Sunday, January 3, 2010

Making high-rise living conducive for all

Kong: We will strive to help make high-rise living conducive for all

THE commitment of buying a flat, apartment or condominium is heavy and for some, is a journey fraught with uncertainties.

Many have ended up having nightmares after achieving the dream of owning a home – from poor security, faulty lifts, dirty surroundings to bad neighbours. All is not lost, though.

Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha says his ministry will go all out to help make the newly-implemented Building and Common Property (Maintenance and Management) Act 2007 (BCPMMA) work.

The minister gives his take on how to make high-rise living a conducive affair not only for yourself, but also your neighbours.

Q: Datuk Seri, how serious is the problem of owners not paying up maintenance charges?

A: The problem is quite serious, especially among low-cost housing projects.

How do we overcome this problem?

We (the ministry) are looking into various ways, including educating the people on the importance of having enough funds to maintain their property. A well-maintained and managed property not only provides a conducive living environment, but also enhances the property value.

There have been many reports in the media about poorly-maintained and managed buildings, particularly those involving low- and low-medium cost projects. Many cases are serious, like the joint management body (JMB) owing hundreds of thousands of ringgit in electricity bills; or tens of thousands of ringgit in water bills and faulty lifts.

Many of the serious problems are cumulative in nature. The owners and those in the maintenance and management side must work together right from the start.

As owners, one must take an interest in the way your property is being maintained and managed. The owners can participate in meetings, particularly the annual meetings (AGM).

Channel your grouses at meetings, propose solutions for common good and exercise your right as a good neighbour when matters are put to a vote.

Do your part as an owner, resident, including as a tenant. Keep an eye on the surroundings and report misgivings to the building management.

But there have been serious complaints on the developer, JMB or even MC for not doing their job. For instance, of JMB members who went missing, money gone from the building maintenance account and dubious accounting.

We (ministry) are coming up with programmes to educate the developer, JMB or management corporation (MC) on how they can do a better job.

What are the roles, duties and responsibilities of the developer, JMB and MC?

The details are stipulated in the BCPMMA. In short, the developer will maintain and manage the property before the delivery of vacant possession. Within 12 months from the date of delivery of vacant possession, the developer must convene the first meeting to form the JMB which comprises the developer and at least five and not more than 12 owners of the property.

The JMB takes over the task from the developer and appoints a joint management committee (JMC) to do the job on its behalf.

Once the strata titles for the property are registered, a management corporation will be formed to take over the task from the JMB.

The MC will form a MC council, comprising at least three and not more than 14 owners of the property to undertake the task. The MC council will be elected at each AGM and shall cease office at the next AGM.

Who will oversee the performance of the developer, JMB or even the MC?

The owners can forward their complaints on the developer, JMB or MC to the controller of buildings (COB).

The COB is the president of the local council where their property is located.

The COB is empowered, among others, to appoint a managing agent (MA) to take over the duties of the developer, JMB or MC if the COB is satisfied that they are not doing their job. I will like to advise the COB to perform their duties and exercise their power.

What are the obligations of the owners of the property?

Under the BCPMMA, an owner convicted of not paying maintenance fees can be fined up to RM5,000, and RM50 per day from the day of conviction when the offence continued.

The law also provides for the removables of the defaulters to be sold to recover the debt.

Apart from being a good neighbour and not being a nuisance to begin with, owners and residents including tenants, must also understand that they are governed by house rules and it is their duty to adhere to the rules.

This covers matters such as security, cleanliness, the use of common property, maintenance of the individual unit as well as renovation work.

Who determines the maintenance fees?

The developer determines the fees according to the share value. The share value will depend on the parcel area. But later, the JMB or MC has the right to determine the new rate based on changing needs.

Developers tend to list out an impressive range of resort-like living facilities in their promotion. However, there have been cases where a swimming pool turned out to be no more than a children’s wading pool. How to check such problems?

Owners should be discerning. You must find out what you are going to pay for before deciding on the purchase. Read the fine line and ask questions. Do your homework. This is a free market. There is no specific guideline for the developer to follow as to the type of facilities they include in their projects. But developers can be charged for misleading advertisements.

At least one big developer has said that his company will reduce the number of facilities to basic ones like security, swimming pool and tennis courts in his upcoming development. He said this would keep maintenance fees low. Those wishing to use the non-available facilities can do so in a club nearby. All owners will be given club membership. Do you think it is time to consider suggestions such as the “you use, you pay system”?

Can residents ask to discontinue certain facilities in a state of disrepair or those hardly used?

Residents can bring up the matters at the AGM and put them to a vote.

The ministry is always open to suggestions and will study them before taking the next course of action.

There are suggestions to set up a tribunal to expedite the hearing of cases brought about by the aggrieved parties in high-rise residential units. Has the ministry received such a proposal?

The proposal is still under discussion.

Questions on the usage of funds. For instance, the new management of a condominium in Petaling Jaya had boasted of cutting the money spent on gardening in the common areas by more than half, from RM240,000 in 2007 to RM108,000 the following year. Can the owners ask those concerned to explain the vast difference?

Yes, they can. But the former management is not obliged to answer because they are expected to answer and explain everything during the AGM.

Who will audit the accounts of the maintenance funds? If owners are unhappy over the accounting, where can they channel their complaints?

The auditor appointed by the JMB or MC will do the auditing. The unhappy residents can channel their complaints to the COB in their respective areas.

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