Tumbling blocks not smart for our cities

The collapse of a multi-storeyed building in Kurla East in Mumbai resulting in the death of 19 people is yet another cruel reminder of the absolute need for robust and progressive regulations, regulatory institutions and mechanisms – and their implementations. It is also a reminder of the paucity of adequate and affordable housing in urban areas. This was an unfit building that should have been boarded up or demolished. Instead, despite repeated reminders, people continued to live in the building, with the authorities looking away after it became inconvenient.

Neglect in the upkeep of buildings by the owner is among the main reasons for structural collapses. This neglect is deliberate and commonplace in many cities and towns with strict rent control regulations in force. These laws make tenant evictions difficult or near impossible. In most cases, rents are regulated and extremely low. Paucity of housing means that owners stand to make more from the land than the building. Thus begins the wilful neglect, a process of attrition that eventually pushes tenants to leave, allowing the owner to sell the land.

Local authorities have turned a blind eye to this neglect, and are often complicit. It is time for a more rational approach to rent-fixing and tenancy contracts, one that strikes a balance between landlord and tenant. Besides regulatory update, oversight by the local authority to minimise malpractice is necessary. Officials guilty of failure to implement the laws and property owners must be punished. Creating a robust market for affordable housing by increasing stock, a balanced regulatory approach that maintains all stakeholder interests, implementation of regulations and proper oversight can only avoid more such tragedies.

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