Owning a home is the culmination of years of savings, research, and paperwork. After patiently waiting for the construction to be complete, you finally register the property and take possession of your flat. But what if your dream home is declared unauthorized and you are evicted by the authorities? This is not as far-fetched as it sounds. This nightmare could turn into reality without a crucial link in the property sale process - the Occupancy Certificate (OC).

The majority of apartments in different Indian cities have been occupied by owners without any occupancy certificate. This oversight can turn into a costly mistake, jeopardizing the legal status of your dream home. The importance of the occupancy certificate cannot be overstated as it seals the legal status of your property and protects your ownership rights.

Decoding legal documents

To understand the importance of an occupancy certificate and other legal documents, let’s decode the legal jargon and understand their meaning in simple terms. Here’s a ready reckoner of the most important legal documents related to your property:

Occupancy Certificate

An OC certifies that the construction of the building has complied with the approved plans. It is issued by local municipal authorities or the building proposal department once the building has been completed and is ready to be occupied. Simply put, without an OC, your building has not been awarded a ‘pass certificate’.

Completion Certificate

A Completion Certificate (CC) is issued only after the construction meets other building standards like distance from the road, the height of the building, and rainwater harvesting system. A CC alone cannot legalize occupation; the OC is a must.

Commencement Certificate

If you are buying an under construction property, make sure you check the Commencement Certificate before signing the agreement. Many builders do not wait for a Commencement Certificate. This is illegal and can create serious problems in obtaining an OC at a subsequent stage.

Why is it unsafe to buy a flat without OC?

In the absence of a valid OC, the local municipal body can initiate serious action against flat owners. In 2014, residents of a well-known building complex in Mumbai’s upscale Worli area were hit with a bolt from the blue after their complex was declared unauthorised. At the time of possession, buyers overlooked the issuance of an OC from the builder. It was only after that they were forced to evacuate their flats that the writing on the wall became clear to them.

This is just one instance, and if buyers are not careful about getting the OC, they may face the following repercussions:

• In the absence of a valid OC, your building can be demolished as it can be classified as an unauthorised structure.

• The OC is crucial while applying for a home loan or loan to purchase a resale flat. If you wish to sell or hypothecate the property after a lapse of time, you will not be able to do so without a valid OC.

• The water connection, sanitary connection or electricity supply can be disconnected in the absence of an OC.

How to obtain an OC

The OC is obtained from local municipal bodies by submitting an OC application form along with the following documents:

• Commencement Certificate

• Completion Certificate

• Built and Section plan

• NOC for fire and pollution

• Area calculation sheet of floor signed by an authorised architect

• Photographs of the completed building

• Tax assessment with tax paid receipt

• Photographs of rain harvesting and solar panels

• Copy of the sanctioned plan

After submitting the form, authorities inspect the complex and confirm if it has conformed to the approved plan before issuing an OC. Legally and ideally, a builder should submit an application with the municipal commissioner for the OC within 30 days of completion of the property.

How you can apply for an OC

As a flat owner, you can also apply for an OC by approaching the local corporation or municipality, and if all approvals are in place, an OC is issued within 30 days of application. You will have to submit the same documents as the builder to procure an OC.

Know your rights

If the builder refuses to provide an OC, you should consider exercising your legal rights. You can issue a notice against the builder asking him to apply and hand over the copy of the OC within a month. You can also approach consumer forums and file a writ petition demanding the OC.

Some canny builders simply present the receipt of the OC and dupe gullible customers. But you shouldn’t accept anything less than the actual OC as the receipt may be dated.

Landmark legislations like the Real Estate Regulatory Act (RERA) have been passed to regulate the sector, promote transparency and protect consumer rights. However, consumers must be vigilant and understand their rights and responsibilities towards owning a property. Documents like OC are essential and ensure the security of your investment.

Going forward, real estate experts believe that the OC should be made mandatory for the registration of flats and essential services. Until then, buyers must ensure builders get all the necessary approvals before handing over a property.

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