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Property laws hold promise, pitfalls
15/12/2006 The Sun

The Dewan Rakyat this week passed one Bill and changed another set of laws which are related to housing and property. The Common Property (Maintenance and Management) Bill which is to better protect owners of common property including high-rise flats and condominiums was passed, and the Housing Development (Control and Licensing) Act was amended.

The Common Property Bill is comprehensive, covering all areas of maintenance and management of common property, especially high-rise buildings. The Bill requires developers to fulfil their responsibility of maintaining and managing high-rises. This will in turn put an end to reports of poor after-sale maintenance. There are also provisions for the participation of buyers in all matters including deciding on the quantum of service fees to be charged.

Claims of exorbitant management fees charged by developers and their management companies have been mounting and this provision will give buyers the right to negotiate and agree on the terms. It will no longer be a case of "I'll fix the sum, you just pay up."

However, there is some concern over the changes to the Housing Development Act which gives the minister of housing and local government absolute powers to determine what amounts to "housing accommodation."

Section 5 (3A) 2 says that "in the event of any doubt as to whether a housing accommodation falls within the meaning of this Act, the minister's decision shall be final and shall not be questioned in any court of law."

While we agree that some ambiguity may arise as to what constitutes "housing accommodation", it is unprecedented to give one man, in this case the minister, the power to decide. Why curb the rights of any buyer to challenge the judgment of the minister? If the minister errs in his decision, why can't a court of law make the final decision?

By including this clause, the law ties the hands of the judges and even if there has been an erroneous decision by the minister, the buyer cannot seek recourse in a court of law. Having said that, it will be only a matter of time before the Bill becomes law and the minister must exercise his powers judiciously in the interests of the common man.


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