"I broke a lock!" Well, this is not the confession of a burglar but what yours truly had to do it out of sheer necessity! It is also an example of how the common areas of a flat are usurped by the clique who feel that they are the lords and masters of all they survey.
I own a flat in an apartment complex called as Sukrat apartments on Vithoba temple road, Mangalore, also a shop in the same complex and am a tenant of one more shop. There are some common areas which are accessible to all the owners who have an undivided right to the same without any one having the exclusive right to occupancy or the prevention of others from legitimate use of the same. This apartment has a covered parking place which was so far being used by all the occupants on a first come first served basis. But, a few months back the same area was taken over by P K Shenoy, assistant branch manager, Union Bank of India, Hampankatta branch and other two of the flat owners without as much by your leave to others and they installed a gate blocking access to parking for all others who had undivided interest in the common areas! Their claim was that they had been authorized by a meeting of the flat owners association while no such body has been in existence! The tragedy of this flat is that like many others in Mangalore the deed of declaration has been not submitted as yet and hence all the complications! However, as per the purchase deeds of the flat and the shop owners the common areas are for the use of all the landowners, because the flats were constructed in those days when the practice was to purchase an undivided right in the land and then make a construction agreement with the promoters.
Despite of all these complications there were no problems in the running of the flats and most of them were having a peaceful coexistence. However, the avarice of the few of the flat owners resulted in three of them getting a ‘resolution passed’ in a supposed meeting of the flat owners conferred ownership rights on the three of them that too to a common parking area! This in spite of the Karnataka Apartment Ownership act saying that any change in the common land use should have the consent of 100% of the undivided rights of the owners of the land! It was that these people suddenly discovered that there was a threat to the security of the flat and they decided to erect a gate to the parking area with the keys in the possession of these three people. In return they promised to beautify the building carrying out repairs at their cost! This was not informed to the rest of the owners of the undivided right in the land! The fact is that this parking area in no way provides any access to the doors of any of the flats as they are again secured by a collapsible gate which is locked at night!
Since the parking area was being used by all the owners of the land who had the undivided interest some of the shop keepers were peeved that they could not park their vehicles in the designated area. So, they approached the alleged office bearers of the ‘Apartment Owners Association’ to request them to be kind enough to hand over the key to them for access to the common parking area. The same was refused point blank. What followed was worst- they filed a complaint with the Bunder police station that they had threatened the women and had behaved in a very aggressive manner! After a couple of days these two were summoned to the police station and then after a lot of discussions it was agreed that the matter was civil in nature and should be settled in the appropriate court. One night when I had to keep my car in the covered parking area the gate was locked. No amount of honking brought any of the owners of the key to open the gate for me and I had to leave the car in the open the whole night. Then I went on a tour and had forgotten about the whole incident. When I came back and wanted to park my car I found the gate locked and my entry to the area of which I am part owner was out of bounds for me. That made me take action broke the lock as no amount of honking elicited any response from the custodians of the gate, later on it turned out that they were claiming to be the owners! Then there was a police car and some police men came and asked me what the disturbance was and they told me that some one had called 100( the emergency number of the police) and had complained that there was some disturbance going on. When I told them I could not see any such thing they informed that some one had complained that a lock was being broken. I told them that it was I who was breaking the lock of my own property of which I too am an owner and that was none of their concern! But, they were curious to know the name of the person who had complained and I had to tell them that it was their business to find out. Then one of the alleged ‘owners’ of the parking space came down and informed the police that it was she who had called them! They told her not to disturb them with such things and to lodge a complaint with the Bunder police station. They advised me to also file a complaint with the same station. I told them that I had no such need. When some one denies access to an area where one is having undivided right of access, it is for the person who has the right to assert it without any hindrance and stopping some from exercising it is the offence and not the other way round. However, to be on the safer side, I preferred to file a caveat in the civil courts to prevent any of them from putting back the gate and then trying to get an ex-parte injunction against me to prevent me from entering the area! I had removed the gate from its hinges, kept it near the pillars and secured it with a chain and a lock to prevent any one from fixing it back and forcing me to break one more lock!
After I had filed the caveat, there was a policeman from the Bunder police station looking for me. He asked me to come to the police station in the evening and I had to ask him where the summons was. He said it was just a verbal request and I told him that I cannot come to police stations on verbal requests and he had to give me that in writing. He tried to convince me that it was just a routine matter and was carrying the copy of the complaint with him. I had to tell them this complaint was an afterthought to convert a civil case into a criminal one and the matter stands at that.
This shows us very well how a civil matter of usurping the common parking area can be converted into a criminal case to brow beat people from asserting their own rights! If one wants to take over the common areas of an apartment complex by unfair means, one can try and get the help of the police by converting it into a criminal case by filing false complaints against any one who dares to the protest! Since I am told that these things are common in many apartments I would like to share the experiences with others who may be in such a position. It is surprising as to how the Bunder police station who have already given an endorsement to the effect that the matter of erecting the gate is a civil case to the person who complained once, take up the same matter for investigation as a criminal matter on another complaint that too filed after 48 hours after the incident occurred about the same issue, that too in which there has been no criminal activity at all! There has been no injury to any one, there has been not even an exchange of words and the lock which is opened is not anyone’s personal property and was actually obstructing one’s legitimate access to a parking place which all the joint owners of the property have been enjoying. If it is argued that the so called resolution of an unregistered body can be the basis for the sale of a common property to a few- the time is not far off when the same body could pass a resolution, supposedly by a majority for the take over of any of the flats or shops in the building! It is also that some of these flat owners associations act as if they are authorities independent of the law of land and also threaten any one who dares to protest by lodging criminal complaints with the police!