Living arrangement

The day that could have been my last

9:42 AM

All blog plans this week have been going out of the window: I had a busy weekend that left little time for planning, and both Monday and Tuesday were busy offline days. These events were planned.

How Tuesday went however is a different story.

You see, this could have been the day that would have seen the end of me. It started as a day I was getting ready hosting an afternoon playdate. With the usual cake baking, and flat cleaning.

This changed when this happened:
This is my living room ceiling, and before I go on with the entire story (which is a saga that spans over years really), I must show you another picture:
This is where the slab of cement fell.

This is where I was sitting, a bare two minutes before. I had gone to another room to start mopping the floor in preparation for my afternoon playdate when I heard a HUGE crash. The kind of crash that meant something really heavy fell. My first thought was to wonder what the cat managed to pull down. But when I glimpsed rubbles in my living room I knew there was something wrong.

The first thing I did was say "Holy Crap", it was shortly followed with a few "Fuck" and my running to find my phone and call DH to tell him about it (he fled his office and rushed home hearing about it). Then, it hit me, hit me hard:

I. Could. Have. Been. There!


It could have been me under that slab, severely injured, possibly dead. It wouldn't be the first time someone loose their lives in such an accident. A few weeks earlier the local paper had a story about a guy who died in his sleep after a slab of concrete fell on him. 

The difference in our case is that we KNOW the reason why the ceiling crashed. It isn't the society's fault, it isn't even our landlord's fault, it is all on our upstairs neighbour. 3 years ago, I wrote about how we finally solved a mystery of wet spot and traced it down to our upstairs' neighbour faulty AC.

For those past 3 years, leaks came and went, blotches appeared and disappeared into the ceiling, the society committee, the society manager, the solicitor acting on the behalf of our flat owner tried to talk some sense into these people. Only to be told off by them. 

Last June, I noticed the spots on the ceiling growing bigger, I raised the concern with the society manager. I told them it could damage the concrete and cause the ceiling to collapse. 
I know my basics of architecture, as an Interior decorator, it was part of the education. But the problem, is that I have a Vagina, and this negates any expertise in building material that I might have. 

This mean any one with a penis has more expertise on this topic than me, even if they never studied that field so I was told : "Ma'am ceilings don't collapse like that". 

Until yesterday!


I knew all along that the water saturated nooks and crannies of the walls and ceiling and slowly weakened the structure. It is a no brainer water CAN do that, it carves its way throw stone, the Grand Canyon is a testimony to that. A slab of already substandard cement should not be much of a problem. But yes, I am a dumb woman...

Needless to say that yesterday we re-ingnited the flame. The society manager once more told us what we knew : "These people listen to nobody". 
The solicitor managing the landlord's asset came over to tell us that this ongoing feud had been going on for even longer than we stayed in the flat. The people in the flat above have a long history of being at war with the society committee, the management and anybody trying to see them reason. 

Not just on this AC issue, but many others. The bully people, hurl abuses, and I have witnessed the "Dowager" (aka senior Auntie) scream at the maid and bang things hard when she does. A few times I thought she was killing someone. 
These people have no class, none whatsoever and refuse to see any sense. 

The society apparently has established that in case of dispute, both parties share 50% of the costs to fix a problem. 
This AC issue should have been no different. Except that our solicitor was so desperate to fix it, he even offered to bear the entire cost just to fix their AC. 

They REFUSED! Flat out refused. The reason? It would mean having to break the expensive paint job and mouldings in their living room and they didn't want to be inconvenienced by the mess. 

Because yes, any normal, decent human being will choose preventing their mouldings being damaged over the potential cost of a human life, or lives. 


Right now, the solicitor assured us that his client would bear the cost to get the ceiling fixed in our place ASAP, with better materials that would shield our flat from a drip of water this Summer. He even apologised for the dust and mess it would cause for a few days or weeks. 

As a decent human being myself I said what I should: 

Sir, a little dust and living in chaos for a while is cheaper than more human lives at risk. 


I guess we know who is human and who isn't in this story right? 

