Only when Sangeeta Banerjee bought an apartment in Bangalore in 2006 did she face the nitty-gritty of what housing societies did. The appeal of amenities such as elevators, power backup, rooftop swimming pool and gym wore off once the builder had completed the statutory one-year period of maintenance. Issues such as delayed water supply, frequent power cuts, and parking problems increasingly cropped up. Banerjee realised that the work of housing societies, of which she was a member, had to be supported by communication portals and facility management software. Along with Venkat Kandaswamy, she launched the country’s first integrated online portal in 2008. ApartmentADDA is today used by over 6,000 apartment complexes across the country. Excerpts from an interview.
Why did you feel the need to start ApartmentADDA?
Most high-rise residential projects and gated communities in India are engineered on models seen in the West. They provide facilities such as garbage chutes, large swimming pools, etc., that don’t suit our lifestyle and needs. It is this mindset that needs to change. Projects should be designed with amenities that can be maintained easily and that suit the Indian lifestyle. Most home buyers don’t anticipate many of these, and expect builders to ensure their functionality. People are now gradually beginning to understand this, and are taking charge. I founded ApartmentADDA to help housing societies tackle these issues by proving product-based solutions along with accounting and management assistance.
What are the primary issues that housing societies face and how can you help address them?
Issues such as maintenance of amenities such as swimming pools and club houses; tackling issues like water and power wastage; and parking disputes are common. We have conducted numerous case studies across cities and have brought together facility management companies to address issues of maintenance. We provide assistance in training, operational mechanisms, finance and administration. We have free and paid services and our membership fee is Rs. 20 per month, per flat. We have created products such as water meters that have been a great success, as residents are charged based on individual water consumption. This has resulted in the judicious use of water and zero wastage.
How has apartment living changed in the country over the years?
In the last decade, there has been a spurt in apartment complexes and residential townships in India. As far as housing societies are concerned, forward thinking individuals who come up with solutions are the need of the hour. With NRIs returning and settling down in India, there is scope for change. From my experiences in dealing with housing societies, I have learnt that residents must not wait for government intervention, but instead find solutions to deal with issues collectively. For instance, a housing society in Bangalore ensured that all residents adopt recycling, which eventually resulted in a zero-waste society. Another society installed water meters and achieved 100 per cent self-sufficiency in water management. We have replicated these models in many complexes and encourage people to launch similar initiatives that need community involvement.
In what ways do housing societies in various parts of the country differ?
Mumbai tops the list when it comes to housing societies, as members are proactive in addressing concerns. Bangalore and Chennai are slowly taking to the concept. As Chennai has traditionally been a market of individual homes, apartment living is a fairly new concept. The Model By-laws of Housing Co-operative Societies are implemented only in Maharashtra and these associations are recognised as governing bodies. Each state has a Societies Act and an Apartment Ownership Act, but they haven’t been passed as laws in Tamil Nadu. Once these laws come into force, housing societies can be managed better in Chennai.
How a building on OMR reduced water consumption by 85 per cent
Water supply and management is a perennial issue for residents on OMR, Chennai. Unlike other areas, Metro Water supply is almost non-existent. As borewell water is insufficient, almost every building is heavily dependent on water tankers, which are expensive (five times the cost of Metro Water) and unreliable.
A typical apartment complex of 200 units buys 10 water tankers a day. This costs over Rs. 6 lakh a month. Divided equally, each household pays Rs. 3,000 per month. Worse, residents who are away on vacation have to still pay for water and other amenities. Disputes also arise when a flat has many residents (for example, six bachelors in a 3 BHK), who consume more water than a flat with fewer occupants.
ApartmentADDA had meetings with the society of one such residential complex on OMR and in 2012, it installed water meters in each of the 352 apartments, and each apartment was billed individually based on its water consumption. Automatic bills from the meter readings were generated and emailed to each apartment. Residents could pay by cheque or via an online payment gateway on ApartmentADDA.
Eventually, the overall water consumption of the complex fell by over 85 per cent, as residents kept a tab on water consumption to reduce their bills.
How an integrated township in Bangalore solved its waste management issue
A 917-unit residential township in Bangalore used to generate one truckload of waste each day. In order to reduce this enormous amount of waste, the township managing committee launched a project in 2009 along with ApartmentADDA, a challenging task that required the involvement of all 917 home owners. After three months of research and fundraising, the project was formally launched. It involved spreading awareness about waste segregation, setting up a back-end collection process, training housekeeping staff, and identifying volunteers.
Separate, colour-coded bins were introduced to segregate waste at source. The staff was trained to collect the garbage in separate bags. Incentives were provided to keep them motivated. Dry waste such as paper, cardboard, plastic, glass and metal was sorted at a dedicated sorting station and resold. Bio-degradable and toxic waste was handed over to local authorities for treatment and disposal.
The project needed a 500-800 sq. ft. room for segregation, plus extra bins and manpower, which meant a budget of Rs. 20,000-Rs. 50,000. The money was raised from residents, with the income generated from recycling the dry waste paying for two-thirds of the manpower. Within two months, 82 per cent waste segregation was possible in the township.