Since the 1980s, Dhaka and other mini-metros (Sylhet and Chittagong) have seen what is being called an apartment boom - the burgeoning of high-rise residential complexes that many see as the ideal answer to a looming space crunch.
This boom has wrought in its wake of a new culture - the so-called apartment culture - and new entities that allow for an `existence of cooperation' for occupants of these high-rise complexes. One such entity is the apartment owners' association - a mutant of residents' association.
In an apartment complex, daily requirements such as uninterrupted power and water, provisions for security, the payment of utility bills and so on have forced the apartment owners' associations to be a social animal with a difference - one that can handle the pressures of multi-tasking.
In scores of apartment complexes across the cities today, many families have a near-total dependence on such associations for a smooth living. Young, `working couples', owners and the aged wishing to enjoy their retirement... the list goes on.
All these people depend on the association in their apartment complex to provide them round-the-clock security, see that the overhead tank is filled regularly to ensure uninterrupted water supply, ensure that the lift (and its backup unit) run day and night and, perhaps most importantly, see that various utility bills are paid on time.
The association often serves as a cultural platform too. Many associations enjoy social events with big preparations. These include Pahela Baishakh (the first day of Bengali new year), iftar party during Ramadan, eid, etc. Such celebrations, very common in most apartment complexes, also serves as bonding-time for the occupants many of whom see each other properly only during such festivities.
It is when something goes wrong inside these apartments that the association's utility is felt the most. In many apartments, a phone call to the association secretary is all that takes to have the plumber, the carpenter, the lift mechanic or even a doctor to arrive at one's apartment. All these services don't come free of course; there is a monthly contribution to make, ranging from Tk. 2,000 to Tk. 4000 depending on the nature of the needs of the apartment complex.
But everything does not seem so easy. For every advantage that one can list about an apartment owners' association there appears to be a negative. For one there is confusion about the nature of such associations and their legal status.
There is no specific law or act in this regard. So many apartment owners' associations are not registered. Many got registered under the Cooperative Society Act.
In some apartment complexes, the associations watch helplessly even as some owners refuse to sign up and pay the monthly dues. Moreover, even if an apartment owner makes alterations to his/her apartment or even encroaches into the common area, the association can, apart from applying moral pressure, only think of going in for a protracted legal battle.
While it is true that many leading building companies have now made it obligatory on the part of a person purchasing an apartment to be a member of the owners' association, in the case of second-line builders or in not-so-big apartment complexes owners' associations have a tough time collecting funds just to survive.
The associations do not have any executive authority. They are more or less depended on the good will of the individual owners and on the inducement provided by the benefits mentioned above to operate successfully.
An Act is urgently needed. There is widespread expectation, including among builders, that an Act would give more teeth to Owners' Associations so that they have something more than good will to keep them going. One suggestion that some apartment owners have is to have the new Act provide for the joint ownership of all common property by the owners' association.
It is also pointed out that a powerful association can be a potent voice when it comes to negotiating with the builder for major repairs or in pursuing litigation against the builder should the need arise.