I spent the rest of the afternoon thanking the entire universe: for me not being on the sofa when that happened, for Ishita being in school, for it happening before the playdate...

I also expressed more silent thanks to the Grofers delivery guy who rang my doorbell minutes after the accident happened and found me hyperventilating and going into nervous breakdown. He helped me go downstairs to seek help from the security cabin. He then came back up with the security guard and both of them assessed the damage and made sure I was safe. He was the one to tell me to sit down and drink some water. He even went back downstairs with the security afterwards and waited there until the manager showed up. He was the one who came back upstairs to tell me about it and check one finally time if I wasn't going into shock. 
He didn't have to do it, but he did, and I am very grateful for it. 

This could have been the day I died, but my guardian angel was watching over me and my family...

25 comments

  1. Anonymous11:38 AM

    How will you be able to ensure that the neighbors do not cause another problem that undermines the integrity of your flat? Your own instincts seem spot on so make sure you listen to them further to keep yourself and family safe.

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    1. I think at this point the only way would be for them to fix their AC, it gets wet in the hot months, and then dries up during the cold months like now. This constant change in humidity within the two layers of concrete might have put stress on the lower slab where the water sits the rest of the year.

      I we are keeping as many options as we can open at this point, including having to move out. Right now I am still in that processing stage where I try to rationalise and not let my anger get the best of me.

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  2. What a terrifying story... Sad to hear about everything you had to go trough. May be some high rank policeman should be informed about this? I think it's the only way to knock some sense into those people. After all, you're a from another country, and I've noticed police is quite responsive to foreigners' complaints.

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    1. It seems that all other people involved think these stupid neighbours could be connected, so threading carefully. We don't know how far they will go in their legendary assholery. I also do not want our own flat owner and her solicitor being made to bear the burnt for something they didn't do. So yeah it is a very tricky situation. I could still decide to take the story to the media, but again with the owner of our flat and her solicitor in the loop.

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  3. Anonymous1:19 PM

    Your upstairs neighbor is a hyper educated moron. How the heck can they not install a condensation pipe? But sadly this isn't the case of just people living in flats. We thought we could avoid all this by having our own sweet independent house but our neigjbour who just left some 5 feet area between the houses decided to plant a mango tree and all other kinds just in that tiny space despite our protests. How did it affect us? Not only did it block all the sunlight that was supposed to enter our place but leaves on the terrace hindered the water from flowing through the drain pipe in the monsoon. And we'd see some wet patches on the roof whenever it rained. My mum would go and clear the trash everytime so that water could flow freely and not cause any blockage.
    I'm all for greenery but it requires proper pruning and sufficient area to grow properly and just not anywhere.

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    1. hyper educated indeed, but not enough to know the basic principle of physics and realise that water dripping inside a concrete structure is bad news.

      The solicitor and I were talking about how people in Urban India have that nasty tendency to think that just because they buy a flat, they can do whatever they want: breaking down walls, re orienting the wash basins, adding new windows...they all do it because of what they want but without thinking about how it would affect others or the integrity of the building.

      In our building, we must be living in one of the very few flats that still have all its original walls, balcony and windows. In all the other flats in our column, we have the only flat with the original balcony left intact. all the other owners pushed the walls out and took the balcony in to make their living room bigger. This means that on 6 floors out of 7 a wall and french door frame is missing.

      As the solicitor pointed out, this end up affecting how concrete slabs and ceilings behave too. The AC bit just came on top of it. The water crept in cracks and layers that the careless "I'm so much more important that anybody else" attitude of all those who pushed walls out created.

      Frankly, I think developers should not hand over buildings to a society co-op of flat owners. They should keep control of the structure and only sell the carpet area and ask for quarterly maintenance fees, with prohibition to anybody to tear down any walls in their property without their approval and the involvement of the architect who designed the building. But yeah, not done over here.

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  4. I am really glad that you, your daughter and pets are fine! What an a** your neighbor is!
    Back in Latvia my upstairs neighbor had flooded his and our apartment twice! And burnt his down once! Couldn't do anything at all about that! He was an alcoholic.

