Seeking painful lesson for irresponsible houseowners

This house at Taman Salak Selatan in Kuala Lumpur is no longer in a habitable state. — YAP CHEE HONG/The Star

THE Federal Territories Land and Mines Office (PPTGWP) is considering invoking the National Land Code 1965 (NLC) as a strategy to force owners to clean up their properties that have become derelict and pose a threat to public health and safety.

Owners of such properties in Kuala Lumpur, both residential and commercial units, who have left their buildings in a dilapidated state risk losing the land where their properties sit, if the land office deems it unsafe to the community.

Sections 127 and 128 of the NLC allows alienated land to be forfeited by the state.

Also there is a condition under Section 116 (C) of the NLC that in all residential land titles, the owner of the land must erect a building on the land within two years and maintain the land in a habitual state.

Muhammad Yasir says it is time to take action against offenders using the NLC.Muhammad Yasir says it is time to take action against offenders using the NLC.

PPTGWP director Muhammad Yasir Yahya said the NLC had never been used to forfeit residential units in a derelict or unhabitable state before, but that he was willing to explore it as a deterrent to get owners of such units to take responsibility of their properties.

Muhammad Yasir said he was aware of the growing number of derelict houses in Kuala Lumpur which was getting out of control and endangering the public, and that he felt it was time to take action.

“Yes, we have the power to forfeit the land, especially if the property has become dilapidated and fallen into disrepair and poses a threat to the public.

“We are willing to pursue that (forfeiture) and make it a lesson for those who continue to ignore their responsibility and allow their properties to fall into disrepair, ’’ he told StarMetro.

Muhammad Yasir has vast experience in land matters having served as PPTGWP deputy director and director between 2015 and 2017, before returning early this year to helm PPTGWP for the second time.

Prior to that, he had also served as PTG Selangor deputy director.

Forfeiture of land is carried out when the owner does not pay quit rent despite repeated warnings.

“Usually when we issue Notice 6A to them to remit payments, they will comply.

“It is a lengthy process and we are not in the habit of forfeiting lands, but will do so if they refuse to pay (quit rent) or if public threat is imminent.

“Most people tend to pay the taxes when notice is issued, but they do not keep their units in a habitual condition, ’’ he said, adding that action would be taken if the residential unit or building was in a poor state and no longer safe for habitation.

“It is not just a question of overgrown shrubs, as well as rat and snake infestation — the unit must no longer be habitable.

“Elements of missing doors and windows as well as leaking roofs qualify for this.

“In other words, it must no longer be in its original state and it must be abandoned where no one lives there anymore, ’’ he explained.

Muhammad Yasir added that the land office could also take action if there was a breach of conditions pertaining to the land title, like using a residential unit for commercial purposes.Fernandez says invoking the NLC against errant offenders ios the right move by the land office.Fernandez says invoking the NLC against errant offenders ios the right move by the land office.

On the right track

Planning law expert Derek Fernandez is of the view that Muhammad Yasir is on the right track by invoking the NLC.

“I commend him for that, this is certainly the right approach.

“In fact, PTG Selangor had also indicated that they were willing to explore the NLC when I attended the State Assembly Select committee meeting on local government recently.’

“It is legally correct and an effective method to control wilful or repeated neglect in leaving houses abandoned, to the extent that it threatens public health and safety, ’’ said Fernandez, adding that sections 127 and 128 of the NLC allowed alienated land to be forfeited by the state.

“There is an implied condition under Section 116(c) of the NLC in all residential land titles that the land owner must erect a building on that land within two years and maintain the land in the same habitual state.

“Leaving a property over a long period of time in a derelict state, not habitable and posing a threat to public health and safety constitutes a breach of that implied condition, thereby rendering the land liable to be forfeited by the state in accordance with the NLC, ’’ he pointed out.

According to data provided by Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), there are 1,299 vacant land and 772 vacant houses that have been abandoned and fallen into a derelict state in the capital city.

From January to September this year, DBKL had issued some 375 notices to owners of vacant land or houses that have been left in a dilapidated state.

The local authority has been grappling with red tape, bureaucracy and legality issues in dealing with habitual offenders.

According to DBKL Health Department senior deputy director Dr Umi Ahmad, many of the owners were willing to pay the assessment fees each year but not willing to maintain their properties.Dr Umi says DBKL does not have the power to forfeit land.Dr Umi says DBKL does not have the power to forfeit land.

“It’s getting worse. Apathy (from owners of derelict properties) is just as bad.

“DBKL does not have the power to forfeit land, only the state government through PTG can do so. But since it has become a health issue, we need to solve this problem, ’’ she added.

According to DBKL records, in most cases of abandoned properties, the owners had passed on or migrated, and their next of kin were not interested in the property or were unwilling to pay the fines when compounded.

In the event that the assessment tax is not paid, the local authority can seize the property.

Most will pay up anyway, but the problem is far from settled and will crop up again and again, especially among repeat offenders.

Which is why many feel that land forfeiture is the way to go to resolve the issue of abandoned properties.

KL a dengue hotspot

Another reason the authorities are stepping up action is the spike in dengue cases nationwide.

It was recently reported that Selangor and Kuala Lumpur recorded the highest number of dengue cases in the country.

Up until the end of September, Selangor recorded the highest number of dengue-related deaths at 36, while it was seven each for Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.

Both Selangor and Kuala Lumpur also have the highest number of abandoned properties.

In Kuala Lumpur, the dengue hotspots are Kepong and Cheras, which coincidentally also have the highest number of abandoned properties in the city.

Based on DBKL figures on the number of notices issued to owners who failed to maintain their properties, there was a spike from February to August this year, with an exception in April when no notices were issued.

The highest number of notices issued were in February (63), June (67), July (76) and August (53).

Some of these were reported to be dengue hotspots.

Waste collectors at risk

Waste contractor Alam Flora as well as private cleaning contractors have expressed concern that their workers are in danger of contracting dengue or other diseases

while cleaning up areas close to abandoned properties.

“I have received complaints from Alam Flora over their concerns and I have informed DBKL.

“But it is private property and we cannot do much, ’’ said Public Cleansing Corporation Federal Territories director Mohd Zahir Shari.

“I am happy to hear that PTG will be exploring forfeiture laws to crack the whip on errant home owners, ’’ he added and hoped that people would take things seriously now.

Meanwhile, Prof Dr G. Jaya-kumar, a professor of Occupational Health at the Faculty of Medicine in Melaka Manipal Medical College, agreed with Mohd Zahir and said Alam Flora workers were at high risk of contracting dengue.

“They are also at risk of Covid-19 and waterborne diseases like Hepatitis A, typhoid and acute gastroenteritis.

“Due to their nature of work, they also face health issues such as eye irritation, mucous membranes, dermatitis, respiratory and gastro- intestinal disorders.

“Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994, employers have a legal duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their employees, ’’ he pointed out.

Prof Jayakumar also said that workers would need to undergo periodic medical screening and employers were legally mandated to provide personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, coveralls and safety boots.

“It is also advisable for these workers to be immunised against diseases like Hepatitis A and B as well as typhoid.

“Many of these workers are foreigners who are unaware of our culture and health practices, ” he said.

“They have to be provided with sufficient health education in a language they understand to prevent common illnesses.

“General cleaners and the public should not have to endure any hardship due to the irresponsible behaviour of owners of abandoned properties.

“Therefore, the land office’s move to possibly invoke forfeiture laws as a deterrent is a step in the right direction, ’’ he added.

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