MORE than 80 houses in Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur have been illegally converted into dormitories for foreign workers, with some having 30 people occupying one house.
The properties are terraces and townhouses, which were originally built with two or three rooms each.
Not only are the foreign workers deprived of good living condition, the security of the neighbourhood is also compromised.
Sri Hartamas Residents Association chairman Robin Tai observed that the foreigners worked on shifts and that only half of them were in a house at any one time.
“The situation got worse in the last 10 years when many of the owners started to move out due to the rapid developments in the surrounding areas and rented out their units. Most of the tenants work in nearby restaurants,” he said.
StarMetro checked on six of the houses and found the tenants maximising the space by fixing temporary partitions, using curtains for privacy and modifying the units to fit their needs.
The bad odour from some of the houses was overwhelming, which was proof of unhygienic living conditions.
Beds were found in the living room, dining area, corridors and the kitchen, which showed that those areas were being utilised for sleeping. There were minimal furniture there with most houses having only mattresses or mats on the floor.
The tenants in one of the houses had also converted the balcony into a bathroom by using a curtain as a partition and to hide from public view. Water for bathing and washing was collected from an adjoining kitchen using pails.
A kitchen in another house was converted into one big bathroom with a big water tank with dippers placed there. The kitchen exits were also raised to prevent the water from flowing out into other parts of the house.
All the houses were very messy with clothes strewn on the floor. Leftover food and rubbish were left to rot. The front porch was filled with dried leaves and rubbish, and it looked like it had not been swept in a long time.
In the backyard, the overgrown bushes made perfect hiding places for snakes and robbers.
Clothes lines filled with clothes outside the houses were an eyesore and created a negative image of the neighbourhood.
Tai said he had complained to Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) numerous times for the past 10 years but the situation had not improved. In fact, he said, it had gotten worse.
“It has come to a point where the workers have become bold and challenge us to report to the authorities to take action against them.
“The owners who have moved out are having difficulties selling their units and find it more profitable to rent it out.
“The authorities should step in to help us.
“There are also a number of shoe thefts,” he said.
Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib said he would ask his officers to check on the matter as soon as possible.
“The number of occupants is determined by the size of the unit.
“If I am not wrong, each of the mentioned unit can only house four people.
“We will raid the area very soon,” he said.
Former Petaling Jaya councillor and lawyer Derek Fernandez explained that overcrowding of houses occurred when there was less than 350 cubic feet (9.9 cubic metre) of clear internal living space for every occupant.
“This roughly translates to two adults and one child below 10 years old, per standard-size room of about 12ft by12ft. Two children aged below 10 years can also be counted as an adult,” he said.
Quoting the law, Fernandez said under Section 78 of the Local Government Act 1978, the owner of an overcrowded premises shall be guilty of an offence with a fine not exceeding RM2,000 or a jail term not more than six months or both, upon conviction.
Overcrowding for commercial purposes, such as using dwelling units as hostels, is an infringement of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 and The National Land Code.
Under the Act, the owner would be liable for a fine of RM500,000, jail, or forfeiture of land, since the real intent was to use the premises as a commercial business of providing accommodation.