Nowadays, a significant problem facing the NRI community is property disputes related to their Indian properties. Many NRIs own property in India. Generally, NRIs own these properties by inheritance, joint ownership with their relatives, or, lastly, because they tend to invest in real estate in India to keep in touch with their roots in India.
Although NRIs own properties in India, they are not physically present to look after these properties. Hence, a plethora of legal disputes arise regarding these properties.
Let’s now understand the most common and recurrent property disputes in India and how one should expect to prevent their properties from these issues.
- A dispute related to property ownership can happen when a property or land has been inherited by way of Will or transfer, or Gift Deed, and such deed has not been lawfully executed.
- In India, While purchasing or selling any property, one should always be aware that the property is not disputed and the opposite party holds a clear property title.
- To get rid of the illegal trespassers/occupants, a criminal complaint against such illegal occupants has to be filed and also a civil suit in the Court of law.
- To avoid landlord-tenant disputes, one should consistently execute a registered rent agreement signed by both landlord and tenant and make sure to renew it from time to time.
- It is always advised to approach RERA or Consumer Courts to resolve property dispute matters in India.
Common types of Property Disputes in India and how NRIs can avoid them:
- Title/ownership disputes.
- Disputes relating to Willed or inherited properties.
- Possessing a property against the owner’s wishes, i.e., illegal possession.
- Landlord-tenant disputes.
- Disputes between the actual property owner and caretaker refusing to vacate the property.
- Property disputes between co-owners.
- Adverse Possession.
- Disputes between builders/real estate developers and buyers.
Dispute related to Title Search or Ownership of Property.
Property dispute related to title search or ownership can happen when a property or land has been inherited through a Will or transfer or Gift Deed, and such deed has not been lawfully executed. Moreover, before buying any property in India, the NRIs should get a clear title search upon such property to determine the status of the property. For this, a proper investigation shall be carried out to determine that the property is free from encumbrances and litigation. Therefore, a physical inspection of the property and its valuation are always necessary before investing in real estate.
To avoid these disputes, one must verify all the documents related to the property and use a lawyer’s services if needed. To settle the ownership dispute, one must have Original Title/Ownership documents like a Sale deed, Transfer Deed, or Conveyance Deed in their favour. As the owner, his name should also reflect in the revenue or municipal record.
Disputes relating to willed or inherited properties
Disputes associated with an inherited or willed property are also common. Conflicts can occur when a person inherits the property through a Will and others challenge the integrity of choice. Disputes also happen when a person dies intestate (without a Will).
To avoid these disputes, one should create a Will with all proper precautions through all the approved legal means. In the case of an intestate death, succession laws hold good. If a person is buying a property, ensure that the sellers are clear title holders, especially when it is inherited or willed.
Possessing a property against the owner’s wishes, i.e., illegal possession.
The absence of NRIs in India to manage their land/properties often result in unscrupulous elements taking illegal possession of their properties. Once these unscrupulous elements take control of the properties, it is a tedious task for NRIs to regain custody of their properties. It is because, in India, some laws govern the protection of the possessors of the property, even if they are not the owners. Hence, such laws are being misused in the hands of illegal possessors. In some matters, these trespassers create fake documents related to the property to secure their possession. To avoid such circumstances, the NRIs must keep all their records updated and look after the daily affairs of their property in India through a local friend, neighbour or local relative. Also, keep proof showing that you have resided in the concerned property every time you visit India. To get rid of the illegal trespassers/occupants, a criminal complaint can be filed against such illegal occupants and a civil suit in a court of law.
Landlord Tenant Dispute
Most of the NRIs who have their properties in India tend to give the same on lease/rent to ensure the upkeep of the properties. But since the NRIs are not physically present in India, these tenants/lessees tend to misuse their absence and harass the NRIs.
To protect yourself from these disputes, one should consistently execute a registered rent agreement signed by both landlord and tenant and renew it from time to time.
Disputes between the actual property owner and caretaker refusing to vacate the property.
The main Landlord-Tenant Disputes are tenants refusing to pay the rent or vacate the property despite the landlord’s personal needs. However, there are other grounds on which a landlord can seek eviction of the tenant, like the tenant’s illegal usage of the property, sub-letting the property by a tenant without permission and knowledge, damage to property by the tenant, etc.
Such disputes can be resolved through the Court of Law against the defaulter tenant where such tenanted premises is located.
Dispute between two co-owners:
In most cases, the NRIs become owners of properties in India due to inheritance from their forefathers. In this eventuality, the NRIs usually are co-owners of the properties, in which the other co-owners are the residents of India. These other co-owners tend to deny the rights of NRIs in these co-owned properties resulting in a dispute between the NRIs and their Indian co-owners.
Disputes arising between co-owners of a property can be dealt with by seeking partition and separate possession through the Court for separating shares of each co-owner.
The concept of adverse possession legalized the possession and occupation of a trespasser/caretaker over the property if he claims to be in continuous, uninterrupted hostile possession of the property for over 12 years and within the knowledge of the property owner.
NRIs are prone to losing their properties in India by adverse possession as they cannot visit India frequently to look after and maintain their properties.
Disputes between builders/developers and buyers
A property transaction is a contract between the buyer and the builder or developer. Moreover, there have been numerous cases of the builder needing to meet their part of the agreement, leaving buyers in the lurch.
To avoid these disputes, one should purchase properties from reputed builders only. And if an individual needs clarification about the builder’s reputation, there’s always RERA! Therefore, a person should never buy a property that is not RERA-registered and approved.
RERA (Real Estate Regulatory Authority)
It is advisable to property owners to get their projects registered under the RERA to avoid further disputes with the contractor. Registration under RERA secures all possible problems associated with the property’s construction.
Ways to Resolve the Property Disputes in India
In India, there are two different ways through which you can resolve property disputes:
If there is a dispute between family members, it may be possible to resolve it through settlement. During the settlement process, all stakeholders sit across a table and mutually decide how assets/property should be divided. Property division includes both immovable and moveable items, such as jewellery. In some cases, families seek the help of a neutral third party to maintain discipline. Such a neutral third party can assist the parties in arriving at a mutually beneficial outcome. It is necessary to draft a settlement agreement after the family has agreed on a mutual division. All family members need to sign this settlement agreement form. Settlement among family members helps to save the costs of court expenses. Whenever possible, it is always best to resolve a dispute through settlement in the first instance. If a settlement among family members is not possible or if the settlement fails, one can approach the courts to resolve property disputes.
The litigation process involves court procedures and processes and can take a long time to resolve. Therefore, one should go for the litigation process only if a person has all the necessary documents, including the title deed, and when your lawyer advises you that you have a strong chance to win the case. Sometimes courts may also order the parties to settle outside Court. It is called a court-monitored settlement.
Hence, property disputes are widespread, especially in India, which could lead to disastrous consequences. To avoid these situations, the easy and peaceful method of settlement of property is by mutually agreeing on the division of property, which requires that the agreement is performed in good faith and with free consent. If this doesn’t resolve the dispute, the parties need to file a partition suit for their rights in the property, where the Court will decide the dispute.