DoJ wants powers of housing body expanded

PHILIPPINES NEWS SERVICE — The Department of Justice has asked Malacañang to expand the powers of the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board to enable it to go after “unscrupulous developers.”

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez made the proposal as he summoned real estate brokers for a meeting this week with housing officials and the Securities and Exchange Commission to tackle the problem of real estate scams.

“I’m asking the President to issue an executive order to define the parameters of power of the board because some groups are saying that it is within HLURB’s jurisdiction but it does not have punitive powers. All it can tell the developers is to return the money,” Gonzalez said.

“It appears that the final jurisdiction over these cases belongs to the HLURB,” the justice chief added.

In his letter addressed to key stakeholders in the real estate industry for this week’s meeting, Gonzalez said he has received several complaints against “unscrupulous developers” who sell properties and structures that are often left unfinished, with the buyers not getting any refund of their down payment.

“Our main concern in this matter is that innocent Filipino workers, many of whom have labored abroad in the hope of purchasing a decent living area, end up losing their shirt to unscrupulous subdivision/ condominium developers who entice buyers by doing initial work on real estate projects, put up structures to convey a sense of urgency, then suddenly stops construction without giving any reason, and nobody is around to answer your queries,” Gonzalez said.

Among the officials who are expected to attend the meeting are Vice President Noli de Castro, who heads the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council, HLURB commissioner Romulo Fabul, and SEC chairman Fe Barin.

Gonzalez also asked Real Estate Brokers Association of the Philippines (Rebap) president Emily Duterte to attend the meeting to represent the major industry players.

In the complaints received by the DoJ, Gonzalez said developers of unfinished structures and subdivisions have blamed the SEC for ordering the suspension of work due to squandered funds, among others.

Gonzalez said his office has already initiated the filing of estafa cases against several developers based on the complaints the DoJ has received.

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeals ordered the Fil-Estate Properties Inc. to pay spouses Antonio and Loreta Kaw at least P2.5 million for its failure to deliver the title to a 768-square meter lot at the Forest Hills Residential Estates purchased by the couple in 1998.

Records showed that Fil-Estate could not produce a title nor a transfer certificate of title after the couple paid a total of P1.9 million since the property sold was a road lot.

When the couple demanded for a full refund, they were offered a P2.2 million 524 square-meter lot also at Forest Hills Residential as replacement.

The second contract, signed on Jan. 18, 2001, turned out to be another dud after an engineer of Fil-Estate informed the couple that the replacement lot is part of subdivision’s open space.

The Kaws sought a refund for the P2.28 million they paid the real estate company before the HLURB, which ordered the immediate release of compensation and cancelled the contract of Fil-Estate.

The CA ruling last week affirmed the HLURB decision, which was earlier upheld by the Office of the President.