There’s a million yards to walk before one finally settles down in one’s own home. This is especially true for those who buy their house from a developer. But what if, even after years of wait, you feel cheated by the builder? No wonder, Shilpi Thard, who has had a bitter experience with the ‘famous’ Lodha builders, is a disturbed woman today.
After waiting for over six years, paying EMI’s every month, and being promised a good house, Shilpi says, “I experienced their brutal play of a consumer’s life savings — giving houses made of walls that could be punched by bare hands, 25 to 30 per cent less carpet area, unsafe houses, and many more such things. Despite me and the other buyers approaching Lodha uncountable times, they turned a deaf ear to us. Also, only a little over 100 ‘victim’ buyers came together to fight.”
Recently, Shilpi posted a YouTube video demonstrating how easy it was to crack the walls of her flat at Lodha New Cuffe Parade in Wadala, Mumbai with a single punch, as if they were made of cardboard!
“Before my video became viral, our buyers group tried to reach them, but for reasons best known, it was almost impossible to get their attention. Just like the others, when I experienced Lodha’s indifference, I felt strongly for this cause. Even though I was hardly active on social media, I took a video of my newly constructed house on the phone and posted it on YouTube,” says Shilpi, adding, “The internal walls are not fire-resistant, soundproof or durable. The apartment has gypsum walls. I also posted how Lodha’s security guards forcibly stopped me for entering my own house with my guest. Those videos received almost 1 crore views.” Interestingly, Shilpi invested a whopping `3.5 crore and `2.5 crore respectively to buy two flats in 2012.
However, though she took possession of her home just last February, the apartment is already falling apart. “Though every victim was fighting their individual legal battle, many thought that publicising the matter in the media would save innocent future buyers of “super trusted” Lodha Builders fraud as they sell the largest number of houses in the country. We also hoped that Lodha’s top management would listen and resolve our problems soon,” says Shilpi, who admits it’s a tough fight.
“It is so depressing. For a builder, fighting a legal case is no big deal. But it’s pretty unnerving for consumers,” she says.
Shilpi is not alone in this buyers’ crusade against builders. Disparity between built-up and carpet area, bad construction quality, change in layout plan, etc. are just a few of the complaints she has levelled against the builders.
But what’s even more shocking is their reaction to the viral video. “Instead of resolving our issues, Lodha group sent me a legal notice asking me to remove the video immediately, terming it ‘offensive’ and demanding an unconditional apology for putting up the same. That’s not all, they also slapped a `100 crore defamation suit against me, deploying India’s top lawyers to silence me, and they temporarily succeeded,” narrates Shilpi.
However, based on the merits of her case, High Court judge, Justice Patel recently encouraged her to speak up. “Lodha has challenged that and even tried to send me to jail. After my videos and defamation case, a couple of well-known media houses came to our flat at Lodha NCP to interview me and the other co-buyers. They confirmed our news was going to be published in the newspapers but that never happened,” rues Shilpi.
Meanwhile, even her YouTube video on Lodha’s carpet area scam has gone viral. “Instead of answering our questions on the topic of carpet area, Lodha retorted by spreading lies and calling me a blackmailer, extortionist etc. In fact, they are abusing all their buyers who have complained in similar fashion,” shares Shilpi, adding, “They also got a handful of Lodha loving customers to sign a letter against me to stop the videos, whereas they could have simply answered my questions.”
In addition, Lodha Builders has also filed a criminal complaint against her, wanting to send her to jail for her video. “This is being done to scare me, so that others don’t dare to speak out against them,” says the bold and indignant flat owner.
In a bid to do damage control, the builders have also apparently gone into advertisement overdrive. “After my carpet area video, Lodha has published full page newspaper ads just to divert people’s attention from scam related questions, and to trap more innocents with their cleverly crafted sales tricks. They should have publicly debated with me to refute my claims,” challenges Shilpi, who strongly believes that so many people could have been saved from similar trauma had the media publicised the builder’s wrongdoings long ago.