Putting responsibility in hands of residents

A close-up look at the rubbish accumulated on awnings due to irresponsible inhabitants living on higher floors of flats.

THE first thing you will notice when you enter the lift is the putrid smell of urine. The next thing are the missing lift buttons.

By the time you get to the 10th floor, you would have probably seen the empty socket where the closed circuit television camera used to be.

That is if you can find a working lift, because the lifts are continually breaking down due to misuse.

Then there is the rubbish problem. It is everywhere — outside the building, on the staircase and on the window awnings of each apartment unit courtesy of irresponsible residents living on the upper floors.

The staircase’s hand railings are coming apart due to corrosion, and it poses a danger to the residents.

The walls are filled with graffiti and the corridors leading to the apartment units are blocked with innumerable bags of rubbish and discarded furniture, making the entire building one big fire hazard.

Welcome to Apartment Court 4, or simply known as AC4, in Taman Sri Sentosa, Kuala Lumpur. AC4 is four blocks of low-cost flats, each block 14-storey high. There are a total of 645 units.

It comes with basic facilities such as a playground, mini market, surau and outdoor badminton court. But everything is falling apart.

Residents owe the Joint Management Committee (JMC) more than RM700,000 in maintenance fees.

Eighty percent of the residents have not paid the maintenance fees, sinking funds plus insurance and the result is the deplorable state the flats are in.

Apart from the original owners, at least 40% are tenants renting the flats and about 30% of those are foreigners.

AC4 is private flats built about 20 years ago to house former squatters from the Kerinchi area.

It was sold to the residents for RM25,000 per unit.

The maintenance fee is RM47 monthly and RM3 for the sinking fund.

What the residents say

“Not strict enough” is the general sentiment among AC4 resident-owners about their JMC. But they also feel that the maintenance fee is high.

“RM50 is a lot of money for me. But I am willing to pay it and I have been paying diligently, ’’ said Noraini Zubir, 38.

“Why isn’t the JMC and the authorities doing anything about the culprits who don’t pay?

“I pay every month but things are only getting worse here, ”

she lamented.

“Management should be strict and take action. There are a lot of owners who do not pay and some owe RM15,000 or more, ” she added.

Her fellow resident, Norazura Zamzuri, 38, agreed that condition at the flats was getting from bad to worse.

“I pay but others do not, that is not fair.

“People who pay regularly will eventually get fed up because what is the point when there is no action against those who do not pay at all; so residents who have been paying may stop doing so, ” said Norazura who has been living at the flats for 22 years.

Rekha Indran, 23, feels that the maintenance fee is high.

She lives in a ground floor unit with eight family members, including her infant child.

“Right now, with only two people working, it is a struggle to make the money last till the end of the month. So I try to help out by selling banana fritters at the corridor, ” she said.

“We try to pay (maintenance fee) as regularly as we can, but we still owe a few thousand ringgit, ” Rekha confessed.

Another resident, Siti Aishah, is worried over drug addicts and foreigners living there.

“They have dirty habits, are noisy and can be very aggressive. I have seen them causing a ruckus here and there is nothing being done about it, ” she complained.

She also argued that she should be charged less in maintenance fees because she lived on the ground floor and never used the lifts.

What the JMC says

Verbal abuse and physical threats are commonly faced by staff of AC4 JMC.

According to a JMC spokesman, residents randomly drop into the office every day to shout at and scold the staff for not doing their job.

A few residents had also lodged a police report accusing the employees of squandering residents’ money instead of fixing up the flats.

“One man wielded a parang when we went to his unit to remind him to pay his maintenance fees, ” said the spokesman.

“Sometimes my staff get bullied by gangs of residents outside the apartments.

“Many have resigned because the verbal abuse and threats got really bad, ” she said, adding that there were days she feared for her own safety too.

The spokesman said only 20% of residents were paying the fees, while the management grappled with a chronic vandalism problem.

“The lifts constantly break down, Telekom cables keep getting stolen, there is water theft too and people staying on upper floors throw rubbish out of their windows so some get stuck on awnings on the lower floors. The problems get worse by the day and I feel totally helpless, ” she said.

She explained that the JMC could do only the basic upkeep because very little money was collected in maintenance fees.

“Some of the residents had lodged police report over the RM50 maintenance fee which they say is too much.

“I welcome the local authorities to take over (management) and see if RM50 is too much or not, ’’ added the spokesman.

What the MP says

Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil said disputes between stratified properties owners and management bodies were prevalent everywhere and the problem was getting worse.

“There are over 6,000 strata properties in Kuala Lumpur alone, and we have found that the Joint Management Body (JMB) and Management Corporation (MC) at 95% of these properties have not carried out an annual general meeting in the past year. The majority have not submitted audited accounts either, ” he said.

“Ninety-five percent of stratified properties in the city are not managed well and AC4 is probably a perfect example of this problem, ” he added.

Fahmi, who was appointed as a member of the Federal Territories Minister’s Council to assist with the social and economic development duties of the Federal Territories Ministry and Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), said his biggest task was to solve disputes at stratified properties.

But he was quick to add that the answer did not always lie with the Commissioner of Building (COB).

The COB is responsible for implementing the Strata Management Act (Act 757) 2013 and tasked with resolving disputes involving maintenance, building management and residents.

“The COB is also overwhelmed, ” said Fahmi, adding that the department under DBKL had only 130 employees to look after 6,000 properties in Kuala Lumpur.

What your vote means

Fahmi feels that management disputes can be avoided if residents have a proper understanding of grassroot democracy.

“We want residents to try settling their problems first before they take it to the COB for mediation.

“They must understand the power of their vote because strata properties are meant to operate as a democracy, where the unit owners will decide the best way to manage their property, ” he said.

He elaborated that members of the management corporation were voted in by residents, with each unit owner getting one vote. The MC serves to represent all the unit owners.

“But if you do not pay your maintenance fees or settle the arrears, you do not have a say or get to decide on matters pertaining to the running of the stratified property, ’’ he said.

The Lembah Pantai lawmaker has been advocating this grassroot democracy that, in his opinion, is crucial for stratified properties.

“Any resident who does not pay the maintenance fee, does not get to have a say (in the running of the property). Otherwise there exists this chronic poverty-stricken situation in apartments like AC4 and other areas in the city.”

What is the solution

It is crucial that residents take their votes seriously and resolve common problems of high-rise living soon.

This is because starting next year in Kuala Lumpur, the onus to pay quit rent or land tax for stratified properties will fall on the owner. It means the unit owner has to pay the tax directly to the Federal Territories Land and Mines Office. Currently, owners of stratified properties pay the parcel rent to their respective management corporations along with their maintenance fees.

Fahmi foresees a big problem next year when parcel tax is implemented.

He has launched a pilot project in Taman Sri Sentosa to educate strata owners there on the importance of paying maintenance fees and understanding the roles of JMB, JMC and MC.

“If they do not see the value or role of the JMB and MC, it will be difficult for them to appreciate the facilities at their properties; so I am working with the COB to resuscitate ailing stratified properties in Taman Sri Sentosa, ” he said.

According to Fahmi, Taman Sri Sentosa has one of the highest number of stratified properties in Kuala Lumpur.

He said there were over 5,000 stratified units in the township and more than half the owners had yet to be classified as such.

“Many units have yet to go through the memorandum of transfer (MoT) from developer to buyer in order for the latter to receive their strata title, even though it has been 30 years, ” he noted.

He added that he was working with the COB and had engaged legal firms to help with the process at a huge discount in legal fees.

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