One of the good thing that has happened to Real Estate market in the recent past is online presense of both Home Buyers And Developers. While homebuyers have been actively using social media and forums before making property related decisions, builders are using similar platforms to advertise and reach out to prospective buyers.
Understanding the potential of social media, most of the big developers started reaching out to young professionals through online platforms. From creating dedicated project pages on Facebook to twitter handles and uploading 3D videos of sample flats on youtube channels became the new fashion. A big chunk of marketing budget was being spent through PR agencies to increase online presence and trap as many buyers as they can.
After 6 years, the very same social media users are hitting back. Social media platform like Facebook, Whatsapp and twitter have come to the rescue of home buyers and have played a major role in homebuyers fight against injustice and unfair practices.
Social Media Activism
There is no denial that builders have exploited homebuyer in this country since the inception of group housing. Even the Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi said:
“In our country, wittingly or unwittingly, the image of builder lobby is bad.
Prior to social media, It was very difficult for the home buyers to join hands and raise their collective voice against the unfair treatment by builders. Most of the time individuals were cornered, threatened and coerced to give up their rights.
However, all of this have changed now. Angry home buyers are no longer hiding or afraid to take on the might of developers for delaying the delivery of apartments and villas and changing building plans. They are banding together to fight for their homes using all the means at their disposal, including staging unique protests at project sites and going to court.
Most of the buyers groups have online Facebook or Whatsapp groups to easily highlight the wrongdoing of builders. In the past, most of the home buyers groups have managed to stop lot of wrongdoings of the developers and have been able to give them sleepless nights. In one of the Noida builder’s project, more than 300 home buyers got together on Facebook and filed a case of deficiency in service in NCDRC. There are host of buyer’s association who are bringing in people together in ensuring they are not cheated anymore.
SLAPP / Defamation Suits
Builder don’t like to answer a crowd as they find it easy to coerce individuals. Home buyers group have been a nightmare for them for obvious reasons. Because they find it difficult to mend their ways and do business in ethical way, they engage in something called Disreputation Management. Disreputation management is the practice of ensuring the content that a builder ddoesn’t’t like, should be removed from the web. Most of the content is usually some home buyer unearthing illegal practices of a developer.
So, to deal with the social media activism, builders have started filing a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit with the intention to silence, censor, and intimidate buyers concerned with ‘deficiency in service’ and ‘unfair trade practices. Builders alleged that social media groups have damaged their standing and reduced business opportunities. By filing such cases, they seek crores in damages for loss of reputation and business from home buyers.
What should a Home Buyer do
Buyers are finding comfort in unity and there is no harm in being united. Social media is a great tool to ensure errant developers are brought to the task. While it is good to raise a collective voice and fight for your rights, there are few measures that home buyers and Group Admins must take to ensure builder does not engage them in defamation suits.
- One should be factual about the content. Ensure if you are accusing builder of some wrongdoing, you have content to back your claims.
- There is no harm in criticism but do not abuse anyone on the forums.
- Use RTI to know the facts before alleging someone of corrupt practices.
- Avoid posting information received from word of mouth.
Individuals should be careful while posting forward contents. After recent Nepal Earthquake, pictures of an apartment complex labelled as noida society were doing rounds. Builder had to issue a clarification because it did not belong to their project and it was a complex in Nepal.
Should you be afraid?
Builder’s aim by filing defamation suits is to silence the home buyers voice. If you have raised your voice against wrongdoings of the builder, there is no reason to be afraid of. Home buyers have taken a tough stand against such practices of the builder and are fighting such cases in various court. Some of the home buyers have given it back to builder’s by filing cases of deficiency in services in appropriate courts.
Sahil Sethi, a lawyer defending home buyers in defamation cases says, ” it’s important to ensure that all comments made on social media complaining about a developer are fair, even if not absolutely factually correct. Buyers should also refrain from calling names or hurling abuse on social media.”
The Logical Buyer suggests that home buyers should not bow down to such threats from builders and continue their fight against wrong practices. At the same time, one must act responsibly and should not indulge in unwarranted accusations. Home buyers association must ensure they stand by those who take the lead and raise their voice against builders.