The thought of short-term stay in Sri Lanka has lured Sri Lankan expatriates living abroad to consider purchasing condominiums in and around Colombo. Ofcourse the rationale is the comfort of knowing there is a 'home, away from home' and to get the feeling of security. However, in the long run is it worth the investment? There are mixed feelings on this matter. The alternative ofcourse is to occupy on monthly rent a dwelling from Crescat Residences or Monarch Residence and similar condominium complexes.
Most condominiums (considered luxury real estate) in the country's business capital of Colombo experience an average pre-construction sale ratio of around 50%, according to a report by the local office of global big four audit firm KPMG, in conjunction with Research Intelligence Unit (RIU).
The cost factor is another consideration that rolls into the decision making process. Is the investment worth it in the long haul. Will the funds have a better return on investment (ROI) if an alternate method of investing is done? These are all questions that have varied opinions.
Appended below is a story from the Sunday Times of April 28th that is rather disconcerting.
Apartment owners spend millions and end up at developers’ mercy
Driven from pillar to post for title deeds, maintenance fees’ statements, access to and use of common areas�
By Chandani Kirinde courtesy of the Sunday Times
Eight years ago, S. de Silva and her husband, a British national, invested almost Rs. 20 million in a luxury apartment along Marine Drive in Wellawatta. Though permanent residents of Britain, they were keen to have a place of their own where they could stay while on holiday in Colombo.
But, despite the hefty sum they invested, after being taken up by the fancy promises made to them by the developers of the condominium housing units, the past eight years has been a struggle for the couple, starting with getting the deed for their property, to getting monthly invoices of the high maintenance fees they pay.
Far from being an isolated incident, theirs is not an uncommon tale of woe. The proliferation of condominiums within the city of Colombo, has led to many a dispute between developers of apartment complexes and buyers with the Condominium Management Authority (CMA), the Government body entrusted with resolving these issues, pressed for resources to ensure a smooth running of these residential complexes.
CMA General Manager G.U. Upawansa said they receive complaints on a regular basis from buyers of condominium properties, that they have been deceived by the developers. “We are empowered to hold inquiries and settle grievances that arise. We do our utmost to bring about a mutually acceptable settlement, while resorting to court action only in extreme cases,” he said.
Many of the disputes that arise involve the failure of developers to hand over deeds to the buyers on time, as well as issues such as parking, maintenance of buildings, as well as the use of areas designated for “common elements use”, such as the lobbies and rooftops etc. There are also issues involving the non-availability of power and water supply connections to individual property units, which has compelled occupants to rely on temporary connections for long periods of time, use of roadways etc. There were also issues concerning safety measures in place, in case of fire, emergency escape systems etc.
Six months ago, Asha Bulathsinhala purchased an apartment in the Kirulapone area, for over Rs 4 million. Since then, she has encountered many problems such as lack of a parking space, as well as issues with the security personnel on duty.
“I started making inquiries to ascertain the accounts of the maintenance fees we pay, as well as how the security firm was chosen, but those running the Management Corporation (MC) in the apartment complex did not provide the information,” she said.
After lodging a complaint with the CMA, an inquiry was conducted and a ruling made in her favour, which asked for a change in the security, but that decision is yet to be implemented.
Under the existing condominium management laws, it is mandatory for each apartment block to have in place an MC which comprises all the unit owners, and operates with a set of elected office bearers who are expected to keep accounts of fees collected, as well as show audited accounts at each annual general meeting. However, in many of the condominiums, the MC is not run satisfactorily, said Attorney-at-Law Ajitha Edirimane, who works extensively in this area.
She said many of her clients have encountered problems in getting the deed to their apartment property, as well as issues relating to maintenance of the buildings. “There is a lack of awareness among many of their rights, as well as their obligations,” Ms Edirimane said.
She said there is also the need to amend the existing laws to give more teeth to the CMA, so that, it can intervene more effectively when unit owners are faced with grievances, and have to confront property developers who are more powerful. Some apartment owners who spoke to the Sunday Times, felt that there was little justice meted out to them by way of the CMA inquiries, with some cases dragging on for long periods of time, while having to pay hefty sums to lawyers.
“The developers usually hire good legal counsel by spending large amounts, and hence, things usually work out to their advantage,” an apartment owner complained.�CMA General Manager Upawansa, however, said that, the Authority does its utmost to settle issues, and has intervened in numerous instances when unit owners have had problems with the developers.
“There are many issues among the unit owners as well, and we have to get involved and solve them as well. Whenever we get a complaint, we send our officers for inspection to verify the facts and take appropriate action,” he said.
Mr Upawansa said, “There have been many instances where the unit owners have failed to pay the maintenance fees and the CMA has had to intervene to get them to pay up the dues. In extreme cases, threats of disconnection of water and electricity supplies too have had to be used,” he said.
Both Ms Edirimane and Mr Upawansa said that the onus is on those planning to invest in condominium properties, to take care and exercise their rights, which allow them to examine the property development permit, the approved building plan and the certificate of confirmation issued by the relevant Local Government Authority.