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Raw deal for purchasers
11/01/2003 NST-PROP By Salleh Buang

Housing means different things to different people. For the average Malaysian who is still without a roof over his head to call his own, a house is not just a shelter but also a home and sanctuary. Acquiring a house is the culmination of a life-long commitment to procure a family property to be cherished and safeguarded so that it can be passed down several generations.

But when viewed in its larger context, housing is not just the acquisition of shelter or the making of a life-long investment. Nor is it just a commercial transaction between purchaser and developer, grounded upon terms and conditions stipulated or mandated by law. Housing is a national issue, super-charged with the elements of economics (poverty and affordability), social justice, politics and the principle of fair play.

In the past there has been a tendency by some quarters (especially the public sector agencies) to regard the problems faced by purchasers as being their own, of which there is nothing that the authorities can do. This is the “hands off” approach which, in my opinion, is grievously wrong.

In its place, the authorities should adopt a more caring approach towards the purchasers. Instead of leaving the purchasers to fend for themselves, public sector agencies should be more willing to give them protection and assistance, a sense of comfort that if things do not work out for them, “Big brother is here to help you out”.

Just take a look at how most house buyers react when the houses they purchased are not completed in time, when the project is abandoned or when the houses (though completed) are terribly defective. Very rarely will their first course of action be to initiate court action. Instead, they will usually seek administrative or political intervention.

Don’t get them wrong. Do not treat this as if the purchasers are not prepared to go to court. If there is no other choice, they will do that, but it will only be a last resort. Normally, they will first seek out the developer directly. If that fails, they will then turn to the Housing Ministry. And when that too fails, they will seek political intervention at the local, state, and federal level.

Take the case of the 50 families who bought their houses from a developer in Perak some time ago. According to a recent news report these families in Taman Lapangan Indah near Ipoh are worried about their future safety because the single- and double-storey terrace houses they purchased from the developer now appear to be unsafe for occupation.

According to the distressed purchasers, the housing project was completed in 2002, but defects appeared soon after that. Now some houses have tilted, while depressions have appeared on the road. A number of houses have sunk more than 30cm.

The residents have sought the help of the authorities, including Perak Menteri Besar, Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli Ghazali and Majlis Bandaraya Ipoh. They have also lodged a complaint with the Housing Ministry wondering why Majlis Bandaraya Ipoh saw fit to issue the houses with their certificates of fitness for occupation despite the fact that there were so many defects.

This recent case in Taman Lapangan Indah reminds me of an earlier case which happened some time ago, involving the purchasers of Taman Chepor Jaya, Chemor. In that case, too, the purchasers sought political intervention to resolve their problems with the housing developer.

There are, of course, cases where purchasers (having lost all their patience with developers and likewise their confidence in the Housing Ministry’s timely and effective intervention) have chosen to take more drastic action. In a recent case, which involved the abandoned Taman Terubong Indah (Majestic Hights) in Penang, 1,557 purchasers filed judicial proceedings to wind up the developer.

If it is any consolation to the purchasers of Taman Lapangan Indah, the Tribunal for Homebuyer Claims (established under the recent amendment to the Housing Developers Act) is already empanelled. Under Section 16Y(1), the Tribunal is required to “make its award without delay and, where practicable, within 60 days from the first day the hearing before the Tribunal commences”.

But the issue that needs to be clarified now is whether the Tribunal is or can be empowered to hear disputes arising from sale and purchase agreements executed prior to the amendments to the law.

If the Tribunal is unable to give swift justice to the house purchasers, their sense of being given a raw deal (and not just by developers) will continue to weigh heavily on their minds.


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