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Counter-checking crucial to quality
08/01/2005 Published in NST-PROP A Buyer Watch Article by National House Buyers Association

THE National House Buyers Association of Malaysia foresees many pitfalls if the certification of residential buildings for the issue of the Certificate of Fitness for Occupation (CF) is implemented without a thorough study.

The main fear we have is that the adverse effects of self-certification by professionals would be more far-reaching for buyers than any of the benefits that may be derived from such a stream-lining exercise.

Under the Housing Development (Licensing and Control) Act, architects are the fiduciary guardians of the regulated Sale and Purchase Agreement (SPA) between buyers and developers.

We have argued in the past that this system is not good enough because of the large number of complaints buyers have, not just against errant developers, but also against the professionals they hire.

Judging from the high incidences of shoddy workmanship, premature and/or inaccurate certification and handing over of vacant possession before CFs are applied for, there is no indication that such complaints will diminish.

In certain instances, architects even assist, or allow, developers wishing to avoid exposure to liability for late delivery and other defaults to make premature and unlawful claims from unsuspecting purchasers. In fact, some banks are known to have released payments to developers based on the certification by architects of the progress of construction, without even verifying the situation.

If there is a common thread that can be found in such instances, it is that these architects have been coerced into submitting to the developers' wishes, through arm-twisting tactics. These are not isolated cases, considering that even the regulatory body, the Architects Board of Malaysia, issued a very stern circular on this matter to members on Feb 15, 2002.

What the current system requires is an external audit that would serve as a prerequisite to the issuance of CFs. This is a system of "counter-checking" that can be slow and time-consuming, but buyers have to bear in mind that removing the last tier of verification without any check-and-balance in place will give errant developers and professionals a free rein to act according to their own interests.

Even with statutory penalties and a host of other deterrents, incidences such as breaches of trust are on the rise. The question is: Where would we be if these were removed altogether?

Architects aside, self-certification also brings engineers into the equation. Take the complaints about "slower" inspection of roads and drains by the local authorities as an example. If the Government inspectors were sceptical of compliance with the road specifications, they would "core" the relevant section for laboratory tests.

Imagine the removal of this line of defence. An errant developer may be tempted to cut corners with the compliance of specifications by getting its "obliging" consultants to certify that the roads are in order.

It will be difficult for these consultants to resist when confronted with harsh realities of the business world today, where only the "obliging" can survive under such market forces. Consultants with integrity may find themselves out of business if they do not toe the line. These are very real facts.

It is pertinent to note that the Ministry of Housing and Local Government as well as the local authorities monitor each and every construction project. They have in the past admitted that they do face problems policing, monitoring and enforcing compliance with various legislation. It is therefore not uncommon to hear complaints about defective delivery of vacant possession. Among the many complaints recorded over the years are:
  • Vacant possession granted without CF application;
  • Vacant possession granted even though access roads have not been completed and the facilities for the connection of amenities such as water and electricity are not ready;
  • Long delays in obtaining permanent CFs because of continued non-compliance with approved plans;
  • Buyers not able to move into their units even 18 months after delivery of vacant possession because their developer has not complied with breaches of approved plans or not rectified defects. This is despite the full purchase price having been disbursed;
  • Remedies slow in coming; and
  • No provisions against developers that have gone into insolvency and liquidation, whether compulsorily or voluntarily. In such an event, buyers are ranked as unsecured creditors.

Complete deregulation will only work when all parties learn to respect the rights of others, which in HBA's view is a Utopian dream.

Perhaps a combination of self-certification for some technical aspects, with rules clearly set out and mandatory checks on those aspects that involve life and safety could be adopted. Insofar as liability is concerned, the party that verifies a building as fit for occupation must accept legal liability.

The National House Buyers Association (HBA) is a non-profit, non-government and non-political organisation manned by volunteers. Its website is E-mail:


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