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    1. Back in Switzerland I lived in a small studio apartment in the attic of an old city house. The owner of the house like all owners there put the management in the hand of a realty management company. Our house had a roof damage, and he didn't want to do anything about it. I complained many times, but even with the Swiss over regulated system I could do nothing. Once during a rain storm my walls got wet, and one cracked open, it damaged my wall, the floor and the flat below mine.

      They fixed all the damage in my flat, found the broken tile on the roof that caused it, but refused to just declare the building unfit to live in. Over the years that roof looked more and more dingy. I moved out to go to India then. I came back to see the neighbourhood years later, the roof is still disintegrating, and so far my mom tells me the house is still standing. There is such a shortage of flats in Geneva that each time this flat goes on the market it is snagged right away, each time with a rent hike :-(

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    2. So they are just trying to say either move or deal with it. That's sad. Our neighbor died because of his alcohol problem, so he kind of solved it for us. Until then we just uselessly argued, threatened and put off renovating the apartment in fear of him flooding us again. See we couldn't do anything about the whole situation, because we weren't renting the apartment. We own it and he owned his, so everyone basically says deal with it yourself.

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    3. The owner of our flat sadly lives outside India, so she has less power. In a very disturbing way I am glad we are just tenants in this flat. We did out part, if the problem doesn't get fixed we can move out. But the owner of my flat is stuck with this flat. Hopefully they can fix the damage in a more waterproof way until someone talk sense in the a-holes above us

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  5. Wow Cyn!
    We don't even have that much damage to our house despite the 2 major earthquakes here in Nepal. So glad you, your family & pets were not injured!
    The problem is that there's no way to enforce any of these rules & regulations. Lawsuits take like 10 yrs to just to even come to court in India. Calling the police certainly isn't going to help anything, what could the police do? There are basically no consequences for people doing whatever they want to their flat, even if it causes safety and heath problems.
    I'd move if it were me. I don't understand what they can do to make the ceiling safer after the concrete being so saturated with water. Are they going to build an entirely new rebar infrastructure cage inside your flat?
    I know it's ridiculous that the a-holes upstairs refuse to properly drain their AC & are compromising the safety of the entire building, but what to do? (as they say in India.)

    We had our insufficiently drained roof flood our house last monsoon. It rained for 48 hours straight & the 2 tiny shower drains in the roof got clogged. The water was 8 inches deep on our roof & started seeping though all the electrical duct work inside the house. This caused electrical shorts & water flooding out of the electrical outlets in the main hallway- there was a 3 inch deep river of electrified water down the central hallway of our house one morning. Our landlord refused to do anything about it so my husband went up on the roof with a sledge hammer and smashed 7 huge holes in the 12 inch high concrete railing around the flat roof's perimeter. We had to pay for all the electrical repairs & flood damage ourselves. It looks hell, but at least the roof drains properly now. Why anyone would build something so stupid as a house with a flat roof that doesn't drain is beyond me. The concrete walkways around the house don't drain away from the house's foundation either. We have to take big squeegees and push the standing puddles away from the house.

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    1. Our ceiling was built in a stupid way too, it seems that there are at least two slabs, the main one which is thick and armored with rods, then for some crazy madcap reason, the builder added a half inch thick second slab on the ceiling, probably to even out the imperfections from the first slab. You can see clearly that this second slab is made of really cheap, diluted concrete. It would have been ok if someone didn't instal a split AC without a draining pipe upstairs. What heppened is what happens with water and gravity. Water will always find a way and saturate every cavities it can saturate.

      The AC water first went through walls, then for some reason stopped doing so, and went out on the balcony, and then percolated through the main concrete layer until it would the gap between the two layers. The bottom layer being so cheap, it managed to go through it and made its presence known with wet spot in the wall putty and paint.

      What baffles me is that nobody saw that as a threat.

      I would move, but it would not solve anything, I have 3 friends who came forward and shared tales of crashing ceilings that either happened to them, or to someone they know, and that is all in my area, a fairly well off suburb where no flat retails at any less than 1.5 crores.

