Illegal construction on NRI’s Properties in India
Bharat Prakash, a US citizen of Indian origin lives in Bellevue, Wisconsin. A few years back, when Prakash’s father took ill, he wanted to sell the family’s apartment in Delhi and help move his father to Bangalore where the extended family lived. “My mother had passed away a few years back and my father started to keep poor health. My father lived in Delhi, but since there was no family there, we decided that it would be best for him to move to Bangalore. So we locked up the Delhi house and bought another house in Bangalore. Eventually, we wanted to sell the Delhi house,” Prakash says.
“But what we faced thereafter was a nightmare. Our house in Delhi became an easy target for squatters and illegal occupiers. At one point, we had to position guards outside our house to ensure no attempts of illegal possession could take place,” Prakash says ruefully.
While this might seem like a scene lifted from the movie Khosla ka Ghosla, truth is that land and unattended houses in many parts of India continue to remain susceptible to encroachment. While land is an easier target for encroachment because it is usually bought for investment purpose and left unattended for long periods of time, houses too, especially of old people with no primary support or of NRIs tend to become soft targets.
And in most situations, the legal way of eviction is cumbersome and time consuming. P Sunder, Managing Director of yourmaninindia.com, a TTK Services company explains, “The tenancy laws in most states are skewed in favor of the tenants. Therefore, prevention is always better than cure.”
Nidhi Singh, Founder Director of legal consultancy firm nrilegalservices.com agrees, “A possessor enjoys certain judicial protection against third parties even if he is not the owner. This is in order to obviate unlawful acts of violence against the person in possession. However, illegal occupants take advantage of the prevalent laws with respect to possession and many owners face a lot of problem and harassment to get back their properties. The problem is worse in cases of NRIs who are not physically present to look after the properties and forced to depend on locals to look after the properties and litigation if any.”
Let us then look at what steps you should take to protect your property if you are an NRI with land or house in India. But before that a quick look at how illegal occupation takes place.
How illegal occupation takes place
There are two ways in which illegal occupation can take place. “First is when squatters prepare forged documents and threaten you that you do not have legal rights to the property. Generally these are thugs or people with connections who resort to these kinds of tactics to force someone to pay a cost for redeeming their property and enjoying peaceful possession or to force them to make a sale at a distressed value. Sometimes, this has even happened with the connivance of the local revenue authorities. The second is where a tenant forcefully overstays and illegally occupies your property in the face of inadequate checks and balances as well as poorly drafted contracts,” Sunder says.
“Once the property was occupied, it was a long haul for us. I would only recommend that NRIs, who are not familiar with the way things work in India, take appropriate measures to protect their property before it gets illegally occupied,” Prakash concludes.