21 December, 2012 04:41

Encroachments in your property and how to protect yourself especially for NRIs

How encroachment takes place?

While every property is susceptible to illegal occupation if the owner is not careful enough, properties of NRIs are particularly vulnerable for the obvious reason of they being away from their properties.There are several ways in which illegal occupation can take place. "First is when the existing tenant refuses to leave even after expiry of lease period. These 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 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," says Sarathi, Chief legal Adviser of a leading all India law firm M/s VPS Law Firm.

How to protect?

Generally, the basic rule to follow here is to ensure that you have all your documentation in place to prove your legal rights over the property. "To establish right on the property the owner or a person claiming possession must have documents such as the title deeds, jamabandis, mutation/ intkal, copy of the Will (if any) where the property has been inherited by way of a Will, original purchase agreement/sale deed, electricity bills, water bills and telephone bills etc.," Sarathi says.

He adds, "Most imortantly, after acquiring a property (by means of purchase, gift, relinquishment, bequeathment etc.,) you MUST get all the revenue records mutations done in your favor. If the property is inherited or has come down by way of bequeathment (Will) and the title deed is not in your custody either because the same is untraceable or lost, it is advisable to immediately lodge a formal police complaint to the effect. Next, insert a public notice in at least two local newspapers about the ownership rights over that particular property and obtain ‘certified copies’ of all such documents from the registering authority or revenue offices concerned. Secondly, pay all outgoings and liabilities like municipality/panchayath/property tax to the authorities in time."

In addition, you must be in touch with your neighbors so that they may be able to notify you in case they notice any activity. You must also keep checking on the property, through friends and relatives, at periodic intervals so that people know that the property is not a soft target. "," Sarathi says.

He also lists some specific tips that you may want to keep in mind with respect to land and houses.

Specific to a vacant plot of land:

– With technology like Google Maps, you can keep a tab on your property from any place in the world. Although it may not be real time monitoring, any major changes on your plot (temporary or permanent structures) will get noticed sooner than later.

– Generally plots in gated communities with proper security are unlikely to encounter encroachment. But even here, in some cases such as on the city outskirts, the chances of encroachment cannot be ruled out. Open plots of land are more susceptible because they are not particularly guarded against encroachment by anyone.

– If you have to give a Power of Attorney (PoA) to a relative or friend, make sure it is a specific one

– Fence the property and put up a board

– If required, take the assistance of a professional service provider who can help you with monitoring the property. Professional firms make periodic visits, fence the property and put up boards. This sends out a strong message to possible encroachers that you are better off leaving the property alone.

If feasible, bring up a small concrete construction in the property, which can be rented out to a tenant under proper documentation (Rental Agreement/Lease Deed)

Specific to Lease/tenancy

– You must hire the services of a lawyer to have good tenancy agreements that protect your interests.

– If you have appointed a tenant through a relative or friend through a PoA, ensure that you know the tenant and have a copy of the agreement entered into. Sometimes people get deceived even within the family or friends just because they aren’t clear with the terms upfront. Where you cannot afford to mix up your personal relationship with an obligation like this, avoid it all costs.

– Get your tenant registered with the local police station in places where such tenant registration is either mandatory or is voluntarily accepted. You may be harboring a terrorist and may not even know about it.

– Verify the tenant’s past conduct before renewing lease agreements on fresh terms as may be on expiry of contract or demand vacation.

– Verify if your rental payments are credited into your bank monthly. Cheques can get bounced and you may not even notice it for a very long time. This makes the tenant even more secure that he/ she cannot be vacated easily.

– Do some investigation on the tenant’s character on the tenant prior to the tenancy, not after. Most people willingly accept tenants whose past history is unknown because the person is willing to pay a few thousands more than what others are willing to pay. There is no concept of credit/tenant rating in India, so most people go by merely what they see and hear about the person through brokers.

– If you have old parents who have rented out their property or part of their property, then you need to consult a lawyer before leasing it to ensure that they don’t get taken in for a ride.

"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 legal advice to protect their property before it gets illegally occupied," says Sarathi.

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