Do homework before
04/01/2009 The Star By Hariati
What can you do when your dream home becomes a death trap? As the recent landslide
tragedy revealed, house buyers do not have a whole lot of protection.
WHEN he moved to Bukit Antarabangsa about 16 years ago, Abdul Rasyid, 59,
could not believe his luck.
“I knew we found our dream home. It was in a beautiful area, green and peaceful.
Over the years, the only problem was the access road, which was often cut
off by landslides,” he said.
Last month, however, a landslide destroyed the houses next to his, killing
five of his neighbours.
His house was miraculously left standing. But like thousands of residents
in the area, he and his family members were evacuated to ensure their safety.
Last week, it was announced that 2,000 people from 188 houses in the area
could return home. Not surprisingly, only a handful confirmed that they will
As Abdul Rasyid lamented, it’s a tough choice.
“I have invested a lot in my house and I can’t afford to just abandon it.
But at the same time, the safety of my family is priority. Still, who can
I sell my house to? Who will want to buy the property now?”
Abdul Rasyid is one of many caught in a bind over the possible loss of their
life investment. Worse still, they are also burdened by huge housing loans.
Although it is too early to tell if the value of property around the Bukit
Antarabangsa area has plummeted, the prospect is bleak.
The Selangor Government recently listed 15 housing estates around Bukit Antarabangsa
– a few occupied for more than a decade – as high-risk places for landslides.
Although Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim assured residents that
they could still choose to stay in their hillside homes, he also told them
to face the consequences.
A resident (who only wanted to be known as Wong) from Taman Melawati, one
of the housing estates listed as risky, complained that the options were not
“Now that our housing area is considered risky, what can we do now? Many are
scared but it will be difficult to move and sell our houses, especially in
the current economic climate,” she said.
Since the tragedy, the authorities have been quick to blame house buyers for
the over-development of areas on hill slopes.
The problem would not have occurred, they reason, if there was no demand for
However, National House Buyers Association honorary secretary-general Chang
Kim Loong said Malaysian house buyers had a right to expect safe and sound
quality construction, regardless of where the houses were.
“It is wrong to blame them for irresponsible hill-slope developments, he said,
adding that buyers were vulnerable to errant developers.
“Although it is the responsibility of the house buyers to do their homework
before buying a property, it is easier said than done because it is not mandatory
for developers to submit all their plans and approvals to the prospective
Chang said most developers were not transparent about details of their building
“There was an instance when someone bought a corner lot but when the house
was completed, he discovered that the extra land was actually a slope.”
“That is why it is important for buyers to check everything before signing
the sales and purchase agreement. They have to demand for all documents, from
contour maps to reports on soil and disclosure of agencies involved.
“Not many developers provide all the documents and plans to prospective buyers,
sometimes even when they are asked for it,” he noted, stressing the need for
the Government to make it compulsory for the developers to disclose all relevant
paperwork and information to buyers before any deals are made.
Chang said buyers need to be made aware of the risks of purchasing any house,
not just hill-slope properties.
He said for example, there were also areas that were prone to floods.
Need for reinforcement
“As for hill-slope developments, it is not impossible, but the correct structure
and slope reinforcement is needed.
“When the development is completed, the slope needs to be maintained. It should
be mandatory for developers to make this clear to the prospective house buyers,”
But as he put it, the law would mean nothing without proper implementation.
There are already many legislations to protect house buyers and to promote
home ownership including the Housing Development (Control & Licensing) Act,
1966, Building & Common Property (Maintenance and Management) Act, 2007 and
Strata Titles Act, 1985.
Chang opined that these laws have failed to ensure adequate protection for
house buyers against stalled, abandoned and defective houses.
“This is mainly due to a lack of monitoring, policing and enforcement by the
relevant authorities,” he said, stressing the importance of the House Buyers’
Bill of Rights.
The recent moratorium on ongoing hill developments, for instance, has raised
concern among a few house buyers.
“I support the stop-work order because it is good measure to manage the risky
situation. However, at the same time, I hope the Government will not overlook
the predicament of house buyers,” said Chang.
Ng: ‘The moment we sell the property, it comes under the care of the owner
who is responsible for maintaining the land’
He noted that those who have bought houses on hill slopes, where work has
been stopped by the authorities, would need to forfeit 10% of their payment
if they want to get out of the agreement.
“If the development is more than 50% complete, the forfeiture is 20%. In this
situation, homeowners will be in a fix because the developers cannot really
be blamed for the delay. If the developer goes bankrupt, that is it, they
will lose all their money.”
The Real Estate and Housing Developers’ Association (Rehda) president Datuk
Ng Seing Liong, however, argued that developers should not be solely blamed
for the problems.
He drew attention to the three stages in any development project – planning,
building and maintenance.
“Each stage involves different parties, and the moment we sell the property,
it comes under the care of the owner, who has responsibility to maintain the
land. If it is public land, then the responsibility to maintain it comes under
the local authority. Developers do not collect assessment,” noted Ng.
Rehda also urged for standards on housing development, particularly hill-slope
Call for transparency
“One weakness related to hill-slope development is the lack of master planning
and transparency in the land development and building process.
“It is important that information on hill-slope developments be made available
to developers and land owners so that buildings in such areas are not carried
out without sufficient input on future upstream and downstream projects in
the area,” Ng said, adding that such developments should not be approved and
carried out discreetly.
He declined to comment on possible corruption in the system but said, “It
takes two to tango. Developers can’t start a project without approval from
Ng added that a new geological survey should be conducted nationwide to reclassify
areas that were suitable for development.
“The authorities can then come up with guidelines for developers,” he said.
He said the Hulu Kelang area was an example where numerous housing estates
mushroomed in spite of countless warnings by experts on the risk of overdeveloping
In the last 15 years, there were 13 major landslides in the Hulu Kelang area,
of which five were in Bukit Antarabangsa. Studies by the Public Works Department
predict that more will occur.
Chang advised house owners in the 15 “risky” housing areas to seek advice
from professional bodies such as the Institution of Engineers Malaysia on
slope remedial measures to protect themselves.
“They have no choice. They need to reinforce the slope first and not wait
until something bad happens,” he said.
He said house owners could seek recourse from the authorities.
“It is our duty to mitigate the losses. So, what we can do is to strengthen
the turf first, then sue the Government for recovery.
“The only problem is that even if we win there is no guarantee that we can
get the punitive charges because of Section 95 of the Street, Drainage and
Building Act which protects the approving authorities of development projects
from personal liability.
“That needs to be reviewed,” he said, citing the Highland Towers case which
saw the local council exonerated from any responsibility in the tragedy.
Is stopping the demand for properties in risky areas such as hill slopes the
only way to reduce similar predicaments for house buyers?
As MCA Government Policy Monitoring Bureau head and MCA vice-president Datuk
Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek wrote in his blog, the danger is usually dormant.
“We take it that the buildings are safe after the authorities have approved
it and certified it fit for occupation. However, buyers have to be more careful
when purchasing houses on hill slopes. They can be time bombs,” he said.
Chang agreed that no matter how sturdy the structure was and how well-maintained
the property, risks would always exist.
He agreed that cutting off demand might be the only way for house owners to
put a stop to irresponsible hill-slope development.
“Personally, I think you need to think about the safety of your family. Developers
can go on developing hills but I hope buyers realise the danger they might
put their families into before signing,” said Chang.