Structures need a strong foundation

By Viraf D. Mehta

Housing in BPP baugs and colonies has always been the focal point of discussion for us.

The baugs and colonies have given the community the security of peace and affordable living. It has allowed our fold to stay under one roof by way of a colony life. The BPP though the landlords have also taken it upon themselves to be the custodians of these properties in the true sense. Building repairs, roads upkeep and security of the Baugs are all major costs which the BPP has to bare – leave alone the maintenance of the recreational gardens that some colonies have. However the system currently in place does not seem adequate or effective.

Over the years I have understood how difficult it is to maintain properties. Having several tenanted properties in Mumbai I have learnt that every small repair or upkeep is the responsibility of the landlord at his cost. However there are times when the landlord is caught in a ‘catch twenty two’ because the rent he is receiving from the tenant does not justify the repair work sought for. Our belief has always been to repair a property looking at a long term solution which maybe dearer in costs as opposed to a ‘thookh paani’ job which is cheap and unreliable. Through past experience we know that if the repair work is to be done professionally, tenants themselves offer to contribute towards the costs of repairs. Tenants understand and want a long term solution simply because the repair work eventually is being done to their home.

An individual landlord however is very different from the BPP. Their roles are contrastingly different. An individual landlord is offering a service for which he is expecting a return of some kind by way of rent. However the BPP is a trust working towards the welfare of the community and it would be expected that the trust invest funds towards the upkeep of its properties to a large extent if not fully. I am made to believe that some BPP Trustees believe that the BPP is cash strapped and in turn increasingly demanding tenants share the costs of repairs. Other Trustees believe the BPP is flushed with funds with which it can most certainly maintain all colonies however the funds are not to be utilized due to various reasons.
I am not going to get into the financial standing of the BPP as this juncture, however all I can say is that the upkeep of the BPP properties should be made a top priority. I have noticed that some of our properties are not in good condition and need for urgent repair. There are leaking roofs, rusted water tanks, broken pipes, uneven roads, poorly lit lanes, dilapidated staircases all of which are a grave concern. Most properties need regular upkeep, like all old properties in Mumbai and if regularly maintained then any kind of long term damage which can be costly in nature can be avoided. Many aged of our community live by themselves and run their households on 4 digit sums. For me it is depressing to know that sometimes contributions are sought from our seniors towards upkeep of properties. As custodians/Trustees it is mandatory that BPP start creating a healthy corpus to be able to renovate and maintain the many old buildings that have housed the tenants for centuries, and completely eliminate any burden of cost on the residents themselves.

Currently tenants have been complaining of slow, inappropriate action, delayed payments of contractors and many have even complain about the lack of basic security offered in the colonies. The time has come for the BPP to set up a Grievance Redressal Mechanism where the tenantsshould be able to complain with strict accountability on the staff and the Trustees. Records of such mechanism should be made public. A new proactive outlook needs to introduced for the rent collection which should be possible online as well.

It is indeed unfortunate that for simple permissions the tenants have to run from the Custodian to the Engineer who will send them to the Sub Office who will advise approval from the Senior Administrators and finally he would suggest an approval from the Trustees (many of whom have asked the staff to not proceed unless they approve of it). This time consuming red –tape often costs the Punchayet loss of face and in turn makes it very difficult for the Trust to in turn find suitable donations.

Further strict action should be against illegal squatters and tenants who illegally induct themselves into houses. The community should support the BPP in such actions because there is a huge housing wait list and it is unfair that a third party jumps the que and illegally on a pretext of ‘family’ begins to stay in a BPP flat. The BPP thereafter ends up spending huge sums on litigation only to eventually settle with such inductees. I will get into details of these situations at a later date.

I am sure there is scope for change and it is my earnest prayer that the BPP in its new tenure becomes a landlord working towards the interests of its residents in a transparent and effective manner.