      So yes, we have the option of moving, and we are keeping it open, but the potential for similar problems is high anywhere in Mumbai, and it would cost us a huge amount of money to move out, and end up paying a much higher rent for something that will in all likehood be smaller too.

      So we are going to see how the repair pans out, the solicitor who manage our flat owner's asset has told us they will bear the cost.

      Frankly at this point, the only thing that could make those jerks above us do their bit is to public shame them, and destroy their reputation. They rely on their self-entitlement and so called status exclusively to do as they please, remove that and make them no more special than anybody else and they are lost.

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  6. Anonymous10:47 PM

    Thank god u, your child and pets are safe. apartments are usually safe but the real problem comes from plumbing which is actually inferior. Our apartment has pipes which are small and the gaps between bends not filled. must be shoddy work or plain corruption. on top of it salty Water has corroded the pipes.

    We has a big problem of seepage and the rule was everyone had to share the burden. We got our two bathrooms redone, got our upstairs neighbours bathroom done at our own cost since it was closed and owner lived far away and was not willing. After the work his son and dil did not pay some family problem. It is bonanza for the plumbera.

    u always say first build your bathrooms and toilets because u never know and also electrical fittings. many people get their electrical fittings and sanitary ware and then realise that their bathrooms are leaking. Some really do not have that kind money and are often reluctant. middle class families do not have that kind of cash ready. others I belive round after lot of delibrations. Some others refuse to see reason.

    at least in apartments u have security and assured power and Water supply. In colonies everything is uncertain and the houses are in most haphazard fashion.

    apple

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    1. In this case we know that it is 100000000% NOT the plumbing. 3 years ago, the manager, an engineer and I managed to barge into the upstairs neighbour's flat, we correctly identified the cause: their AC

      It has been installed in such a way that it drains into the wall. There is no condensation drain pipe attached to their unit. We inspected the whole thing. In the Summer months when the humidity goes above 80% we need to put a bucket on our balcony to catch the drip water, in the winter months, the drip water only comes in one point off the flower bed area and all the other drip points are bone dry. The wet spots in my ceiling only appear in the Summer months and stop as soon as the monsoon kicks in and they use their AC a bit less (they still use it year round)

      There are no pipes anywhere near that living room wall either. Even though the upstairs idiots swear there is, in fact when my wall turned wet, and I pointed it out to them they assured me there were pipes in that wall and that it was why.

      The funny part?

      The wall portion that was wet in my flat didn't exist in their flat as they broke it down to take their balcony in. So if there were any pipes in that said wall, they would have known :-) when I wisely pointed out that, they told me it must be coming from another wall, that I got cheated by my owner.

      Just last night, DH bumped into the neighbour in question and told him what happened and asked him AGAIN to please fix his AC.

      The guy didn't even show any concern when he got told the ceiling started crumbling down, and he told DH on a neutral, very dimplomatic tone: "Ok, sure will look into it". He hasn't asked to see the damage, he hasn't asked if we were ok, he hasn't even asked how big the damage was. His general attitude was one of a guy that couldn't care less or be bothered by it.

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  7. I'm shocked that concrete was used on the ceiling in the first place. I'm glad you're okay and that it's going to be fixed. I'd be angry about it too. Very angry. Did call the delivery man's boss and tell him he deserves employee of the month? Bless him for being such a lovely human.

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    1. I always lived in homes with a concrete structure, in India and in Switzerland. They are sturdy and safe, provided you use quality material and lay the slab properly.

      In this building they did lay it in two layers, which is odd, and it would have been ok if it wasn't for our neighbour's faulty AC. They have known it was their AC that needs fixing for years, they just refuse to do it.

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    2. Cyn,
      The '2 layers" is actually quite common in the concrete buildings in India & Nepal. I've been watching the new construction around here & our new place in Delhi.
      What they do is first put down very rough concrete slabs reinforced with iron rebar for the supporting columns and the floors/ceilings. Then to get those rough slabs to look smooth and finished they go over that with a thinner layer of cement (usually 2- 3 inches) that is hand troweled on. Then while that thinner layer is still wet they throw coarse sand on it so that a layer of plaster will stick to it. The final layer is usually 1-2 layers of plaster applied by trowel to get that final smooth look to the wall.
      The only cracks we have in our house here in Nepal from the earthquakes are in the plaster. There's a 2 foot crack in the plaster of a decorative archway and a few 3-4 foot vertical hairline cracks in the plaster of the supporting wall of the dining room. No cracks in the foundation or ceiling at all.

