StarMetro looks at measures houseowners can take to safeguard themselves when neighbours embark on renovation projects.
RENOVATING one’s home is something an owner looks forward to but the excitement is not shared by their neighbours.
What worries them the most is the possibility of damage when the hacking starts next door, not to mention the noise of construction.
StarMetro looks at the measures that property owners in Kuala Lumpur can take to ensure the safety of their homes and its occupants.
Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) requires all property owners to get approval from its Planning Department for all renovations involving the breaking of walls.
There is a set of guidelines to follow when it comes to house extensions.
The house owner is expected to submit the relevant documents including the building plan. Once approval is given, DBKL will assume that the renovation is done as per the approval and will only check if there is any complaint filed against it.
Petaling Jaya city councillor Derek Fernandez who is an expert in planning, local government and development law, said the law was such that the consultant being an architect, engineer or draftsman would take full responsibility for the safety of the works, compliance with the approval and relevant laws as stated in Rule 5 of the Uniform Building By-Laws 1984.
“It is unfortunate that the legislature seems to leave the compliance and safety of works primarily in the hands of the consultant or qualified person. We do not have the benefit of building inspectors appointed by the council as is the norm in developed countries such as the US and UK, but if we did, it would add a higher standard to the building industry.
“However, DBKL is bound to investigate the complaint and take the relevant action under the law,” he said.
Fernandez said DBKL had huge powers, if works had not been carried out according to plan, including the power to demolish or direct remedial work.
“They can order a demolition of the structure, issue a stop-work order with conditions, they can summon the offender or charge in court, fine or compound. Worse still, illegal works may also constitute a nuisance under the law and subject to further action under the Local Government Act 1976. DBKL has conducted demolitions before.
“If a neighbour’s house has suffered damage as a result of illegal works, DBKL can issue a stop-work order. It will not be lifted until the damage is rectified to the satisfaction of DBKL and the offender complies with its undertaking to compensate the neighbour for the damage.
“Since the owners are required to sign an undertaking to repair all damages caused to the neighbouring properties due to the renovations, the neighbour can always sue the offender in the civil courts.
Fernandez said DBKL also had the power to demolish the structure and charge the owner for the cost.
“This also applies to renovation without approval. DBKL can even auction the property by way of execution proceedings if the cost of demolition is not paid as if the amount owing is the unpaid rate,” he said.
The Uniform Building Bylaws 1984 stated that standard terrace houses need to have at least 6m setback between the gate and the front wall of the property. There should also be a 3m gap between the back wall of the house and the adjacent building wall.
DBKL also uses its discretion to allow small houses to be extended further by setting minimum setback of at least 4.6m. Small houses are between the range of 55sqm and 82sqm in lot sizes.
On the other hand, there are also some lucky people with responsive and cooperative neighbours.
Recently, a firewall of a house collapsed during the construction of a house next door in Bukit Bandaraya, exposing the side wall.
A resident, who declined to be named, said the owner of the damaged house contacted the neighbour immediately and the owner of the house under construction had agreed to do the necessary.
“Having renovation and reconstruction going on next door, is not pleasant. Since the noise and dust cannot be avoided, the least that an owner can do is to communicate and prioritise the concern of the neighbours.
“Practising good neighbourliness is very important to ensure harmony. After all, they are the closest person to offer help when needed.
“There are some who were not as lucky. A few years ago, a house owner here had water seeping into his side wall that was exposed due to the reconstruction of a house next door.
“Mold started forming on the side wall. A complaint was filed with DBKL and Malaysian Institute of Architects but the owner of the house under construction refused to take responsibility.
“There was the option to bring them to court but it was too much of a hassle and the victimised house owner decided to repair the damages after the neighbour had finished his construction project,” he said.
Similarly, 83-year-old Sathia Devi Nagalingam and her husband T. Arasu, 78, lived in fear as there was a gap between their house and the house under construction next door, that caused water to seep into their side walls.
“My neighbour approached me in March, last year about some renovations and I gave my consent.
“In April, the contractors started hacking the house down to the ground, not realising that they were damaging the side wall that separated both houses.
“One rainy June evening, water started leaking from the roof of our side wall flooding the house. I called the contractor and he saw the mess in my house and helped me clean up.
“He begged us not to report him to the authorities and that he would fix it once his construction was completed,” she said.
But Sathia Devi became more worried when bubbles started forming on the side walls.
“That was when we realised there was a gap in between our houses which was not suppose to happen as we are living in a linked house,” she added.
An architect who declined to be named confirmed that there should be no gap between link houses as it would affect the stability of the building.
Sathia Devi’s daughter Shalini tried to contact the owner and the contractor to discuss the matter but her attempts were futile.
“I called an architect to have a look at the construction, and he said the design could not have been approved by DBKL. True enough DBKL staff responded to my complaint saying that the owners did not follow the approved design,” she said.
Shalini is worried about her ageing parents’ safety.
“They have refused to live with me for fear their house would be ruined if left unattended,” she said.
Shalini said she has tried to contact and meet the officer in charge at DBKL but failed.
“I went once in November at 9am and waited until about 4pm, but the officer was said to be in a meeting. I was very tired and decided to go back.
“I sought help from Bangsar Park Residents’ Association (BPRA) ,” she said.
BPRA president Nitesh Malani said he had forwarded a complaint to DBKL and work at the home stopped in early November.
“However, worked started last month. The construction workers also live inside the incomplete building which is a safety hazard. I hope DBKL will help settle this problem amicably,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bukit Bandaraya Residents’ Association chairman Datuk M. Ali said he had always emphasised to DBKL that whenever they grant any approval for reconstruction, renovation or upgrade of any premises, they must ensure owners of such premises, their contractors and workmen do not pose any hardship to neighbours in the vicinity.
“DBKL must compel owners to secure consent from immediate neighbours on both sides, the back and front. Noise, dust levels must be controlled. DBKL officers from convened departments must monitor project site to ensure safety and security,” he said.
DBKL could not be contacted as press time.