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The waiting game

01/03/2003  Published in NST-PROP A Buyer Watch Article by National House Buyers Association

Many house buyers complain of having to take over of vacant possession (VP) of their new houses when they are not ready for occupation.

One of the reasons for this is that prior to amendment, the Housing Developers Act allowed developers to hand over VP upon application for the Certificates of Fitness for Occupation (CF). Many developers exploited this tenet of the Act by rushing to hand over the properties the minute the architect declared “practical completion”.

Problems for buyers

The hand over of VP without a confirmed date for occupancy has created numerous problems for house buyers. First, the new owners would have to make all outstanding payments as stipulated in the Third Schedule of the Sale and Purchase Agreement (SPA) upon taking VP. Next, the 18-month defect liability period would start to run 14 days from the date of notification of the hand over of VP, and third, the buyers would have to take over the responsibility for the security of their properties.

This state of affairs is grossly unfair to buyers. Imagine not being able to stay in your property after you’ve made all the outstanding payments, including maintenance charges. And if you’re not able to stay in your house, how will you identify and rectify faults that may be caused by the developer? Supposing the CF is issued six months after you receive your keys; this means six months of the defect liability period would have been wasted. Another point is that if you cannot stay in your home, how can you prevent vandalism and theft of your fittings, short of hiring a security guard, which many cannot afford?

Besides these, the house Buyers Association has come across other complaints from buyers who have been shown CFs from other projects that have been presented as theirs or CFs with falsified endorsements! Some buyers have taken VP, only to find that the developers have financial difficulty in fulfilling their obligations to apply for the CF!

Developers’ responsibility

The application for CF is governed by the Building By-laws Act. As the name implies, the CF is an official document issued by the local authority to acknowledge that a building is safe for occupation.

It is the responsibility of the developer through its appointed qualified professionals, chiefly the architect, to make the application according to the Building By-laws and other conditions imposed by the appropriate authorities.

When complaints surface, both developers and the appropriate authorities point fingers at each other. As explained by Ministry of Housing and Local Government legal adviser Shamsulbahri bin Ibrahim, and advocate and solicitor Toong Gek Fong, in an article on the Malaysian Law Journal website ( “The crux of the problems relating to delay in issuance of CFO could be because:

  1. The developer’s application for CFO is incomplete or not in compliance with all the requirements necessary for the issuance of CFO, resulting in the application being rejected by the appropriate authority. For instance, some developers fail to submit the Form E together with copies of all letters of clearance or approval (surat sokongan) from the relevant technical agencies, which are required by the appropriate authority for issuance of CFO, or

  2. The delay or inefficiency of the appropriate authority issuing the CFO.”
    To exonerate the local authorities from blame, the Ministry of Housing has issued directives to the effect that:

  • All applications for CF submitted by developer are to be checked and confirmed to be in compliance with all requirements for issuance of CF before such applications shall be accepted by the appropriate authority;

  • Upon acceptance of the Form E, the appropriate authority is to issue its written confirmation that the Form E submitted by the developer has been duly checked and accepted by the appropriate authority;

  • Once such applications have been duly checked and accepted by the appropriate authority, the CF shall be issued or deemed to be issued within 14 days from the date such applications are accepted by the appropriate authority; and

  • The appropriate authority will submit a written report/explanation to the Housing Ministry in respect of such cases where the CF is not issued within 14 days from the date the relevant application is accepted by the appropriate authority and in any other cases of undue delay in the issuance of the CF by the appropriate authority.

By-law 25 of the Uniform Building By-Laws 1984 was amended to provide for the issuance of the CF by the appropriate authority within 14 days from the date of acceptance of Form E, failing which the CF shall be deemed to be issued to the owner of the building.

Under the amended Housing Development Act, developers’ responsibility with regard to VP and the CF has been expanded to include the following:

Conditions for delivery of vacant possession

It must submit a supporting certificate signed by its architect certifying that the building has been duly constructed and completed in accordance with all relevant Acts, by-laws and regulations and that all conditions by the appropriate authority in respect of the CF have been duly complied with and a supporting letter of confirmation from the appropriate authority certifying that the Form E (the application form for CF) has been duly submitted by the developer and checked and accepted by the appropriate authority.

Duties to the Controller of Housing:

It must inform the Controller of the handing over of VP to the buyers and submit a certified true copy of the architect’s completion certificate and that water and electricity supply are ready for connection. It must also inform the Controller if the appropriate authority has refused to accept the submission of any document relating to the issuance of the CF and submit the refusal letter from the appropriate authority.

With the amendments to the Housing Development Act and the Building By-laws, it would seem that when house buyers receive notice of hand over of VP, they can assume safely that the occupancy of the property can be confirmed within 28 days of the notice. If not, the hand over of vacant possession can be considered premature, and the house buyer has every right to challenge the notice and asked the developer to withdraw it.

With the amendments too, the HBA sees no cause for local authorities to issue temporary certificates of fitness as it is not to the house buyers’ advantage to occupy a home based on such a certificate.

We hope the Ministry of Housing is confident enough to implement further amendments of the Act, such as imposing that the delivery of VP comes with the CF. It is only right that a buyer should be able to take vacant possession of a home that is certified fit for occupation.


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