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  8. Cracks in plaster I can deal with, it can be fixed a bit more easily, but when the concrete slab starts cracking it's bad news.
    There was way way way too much sand in that slab that collapsed. I swear I have a harder time breaking a chocolate tablet than I had with any of these bits that fell off my ceiling. The main slab looks like it is made of nice and sturdy concrete, I inspected the hole to see how the main slab was doing, it seems to be holding up really fine...for now.

    A few more years of water dripping into it might break it. As the solicitor pointed on Tuesday, the rods inside the slab will start corroding and loose their strength. Ha! I bet that if he tells that to the society management they will believe him more than if I say the exact same thing. As a woman, how can I even know about building huh?

    This kind of substandard building material crap thing though is something really common in apartment building in India. and people wonder why DH and I aren't buying a flat in Mumbai! Even if we really could bear the exorbitant and over inflated real estate prices, the idea of spending 2 cores on something that has been made to disintegrate after 10 years really doesn't strike me as a sound investment at all.

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    1. The substandard building in general is crap all over the Indian Subcontinent.
      We went to look at a new 'gated community' of houses that were built just 2 yrs ago down the road from us. They looked very nice from the outside, like little tile roofed Spanish style villas. There were lovely play areas, yards, tennis courts, a small gym & a swimming pool too. But inside the house - BAD NEWS. The plumbing was so bad you could smell stale urine as soon as you opened the door. There was already water seeping all the walls adjoining the 3 bathrooms with visible damage. The floor plans were horrible - like a 10 ft wide hall through the middle of the house? Why? So you can drive your car through the house? I don't get it? And an 8 ft wide staircase to the 2nd floor? So much wasted space. The kitchens were windowless, dank 10 ft by 10 ft cave. The starting price was $300,000 USD
      I won't even go into the new flat we bought in Delhi in 2009, it's still not finished nor habitable.

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    2. It doesn't surprise me one bit, I have seen quite a few of that type of flat. Looks so fancy and borderline over the top on the outside, and once you step in it's not living up to the expectation you would have for the price paid. The lack of proper floor plan is really disturbing, because then people will spend a great amount of money breaking walls to just bring back some logic into the space and affect the entire building structure doing so.

      It reminds me of the flat we were renting in Navi Mumbai, it was in the latest building of the 2nd phase in the NRI complex. It wasn't even fully occupied, they got the ready to occupy certificate a few months before we got there. We were the very first occupants of that flat. but EVERY single week there was a pipe bursting in my flat somewhere, a wall peeling doors warping. The ventilation was horrendous, every possible surfaces caught mold during the monsoon. In the building net to ours the ceiling of a penthouse crashed down. In some flat they even managed to make the shower drain at the top of the slanted floor so water would flow away from the drain. My neighbour had seepage in all the walls next to bathrooms. We had constant rat problems. The power surge in the plugs fried a couple of my appliances.

      At the time (2010), those flats were retailing at 1 crore for a 2BHK, it must be much higher now. But, I don't want to know how bad the flats are now.

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  9. Anonymous3:05 AM

    Oh my gosh! I'm so glad you are okay! That was good luck! Be very careful with the other areas of the ceiling. Like you said, they are weakening and might fall as well.
    Susan

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    1. This was definitely lucky. The way it is now, they will have to remove the entire layer of concrete on the whole ceiling. Hopefully they will start doing by next week, but if they stall and delay the repair, we are not ruling out moving out to a new place, as much as a burden it will be.

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  10. really sorry to read this Cynthia.
    God bless you...
    take loads of care..

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  11. OMG, how awful ! I'm really glad you're OK. Moving out may be wise.

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