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Give 'em solid protection

27/01/2000 NST Editorial Voice

The proposed review of the existing laws pertaining to housing is long overdue. The litany of complaints from house buyers in dire need of a roof over their heads indicate that the housing industry, despite its laws having gone through the passage of amendment several times, is still tilted towards the developers.

Previous amendments were made with the primary purpose of ensuring the legal rights of purchasers in the pre-contract and post-contract stages. It is true that much has been done to purge the industry of bogus developers and these provisions seem extensive enough to protect the bona fide buyers.

But the woes of today's buyers suggest that there are some loopholes in the legislation and thus these amendments have not transported the buyers from the weak bargaining position on which they now stand.

The growing number of grouses on shoddy workmanship, some which only become apparent after the lapse of the defect liability period which was amended in 1996 from 12 to 18 months, point to the lack of quality in the industry and accountability by developers. The liability period itself deserves scrutiny. Some structural defects usually occur within the first five years. Even aided by incelemented factors, such structural defects may not neccesarily be visible to the eye during the 18 months period. A reasonable length of time would be between three and five years.

The Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Ong Ka Ting noted that need for purchasers to be professional and peruse the sales and purchase agreement. Such perusals should not be confined to the S&P. Section 6 of the Housing Developers (Control and Licensing) Regulations 1996, which governs the rules on advertising, should be beefed up.

At present, it does not require the inclusion of the master issue document of title. Without these particulars, potential buyers will not be able to search or instruct their lawyers to search the title at the land office. They will not be able to access vital information on the status of the project land which may influence their decision to buy.

True, the S&P will include the particulars of the master title in Schedule G or H when the buyer signs it. But by then, the information is meaningless as the buyer would have paid the downpayment of 10 per cent. To chide lawyers for not taking time to advise buyers, as Ong did, is futile as buyers are coerced into using the services of the developer's panel of lawyers. Buyers will be given the run-around if they insist on engaging their own lawyers. For the sake of buyers' interests, they should be allowed to have their own choice of lawyers.

The ministry must arrest the situation where the local authorities tend to impose non-technical and extraneous factors on the developers before issuing the certificate of fitness for occupation. They have sometimes arbitrarily gone beyond  the scope of the Uniform Building By-law and the Street, Drainage and Building Act and, thus, caused unwarranted and unreasonable delay in the  issuance of the CF. The minister may want to consider abolishing the power of local authorities in this matter and vest it under the Controller of Housing.

Alternatively, the law should impose a fixed period for local authorities to conduct inspection, complete the report and issue the CF accordingly. As it is, thousands of buildings in the country have yet to be issued with strata titles. The authorities must find ways to expedite the process.


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