I HAVE lived the past 20 years in a quiet, leafy corner of Old Town Petaling Jaya. The houses here are old bungalows occupied by retired civil servants. Life has been peaceful, and home is a refuge from the hustle and bustle of urban living. Until recently.
My neighbour’s house fell vacant after the old folks passed away. Their children did not continue living there and chose to rent out to a bed-and-breakfast (BnB) operator. Having a huge compound, this meant that it could accommodate more than the casual guest. Hosting of large-scale events with hundreds of people was possible due to the ample space.
Three months ago I came home to find more than 100 cars lining both sides of my narrow street. I found out that 200 guests were revelling in a party organised at the BnB. There was the obligatory loud music and karaoke sessions, lasting late into the night.
A month later, a large tour bus pulled up in front of my house. About 70 guests had arrived for a lunch event at my neighbour’s house. Since then there has been repeated intrusions of large numbers of people having events, gatherings, social functions and even a video shoot in our once quiet neighbourhood.
Complaints to the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) have resulted in the owner and the BnB operator being informed that while there is no breach of use of this house for residential purposes, it is legally not permissible to operate a hotel facility without a licence. They have been advised to stop all hotel or event activities until proper guidelines are formulated for BnB operations. Despite this, another gathering happened again this weekend, which prompted me to write this letter.
First of all, let me admit that I am selfish. I worked long and hard to pay off the loans for my house and looked forward to a retirement in peace and tranquility. My life investment is now rendered worthless because my neighbour has become a BnB and an events venue. I am disappointed that my home is no longer my castle, and that my street can be crowded with tenants’ cars, and my nights disturbed by late night revelry. Should I choose to give up and sell my house, I am faced with a poor resale value as nobody wants to live next door to such a neighbour.
My neighbour is equally selfish. She chose a businessman as a tenant. This BnB operator can afford to pay a hefty monthly rental for use of the property. Never mind that her neighbours are inconvenienced or that their property values are diminished; as long as the money is good everything else is irrelevant.
This is where the authorities like the MBPJ need to exercise social justice for the greater good of communities. Rational rules for fair use of unoccupied properties need to be formulated for the benefit of all parties concerned.
Of paramount consideration should be the upholding of the law. A residential property differs from a commercial one in that the taxes are lower as there is no provision for larger road access, parking space, unloading of heavy vehicles, and industrial electricity and water supply. A BnB takes advantage of the cheap residential taxes to profit from a commercial activity. The MBPJ fails to collect due taxes from such an operation when it is hidden in a residential area.
To be fair, residential use of a property often does not differ from owner-occupied activities. Any house owner can invite friends over to stay and have a gathering with several cars and families invited. In Malaysia, the holding of kenduri, birthday parties or even funerals with makeshift tents extending out into the streets happens all the time. No neighbour will begrudge such activities in the spirit of neighbourliness. Very often we lend a hand and even help in such activities as part of a close-knit community.
However, things are very different when such activities occur with regular frequency on a commercial basis. There are no friends involved but paying tenants. There are no happy community events but money-making disruptions to the neighbourhood by people who rent a home for various purposes. There is no semangat kejiranan. These are not your neighbours. These are strangers and businessmen invading and violating your neighbourhood.
To circumvent accusations of commercial activity, BnB tenants have been coached to say they are the owner’s friends who are invited to stay. They do not reveal any payments or receipts proving their rental. However, a simple online search shows the property being listed on five Internet hotel and BnB websites. That alone confirms the reason for the frequent tenants. Despite the MBPJ’s advice to stop these BnB activities, the continued availability of online booking for it means that the operator is openly flouting the ruling.
Notwithstanding frequent reports with photographic evidence, MBPJ continues to give the benefit of the doubt to the owner and the BnB operator. To this day, I am not aware of any punitive action against these people who are wrecking my neighbourhood.
This is an issue of national importance. A house is the most expensive investment for any working citizen. A lifetime of work is invested in the property to provide a happy abode for the family and hopefully passed on with increasing value to the next generation. This noble endeavour is being eroded every day. For far too long the meek and gentle among us have practised good neighbourliness as businesses sprout everywhere in our taman. More than BnBs, there are kindergartens, old folks homes, religious associations, online businesses, warehouse stores, even auto repair shops and used car showrooms blatantly operating illegally without licences.
It is the duty of the authorities to maintain and enhance neighbourhoods for their inhabitants. The authorities certainly should not entertain or encourage weeds like BnBs that threaten the lush green lawns that we call home.