population migrate for work, there is bias against bachelors, single women, homosexuals, meat eaters, specifically beef eaters, etc. There is a prevalent opinion that bachelors will call in women at some point of time, single women are characterless, homosexuals are a wrong example for families that live close to them and beef eaters are anti-national,” adds Razaq.
In any society, anti-discriminatory laws could be a tough nut to crack. The laws need to be fully proofed with no loopholes. For example, in the case of someone with a criminal background, how easy would it be to abide by the law of not saying no? The Fair Housing Act of the United States did encounter such problems.
One of the limitations of this rule would be that it is restricted to builders and buyers, and does not cover the protection of tenants, thus addressing just half of a problem. A draft model for rental housing policy may soon surface although its enforcement is more complicated.
If a builder is found flouting the rule, there would be monetary penalties as well as imprisonment up to three years. The Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MHUPA) is expected to notify the rules under the Act by October 31. Once the rules are notified, those affected can approach the state-level regulatory authority, followed by the appellate tribunal.
Will housing apartheid law work?
“It is difficult to say,” points out Sahil Veliath, a techie in the city. “This clause would at least guarantee that you can approach the judiciary for justice,” says Baidyanath Guha Roy, a retired government servant.
An industry expert says, “The need of the hour are tax rebates, easier loans for housing and regularisation and standardisation in prices which will make real estate attractive. Victimisation is even felt when landlords either hike prices when giving out homes to some 'other' community. It looks like I give you a chance to live here among us but to feel that worthy, you have to pay more.”
Many feel that this clause is a welcome improvisation, but the success metrics can only be guaranteed if people are educated enough. There is a certain degree of complexity when it comes to India.
“Some would be unaware about this new rule. Others are not bothered because it has never happened to them. Some others would be clever enough to politely turn away the 'other'. Others wouldn't want to approach the courts because justice is never speedy. Many like me want to just overlook a tense situation like being turned down for a house. How does the rule work then?” asks Neera Bhattarcharya, a PhD student at a premier university.
Others point out that the success of this clause is complicated because it negates choice. “The house that I want to sell is the unit next to mine. I am very picky about my neighbour, not so much in terms of religion but about the family background and values. I have young children, and I do not want them to see wrong examples,” says a doctor, based in the city who doesn't want to be named. He feels tagging a surname with a viewpoint unnecessarily blows comments into explosions.
The anti-discriminatory clause is headed in the right direction and the step needs to be applauded.