Blots on the landscape
By Salleh Buang
Derelict buildings are usually made up of abandoned buildings, although
there have been cases where they are occupied, if not by their owners,
then by tenants or squatters.
Abandoned buildings, on the other hand, need not necessarily be in
derelict condition, although in due course, the combined factors of
neglect and decay would bring about the same result.
In Alor Star, located not too far from the Zahir Mosque, there is a
partially built highrise abandoned by its developer more than six years
ago. From the road, it appears to be a strong and solid structure, but
over time, it will become a decaying, derelict edifice. What a waste!
Derelict buildings are not the monopoly of ghost towns and sleepy hollows.
They are also found in old sections of our towns and cities. If too many
are located in one place, it becomes the embryo for an urban ghetto.
Like any other Asian city, Kuala Lumpur has its own share of derelict and
abandoned buildings. These are the unwelcome blemishes on its otherwise
magnificent landscape. One that comes easily to my mind is located in
Medan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, and in the presence of modern high-tech
skyscrapers such as Vision City, Menara SEA and Maju Junction.
Thankfully, the issue has caught the attention of our national leaders,
with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Tan Sri Bernard Dompok
heading a committee to look into the safety aspects of hundreds of
abandoned commercial buildings.
Besides determining the exact number of such buildings, the committee is
also tasked with identifying the dangers they pose and the measures needed
to resolve any problems.
Among the many issues is the danger of rusting tower cranes sitting atop
the buildings which can topple over. Inadequate safety measures to prevent
construction material from falling off, causing injury to pedestrians or
neighbouring properties is another issue that has to be addressed.
Then there’s the subject of public health. Not only can abandoned
buildings become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, they can also become
hide-outs for drug addicts and criminal elements.
Minister of Housing and Local Government Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting had gone
on record as saying that commercial buildings are not governed by the
Housing Development Act 1966, but fall under the jurisdiction of the local
authorities. On that basis, Dompok’s committee has to discuss the problems
with the relevant authorities, and then forward its findings and
recommendations to the federal government.
Obviously, one medicine won’t suit all - different strategies have to be
worked out for buildings that can be saved and those that have to be
In Johannesburg, South Africa, two forms of remedial action - known as the
Better Buildings Programme (BBP) and the Unsafe Buildings Programme (UBP)
- were taken in respect of the hundred-plus derelict buildings in the
Under BBP, derelict buildings were given a second lease of life, by
restoration and facelifts. They were then rented out at affordable rates
by the city. With UBP, derelict buildings found to be structurally unsound
were demolished, and their sites used for urban redevelopment.
The problem in Johannesburg began more than a decade ago when businesses
moved out of the inner city for the northern suburbs, leaving behind
unoccupied buildings. Matters became worse when building owners also left
or migrated elsewhere. Some of these abandoned properties were sold to
“slumlords”; others were just abandoned, leaving them open for squatters
to take over. Some buildings became havens for the city’s criminal
Before demolition was carried out under UBP, city officials got in touch
with the South African Heritage Resources Agency (Sahra) to make sure the
structure wasn’t classified as a historic building (meaning it is over 60
years old and identified as a heritage structure).
Under our Street, Drainage and Building Act 1975, the relevant provisions
are sections 83 and 84.
Under section 83, if the local authority (after conducting an inquiry)
considers that a building “is likely to fall or is in any way dangerous to
any person therein or foot passengers on the streets”, it can serve a
notice on the owner to either carry out repairs or to demolish it.
Alternatively, the local authority can ask the owner to “put up hoardings
or fences”. Non-compliance with the notice is an offence under the Act.
Upon conviction, the owner can be fined an amount not exceeding RM250 for
every day the offence continues.
Meanwhile, section 83(9) empowers the local authority to demolish the
building if the owner, upon being served notice to demolish his building,
fails to do so while section 84 of the Act empowers the local authority to
shut and secure deserted buildings.
But having laws is one thing; now, we have to hope that the powers have
the ability to wield it for the good of our environment.