beyond the gates
26/07/2004 The Star The Edge By S.S. YOGA
THE case in May this year in which a Sierramas resident
successfully sued the management company after his house was broken
into put the glare of the spotlight on gated and guarded
communities. It seems to be a trend lately for developers to come up
with more and more of such projects. But will the recent case make
them think twice of the inherent risks of legal suits for various
problems residents face?
For MK Land Holdings Bhd executive director Datuk P. Kasi, who spoke
at a seminar organised by the Malaysian Institute of Architects
(PAM) in Kuala Lumpur recently, part of the problem stems from
project proponents who promise the Earth and exaggerate the
facilities they will provide, which results in many a disgruntled
house or property buyer. His solution for developers is simple:
“Under-promise and over-deliver.”
That is why Bukit Gita Bayu (a gated development) general manager
Liew Tze Yong feels that the housing industry here has to be run on
the lines of “build and sell” and not have a show unit that might
not be a true reflection of the end product and also cut off the
problem of housing projects being abandoned and buyers left in the
He also points that there is a lot of abuse and corruption going on
in the housing sector in which they use cheaper materials than
specified or do not do things according to specification. That is
why, he says, he prefers to work with foreign consultants and also
practises what his mentor the late Datuk Kington Loo taught him –
constant monitoring of the project.
“Of course you can’t monitor the whole area, or all the time, but
the idea is to do some smart monitoring” so as to pick up on
anything not above board, says Liew.
Kasi points out that, in theory, people opt for gated communities
because they expect a better-run development than if it were
maintained by local authorities. But he adds there are shortcomings
as it is difficult to enforce the rules of the community with the
residents and the development company might get into difficulties
partially due to delinquents in maintenance payments and the area
might end up worse off than a regular housing estate. This we have
seen especially with many apartment complexes.
Paying the price
With regards to the maintenance payments, it has been the bugbear of
many a gated development. How do you get around complainers and
defaulters (not that there aren’t some management companies who do a
bad job of maintaining their complexes)?
For Liew, it is simple – first show them you mean business. “I’ve
taken a few non-payees to court and won and you should see the queue
that formed to settle dues once word got around.
“Also, I show that I don’t practise discrimination and even a
relative of mine had to park outside while maintenance fees were
still not settled and this impressed the rest of the residents.”
He adds that his defaulters only amount to about 5% of the residents
and that is much lower than the 30% generally found in the sector.
Kumpulan Sierramas (M) Sdn Bhd executive director Bernard Tan says
he has co-operative residents who do settle the monthly service
charges and he puts it down to having a good relationship with the
Liew concurs and adds that if the committee members see that you
involve them in the decision-making process and suggestions and or
complaints are handled diligently, they will have confidence in the
management. He says there was initial opposition from the residents
that the management retained ownership of the clubhouse (as normally
facilities are co-owned by the residents in a gated community) but
he convinced them if they retained it they would not be able to
maintain and keep it going and persuaded them to have it open to
guests to be profitable.
Still, there are rumblings among residents that since they are
paying service charges already for the management company to take
care of some of the upkeep, such as the roads, they should be
getting a rebate in assessment fees (which are imposed to maintain
the infrastructure) from the local authorities.
Liew says they can only ask the local council for an exemption and
in Gita Bayu’s case it was not granted but Sierramas residents have
been given a rebate. So it looks very much like it is considered on
a case-by-case basis and decisions vary among local councils.
Residents spoken to at both communities also agree that for a gated
community to work it needs the involvement of the residents
themselves who have to take a big interest in how they maintain it.
They recognise that eventually there has to be a day when they
actually take over the management of the community themselves.
Liew says it would be pointless if he and his staff maintain the
place according to everyone’s expectations but once they leave, no
one carries on the responsibility. He says that is why he has set up
a procedural system for any successor to adhere to.
As for security, there are many ways to put it in place. Security
consultant Richard Dimmick, who is managing director of GDSS Systems
Sdn Bhd and was at the seminar, notes that security guards play a
vital role in the overall security.
“If the guards are not correctly trained and do not know how to
respond to an alarm then the cost of the perimeter security system
has been wasted,” points out Dimmick.
He has previously been reported in The Edge as saying that
Malaysians have been getting “cheap security” and asks how much can
you expect from guards who are paid between RM2 and RM2.40 an hour?
So a gated development is encouraged to pay more to security guards
as their role is of prime importance.
Legislation or changing mindset?
Amendments need to be made to existing land regulations to help
regulate the housing sector that deals with gated and guarded
communities, say some architects. Architect Dr Tan Loke Mun, who is
also Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM) vice-president, says
that current legislation does not facilitate the planning and
operations of such projects to the benefit of both developers and
“Many of the projects that have advertised themselves as gated and
guarded communities have a problem as the individual parcels are
under landed titles, which by definition cannot be grouped into
gated communities. There is also the option of using strata titles
but currently none of the projects has been issued such titles. Even
so, the way the current legislation for strata titles is worded has
given rise to inconsistent interpretation of the law by the
respective land offices,” adds Dr Tan.
Former PAM council member Chee Soo Teng says that Malaysia should
adopt an act similar to that used in the state of New South Wales in
Australia, which allows for community titles as this would allow the
proper creation of gated and guarded communities in which both the
developer and the purchaser will then will have to conform to
certain guidelines to qualify for this. This, he says, might
preclude cases in which security issues became a problem for
Gita Bayu general manager Liew Tze Yong, on the other hand, says
that changes in legislation would take too long but it is more
important to change the mindset of housing developers.
Land matters were formerly under the purview of the now defunct Land
and Co-operative Development Ministry and last year it announced
that it was looking at formulating legislation for gated
communities. Tan says that up till now architects and their related
institutions have not been consulted on this amendment and hopes
that the new ministry that oversees land matters now, the National
Resource and Environment Ministry, would include them in its plans
of formulating legislation.
Sierramas executive director Bernard Tan claims the ministry has
kept the Real Estate and Housing Developers Association in the loop
when it comes to getting input for the changes but wouldn’t
elaborate on the details.
Chee says it is time for Malaysia to revise its old land laws, some
of which have been around for more than 20 years and are considered
archaic and overtaken by new developments in housing. He feels that
the ministry does not have to reinvent the wheel, as there are laws
in Australia and Singapore that were well established and could be
used as a reference.
Still the impression is that gated communities require more land
than is required for a normal housing scheme as there are parks,
green landscaping and extra amenities to include. Chee says that is
not true as there is a requirement in the housing laws to have 10%
of the area is devoted to such facilities. When asked about how golf
courses and the like could only make up 10%, he says that our
country has “enough land to go around” and that the ministry just
needs to categorise the land accordingly – a view that Liew concurs
When pointed out that land is not just required for housing and that
vast tracts are needed for water-catchment areas, environmental
protection and for other myriads of activities, they remain silent.
Only Bernard Tan agrees that if one included things like golf
courses then the land usage might be excessive but still points out
that if there is a market for such developments then naturally there
will be people willing to tap it.
Still, many of them say they would love an opportunity to create a
gated and guarded community composed of just link-houses. – By S.S.