When added security makes it unsafe

More and more Kuala Lumpur residents are installing gates in their back lanes. — CHAN TAK KONG/The Star

A FEW years ago in Taman Bukit Indah off Jalan Kelang Lama, Kuala Lumpur, residents living in Jalan Selera decided to instal a gate in their back lane with each household getting a key.

The particular stretch had 14 houses, however, not everyone was agreeable so the barricades were only installed in between households that were willing to pay for it.

However, following a dispute with a neighbour recently, resident Grace Chin wants the obstructions removed.

Chin has made multiple complaints to Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) via phone and even lodged a report with the Seputeh DBKL branch and police.

She no longer feels safe in her home and wants the gates removed.

“I am no longer happy as my back lane has become a fire trap and health hazard.

“This started when my neighbour decided to use the back lane as a kitchen and even hangs meat to dry outside.

“Not only that, when cooking and washing, she throws food refuse directly into the drain and this attracts lizards, flies and rats, ” she explained.

Chin alleged that the back lane was obstructed with pots, pans, stove, gas tank as well as illegal extensions and awnings that were not sanctioned by DBKL. She wants the gates removed permanently.

She added that residents never got the local authority’s permission to put up the gates in the first place. Instead of feeling safe, she now fears for her life.

Chin said DBKL enforcement officers visited her house to investigate the matter but no action has been taken.Pros and cons

The sight of padlocked back lanes is quite common in residential areas with rows of terrace houses.

This security measure, however, is against the law. Many are self-initiated and not sanctioned by residents associations.

In many areas in Kuala Lumpur, some houseowners who had installed the gates went even further and carried out illegal extensions at the rear of their houses, by tiling the back lanes and putting up awnings.

A resident who lives along the Jalan Selera stretch and wanted to be identified as Lee, said this placed other residents in danger if a fire breaks out.

“Certain individuals think they are above the law, ’’ said Lee, adding that he hoped DBKL and the Fire and Rescue Department would take action.

Following a series of break-ins 15 years ago, residents living in a row of terrace houses in Happy Garden, Jalan Kelang Lama, also decided to erect gates in the back lane to deter thieves. “We had no choice but to put up the gates as our houses were being broken into repeatedly, ” said S.C. Cheah, a retired accountant.

“We did not get permission from DBKL. Residents mutually agreed to pay for the gate and we were all given a key.

“The back lane is kept neat and tidy with no obstructions and there have been no break-ins since.

“We hope that DBKL will not come after us because we have been very responsible in managing the back lane, ” he said.

Like Cheah, there are many supporters of back lane gates whose primary concern is safety and security.

But opponents say that such obstructions do more harm than good and are a public nuisance.

“Firstly, I have noticed that cleaning contractors and those carrying out fogging exercises will avoid gated back lanes. That is not a good thing, ” said Taman Desa resident Shanti Shankar.

“Also, the back lanes are used by residents, and it is unfair to close off a public walking path, ” she said, adding that many pedestrians felt back lanes were safer.

Illegal act

Lawyer Derek Fernandez said interfering with access to a public road is illegal.

“If it is a public back lane, then unless it is an approved guarded scheme, it is illegal and a breach of several laws, including the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974.

“The local authority can immediately demolish, claim costs from the wrongdoer and charge the person in court, ” he said, adding that neighbours could also sue the offender.

Fernandez said closing off back lanes posed a threat during a fire or emergency as personnel would not be able to access the back area if required.

“The land (back lanes) belongs to the local authority and in this case, DBKL.”

He explained that the Petaling Jaya Safe City Sub-Committee of which he is chairman, was responsible for approving the construction of gates after receiving recommendations from the fire department, police and other agencies.

“The committee will only look at a request to put up a gate if 75% of residents consent to it but that does not guarantee approval, ” he said.

Crime Prevention Foundation member SKK Naidu, who is also Brickfields Rukun Tetangga chairman, said although he was not against residents installing gates in their back lanes, they must be responsible for such structures.

“There must be no obstruction along the lane, and a system to allow waste contractors to do their work and fogging exercises to be carried out, ” he said, adding that if a mishap were to happen, there should be no finger-pointing later.

When contacted, a DBKL spokesman said it was an offence under Section 69(3) of the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974 to put up any barriers or obstruct back lanes.

“We take this matter seriously, especially since it is not only a fire trap, but hampers our contractors from doing their job like fogging and cleaning drains, ” said the spokesman, adding that those with complaints should contact the DBKL hotline at 1800-88-3255 or their respective DBKL branch office.

“We will take action if a complaint is made so I hope that anyone who has broken the law will remove the gate on their own accord or face the consequences, ” he added.

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