indepth

Letter to the editor: Yes, laws to curb annoying neighbours needed

Referring to a recent article published in EdgeProp.my by the legal adviser and the honorary secretary-general of the National House Buyers Association (HBA) on the need of having laws to deal with “neighbours from hell”, I’m glad the HBA has spoken on this issue.

I’m optimistic that if this issue garners more attention from the media and especially lawmakers, we can subsequently put it to rest. This issue has plagued our communities for as long as it shouldn’t have, especially those living in high-rise buildings like myself.

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For instance, let me highlight the nuisance caused by a neighbour who rents a unit right above mine. The noise they make is not only in the daytime but even during midnight.

Once, the police found them chopping up chicken feet on the floor at 1am, certainly not something anyone would do! To illustrate, this sounded exactly like an on-going renovation work.

We tried to communicate with them amicably but were met with much hostility. We then addressed our complaints to the management corporation (MC), state assemblymen’s (ADUN) office, city council and the police.

I was consequently referred to a city councillor who then liaised with the city council’s Commissioner of Building (COB). COB stated that it was only empowered to give verbal and written warnings to the nuisance creator and instruct the MC to look into the matter. In response, the MC said that they too could only give verbal and written warnings.

The police were initially reluctant to take a report on the matter as they deemed it to be a civil dispute. At that juncture, I felt the need to point out to

the police that its men and women in

blue should understand that minor offences were still offences.

Section 107(4) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) states that a police officer shall be duty-bound to receive any information in relation to any offence committed anywhere in Malaysia.

The issue was resolved after a kind lawyer issued a notice of demand to the nuisance creator and the unit owner, who would always ask us to handle the matter on our own when contacted.

Empowering the authorities to act

In Malaysia, there is no specific law on nuisance caused by neighbours but there are provisions which could arguably make this an offence.

Section 268 of the Penal Code provides for the offence of public nuisance, essentially covering anyone affected in the vicinity. The issue with this provision is that oftentimes, other neighbours, although affected, are afraid to lodge police reports for fear of retaliation and because they feel they are less affected compared to the immediate dwellers to the nuisance creator.

Section 13(1) of the Minor Offences Act 1955 (MOA 1955) states it is an offence to make excessive noise between 12am and 6am. Time and again, I have highlighted this provision to the police but they have opined otherwise.

Although noise nuisance is not specifically provided for under the Local Government Act 1976, Section 81(k) of the Act empowers the local authority to declare any matter to be a nuisance.

It is my humble opinion that if the lawmakers do not pass a specific Act targeting nuisance created by neighbours, the local authority should at least make good use of this provision to declare such to be a nuisance.

A new hope

Setting aside the differences in the legal system of the United States and Malaysia, we could look at how the City of Portland, Oregon, curbs nuisance creators.

Its local authority is authorised to issue fines of up to US$5,000 (RM20,340) for each separate violation. This is one of the many points our lawmakers should consider when passing a new legislation targeting neighbour disputes.

Notably, the HBA has also called for the establishment of a tribunal to handle neighbour disputes. Further to it or alternatively, it is my humble suggestion that we may establish a process similar to the small claims procedure to allow individuals to file neighbour disputes at court to be heard by magistrates and/or registrars who are empowered to grant injunctions.

Although I am in support of passing new legislations for this purpose, I do wish to highlight that careful consideration and procedures would have to be put in place, such as on who and how to determine the existence of such nuisance as reported, to prevent any potential false claims or worse, retaliation.

Enforcement

It is very unfortunate that the civil justice system is not easily accessible by the general public mainly due to its high cost.

Apart from civil action and until a new legislation as proposed by the HBA is passed, based on existing legislations, those who suffer from nuisance created by “neighbours from hell” can lodge a police report and ask for the matter to be investigated under Section 13(1) MOA 1955.

As it is a non-seizable offence, if the investigation officer (IO) decides not to investigate, he shall refer the complainant to the Magistrate, by virtue of Section 108(1) CPC.

If the IO classifies the case as NFA (no further action), one should insist on his or her right, but please do so politely.

Everyone is afforded equal protection under the law, but even if there is adequate protection, will there be adequate enforcement?

This story first appeared in the EdgeProp.my e-Pub on Dec 11, 2020. You can access back issues here.

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