• The main crux of the concerns centres around the issue of the “consent threshold” to be gathered from property owners before a development is redeveloped under the new law.

The Madani Government has made several press statements and announcements during the past year and more recurrently in recent months regarding its intention to introduce a new law aimed at facilitating the urban renewal, redevelopment, rejuvenation and regeneration of certain identified private properties in the urban areas, namely Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru and Penang.

The announcement that it will proceed with such a law has been met with a lot of trepidation and concerns from representatives of resident associations, management bodies, non-profit organisations, institutes of higher learning and individual property owners, just to name a few.

The main crux of the concerns centres around the issue of the “consent threshold” to be gathered from property owners before a development is redeveloped under the new law. A few numbers have been thrown out, such as a consent threshold of 90%, 75%, etc, which raises the question whether the Government realises that it is not dealing with its own properties but that of private citizens.

The Government is claiming that it intends to introduce into the new law a low consent threshold to ensure better implementation of said law in light of any resistance, which will naturally come from the minority of owners who may not want to relinquish their hard-earned properties regardless of the amount of compensation dangled before them like carrots.

The Government justifies its rationale in proceeding with the drafting of this new law as it claims there are numerous developments which are dilapidated, structurally obsolete and unsound, populated by unfavourable residents that give rise to crime.

However, it behooves us to ask some pertinent questions as to the real reason behind this proposed redevelopment law. More importantly, do we really need such a law in order to ensure that our urban areas are safe and secure for habitation?

Existing legal provisions

We currently have sufficient laws to protect the rights of homeowners and effectively address the Government’s purported concerns.

As far as the protection of homeowners are concerned, the existing laws in place are the Federal Constitution, the National Land Code 1965, the Housing Development (Control & Licensing) Act 1966, the Strata Titles Act 1985, the Strata Management Act 2013 (SMA) and the Land Acquisition Act 1960 (LAA), just to name a few.

As for ensuring obsolete and structurally unsafe residential structures and buildings are reasonably and adequately addressed, the laws in place are, among others, the SMA for strata buildings; the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974; the Local Government Act 1976; the Federal Territory (Planning) Act 1982; and the Town & Country Planning Act 1976. We also have other applicable laws such as the Penal Code and the Dangerous Drugs Act to address criminal activities that exist within a community.

This article will not be going into the details of the specific legal provisions. Suffice to state, we already have a plethora of laws in existence to protect homeowners and to address concerns on dilapidated and structurally unsafe residential buildings.

What is still lacking in certain instances is the enforcement of these laws by the relevant authorities. Everyone knows that our greatest weakness is enforcement.

Arguably, the proposed redevelopment law allows more participation of the homeowners prior to the acquisition of their properties, unlike the LAA, where consent of homeowners is not a prerequisite. However, the LAA is limited in its application, where the government’s acquisition of private land and properties are only allowed for redevelopment for public infrastructure and public benefit, and not for the enrichment of private businesses, developers and other commercially interested parties.

It is the contention of the National House Buyers Association (HBA) that the proposed redevelopment law will be negatively affecting the rights of homeowners.

Is gentrification the ultimate objective?

It would appear so. At the very least, gentrification will be one of the outcomes, should the redevelopment law be passed and implemented.

The Oxford Language Dictionary defines “gentrification” as “the process whereby the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting new businesses, often displacing current inhabitants (emphasis mine) in the process”.

Redevelopment, regeneration, revitalisation and rehabilitation are the core objectives of the proposed redevelopment law. All are sensible words that must be translated to positive action. If we were to take the literal meaning of all these catchwords, it would appear that the objectives were positive and for the greater good.

Upon closer scrutiny though, it seems more to serve the good of those having commercial interests at the expense of sacrificing the legitimate rights of homeowners.

This outcome is clearly a violation of the rights given to us by Article 13 of the Federal Constitution. Now, Article 13 of the Federal Constitution is worded negatively viz that we can only be deprived of our property by operation of a law.

(Read also: Potential en-bloc sale under proposed Urban Renewal Act unconstitutional)

Question: Does that mean that any law can be enacted and passed to deprive us as legitimate owners of our properties and homes? The answer is a resounding “no”. The legal arguments will not be elaborated here.

At the risk of repetition, we already have the LAA to facilitate government acquisition of private properties for the construction of public infrastructure or to support the commercial needs of the public.

Why then do we need another similar statute when even the LAA is known to have been abused by unscrupulous parties to deprive owners of their properties for objectives which are not within the parameters of the LAA itself? What guarantees are there that the proposed urban renewal redevelopment laws will not be exploited?

(Read also: Urban Renewal Act: Is KPKT biting more than it can chew?)

Further pushing property prices beyond the masses’ reach

Let us look at the land situation in our urban areas. In KL, there is plenty of land which belongs to the Federal Authority which can potentially be developed to provide for public housing, for instance. This is similarly for Johor Bahru and Penang, especially in Seberang Perai. Penang island, as it is now, is already at maximum capacity, thus rendering it not a viable choice for further development or gentrification.

Property prices are already beyond the reach of many in these three urban cities. Should we encourage further escalation of prices that will only further alienate our own citizens from owning homes, simply to pander to the commercial interests of a few?

There are no reasonable grounds why private land should be targeted for redevelopment when our national objective should be population control of the urban areas and to focus on development in other parts of the country to ensure more equitable distribution of resources between the West and East Coasts and the Borneo states.

Alienating existing homeowners and creating a bubble of highly priced properties that will alienate ordinary citizens from owning homes in these three cities is unethical and not in line with the Federal Constitution.

It is easy for the Government to only address consent threshold, at the expense of the minority who may disagree to relinquish their properties, but such intention breaches human rights, as it is not the Government’s properties.

Perhaps to show sincerity in creating more sustainable living conditions for urban dwellers, the Government needs to initiate the rehabilitation and rejuvenation thrusts for existing residential buildings identified by certified authorities as dilapidated, obsolete and structurally unsafe before redevelopment is even considered.

Datuk Chang Kim Loong is the Hon Secretary-general of the National House Buyers Association (HBA). 
HBA can be contacted at: 
Email: [email protected]
Website: www.hba.org.my 
Tel: +6012 334 5676

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