Address five crucial issues of housing ecosystem in Sabah – house buyers


Photo for illustration purposes only. — Bernama photo

KOTA KINABALU (April 2): A group of house buyers urged the authorities to address five crucial issues of the housing ecosystem in Sabah.

In an open letter to the relevant ministers and public servants, the group said Sabah house buyers are always getting the short end of the stick due to long-drawn-out loopholes and shortcomings to the Sabah housing laws.

“Fundamentally, the outdated and irrelevant housing laws, on many occasions, have failed to protect Sabah house buyers’ interests. In addition, many of our housing laws are far behind compared to the revised housing development laws of our counterparts in Sarawak and West Malaysia,” it said in the open letter.

First issue that the group highlighted was about the eligibility to apply for an extension of time (EOT).

“With reference to the Temporary Measures for Reducing the Impact of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid 19) Enactment 2020, there were cases of opportunistic developers who applied the blanket extension of time (EOT) on their projects when they were not even entitled to the EOT as these projects were scheduled to be completed long in advance prior to the appearance of the Covid virus in Malaysia.

“Their purpose was to reduce the rightful Liquidated Ascertained Damages (LAD) claim from house buyers by 741 days and in our opinion, this was a form of subterfuge. Logically, the EOT should have been issued judiciously based on stringent screening for qualified developers, rather than to be issued liberally,” it said.

The second issue highlighted by the group was the lower percentage of LAD claim for Sabah house buyers, which is at 8 per cent compared to the 10 per cent of LAD for West Malaysia house buyers, should be revised.

The third issue was about the practice of selling carpark without title, which is considered by the group as unethical.

“The questionable practice of selling common property to unsuspecting owners in the form of carparks seems to be flourishing in stratified project developments. Carparks fall under the category of accessory parcel and are usually linked to the strata parcels that owners have paid whereas a common property includes all parts of the building that are shared by all individual owners. It refers to any areas of land or buildings that are not divided as being within a parcel. Hence, carparks should not be allowed to be designated as a parcel as it is common property.

“However, when common property is sold by the developer to a condo owner as a parcel, the procurement of a title by the developer must be pursued. Ironically, it appears to be a common practice that the process of procurement of a title is circumvented via dubious, underhanded methods and no authority is currently looking into such mercenary, unethical practice.

“Notably, carparks which are sold to condo owners without any titles are considered to be legally non-existence despite monetary transaction which takes place between a condo owner and a developer. Sadly, the selling of common property as parcel is also happening in commercial complexes.

“If such an unethical practice has existed for quite some time, who should be policing it and what legal steps have been put in place to stop it?” they asked.

The fourth issue in the open letter dated April 1, 2024 was about the absence of criminalisation and the imposition of a negligible fine against errant developers who abandon projects as seen in the Sabah Housing Development (Control and Licensing) Enactment 1978.

“Based on news reports, the revised enactment was passed in 2023, however, till to date, why isn’t the revised Housing Development (Control and Licensing) (Amendment) Enactment 2023 being enforced to protect house buyers? Has the revised enactment incorporated criminalising errant developers?

“In Sarawak and West Malaysia, developer who abandons or causes to abandon a housing development is liable to a fine of not less than RM250,000 or imprisonment, or both.

“If both Sarawak and West Malaysia have revised their HDO/A in 2013 and 2016 respectively to protect house buyers against unscrupulous developers who abandon projects, why are the relevant ministers and ministries in Sabah lethargic in revising the HDE 1978? How many more housing casualties does the state need to see before something is being done?

“If we look at the fate of a housing project at Phase 3A (2) in Taman Sawit Tawau, and two stratified projects namely the Triconic Tower and Pacificity in Kota Kinabalu, we can identify with the house buyers’ anxiety and pain. Both the unscrupulous, incompetent developers and the state have grievously disappointed them.

“Currently, Sabah’s housing laws are insufficient to hold such developers accountable for the financial misery and endless suffering they have caused these buyers,” said the open letter.

The final issue brought up by the group was the Sabah Land (Subsidiary Title) Enactment 1972.

“The Sabah Land (Subsidiary Title) Enactment 1972 which governs subsidiary titles matters and Management Corporations is more than 25 years behind, and it has not caught up with the rapid growth of stratified projects mushrooming in various towns and cities in Sabah.

“The last time it was revised was in 1998. We are of the view that the current enactment has not being able to address the complexities of urban living in shared spaces.

Hence, another question to our esteemed ministers and public officers, why are stratified projects being approved rapidly but there is no willpower to revise the Sabah Land (Subsidiary Title) Enactment that are essential to provide clear directions and accountability for developers and the Management Corporations?” they further asked.

According to the group, buying a home in Sabah shouldn’t be liken to forcing a house buyer to play the Russian roulette – a lethal game that is entirely subjected to chance or luck.

For example, if buyer A is lucky, he/she would get an ethical developer who delivers a completed housing or stratified project based on the SPA whereas buyer B who is unlucky would get a mercenary developer who exploits all the loopholes and shortchanges buyer B.

“The elements of safety, stability and security in investing a large portion of a person’s savings into buying a home should be assured by the relevant authorities, not ignored, and not downplayed.

“Just look at the excellent governance of the Singapore’s Building and Construction Authority (BCA). It is a force to be reckon with in this small city state. The strict laws and diligent enforcement do not seem to deter ethical developers from their businesses. In fact, errant developers who abandon or delay projects seem to be a rare breed in this city state. This proves that strict laws and enforcement deter unscrupulous developers, not the ethical ones,” they said.

The group said that it is the statutory duty of those who are overseeing housing matters in Sabah to safeguard the interests of house buyers by implementing robust changes that benefit a large part of the society.

They believe that criminalisation and stiff fine should act as a deterrent to developers who have ill-intention to defraud unsuspecting house buyers and the highest measure of screening and accountability should be imposed on any developers who want to operate their businesses in Sabah.

“Timely revision of many housing enactments, by-laws and policies should be done as soon as possible to match the accelerated growth of urban living. On top of that, the Housing Controller, Local Government and Housing Ministry (KKTP) and their ministers should hold public engagement sessions regularly.

“These sessions aim to understand the changing housing needs of the masses and to raise awareness of house buyers’ rights in Sabah. We liken the pivotal role of the Housing Controller, Housing and Local Government and Minstry (KKTP) and the appointed ministers to ancient gatekeepers.

“In ancient civilisations, gatekeepers played an important part of maintaining law and order in societies. A gatekeeper must conduct strict screening towards anyone who came through the city gate. A systemic failure to uphold such crucial role would entail the possibility of bringing ruin upon an entire civilisation.

Likewise with the Sabah housing ecosystem if we don’t heed from these historical facts,” they concluded.