Strata title still an issue for many apartments
Casa Tropicana in Petaling Jaya may be a neo-classical inspired condominium located in the luxurious Tropicana enclave, but despite the project being completed in 2007, the property owners are handicapped by one legal document.
When they decide to dispose the property, the consent has to be obtained from the developer. The reason is because none of the units in all five blocks have been issued a strata title – the legal document which proves individual ownership of the condominiums.
Currently, the management of the condominium is still under a joint-management body (JMB) formed by the residents and the developer. The developer has responded to queries. However, despite this being followed up about three years ago, the response from the authorities is still at a snail’s pace.
At that point, the blame was on the Surveyors’ Department, but after following up with the Selangor Land and Mines Office again on behalf of a relative, the truth appears uglier than what it should be.
Despite three separate emails being sent to its director, Kamarul Zaman Jamil, with a third email being copied to the Menteri Besar’s Office, there is hardly any response to the queries being submitted, except to learn from Kamarul Zaman’s secretary, Nurulina Ismail, that Kamarul Zaman has just retired this week. His deputy, Zabidah Awang has been tasked to look into the matter, but has yet to respond to my queries.
In the process, over the last one week, several phone calls have been made to Kamarul’s office, but there is hardly any feedback or response from the Selangor Land Office. This clearly shows the work attitude within the department has not changed, and unless pressure is mounted to push for work to be done, property owners of Casa Tropicana in Petaling Jaya can expect to wait, perhaps, another 10 years before their strata titles are issued.
Problem is prevalent
The example of Casa Tropicana is just one illustration, where strata titles have not been issued despite follow-ups being done with both the developer and the Land Office concerned.
In USJ.com.my, a resident had posted a question in 2007, asking why his home in USJ has yet to be issued a proper land title or Deed after over 11 years waiting. On Jan 11, 2007, when he posted his question, the title that was in his hand was still a Qualified Title (QT) or ‘Hak Milik Sementara’. No one in the forum appeared to have the answer or able to tell the difference between a QT and a Final Title (FT) or Grant.
Besides the QT/FT question, I have also often been asked another question, “What is the difference between a QT/FT and Leasehold/Freehold title?”
To simplify the matter, the issue of Leasehold and Freehold does not arise. In cases where the developer owns the land, the property built on it will be issued a Freehold Title; whereas, properties built on a plot of land leased from the State Government (say, for 99 years) will be issued the Leasehold Titles. Leasehold / Freehold is determined by the ownership of the land on which the property is built.
On the other hand, the title issued by the Land Office can be in the form of a QT, which is pending a formal survey being conducted by the Surveyor’s Department to determine the land area. Unless a proper survey has been conducted, disputes can later arise, especially when neighbours start to ‘cannibalise’ into your land. This can happen when you have an empty plot of land, and your neighbours on both sides gradually encroach into your plot.
Because it is still a QT, you may eventually lose your rights to the land that you have purchased.
The Final Title is therefore very important. As of today, the Selangor Land and Mines Office appears to be the only land office that has created a special task force known as the Flying Squad Unit, whose task is to convert the QT into FTs.
When the Pakatan government started taking over the Selangor State Government, this issue of QT and FT was highlighted to its exco member, Elizabeth Wong, and efforts have been quite fruitful. However, the conversion of the titles can only be done as soon as the survey has been done by the Surveyor’s Department, which is often the real bottom neck.
Developer gone bankrupt
In the case of Taman Kepong which comes under the Federal Territory Land and Mines Office, the developer had gone bankrupt many years ago.
As a result, the survey was never carried out, and the titles held by property owners up till 2010 were still Qualified Titles. After nearly a two-year-long campaign with the help of Kepong MP, Dr Tan Seng Giaw, the Grant titles were finally issued to property owners. These are for landed properties. They are different from the Strata Titles, which are issued to owners of high rise buildings.
But, what happens when a developer of a high rise building goes bankrupt before the Strata Titles are issued? The answer: it is possible for the Strata Titles to be delayed for as long as there is no political intervention. When politicians intervene, ultimately, the government may have to bear all the survey jobs that need to be done. In the process, many documents may have gone missing, making it more difficult to process the strata titles.
Apart from bankruptcy, subdivision into strata titles may also be delayed due to failure of the developer to complete a certain project. The process of takeover by a liquidator is even more complicated, and requires the consent of the buyers before the project can proceed, usually at the expense of the purchasers.
In the case of the abandoned apartment project in Taman Daya in Selayang, it took several years before the buyers finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. This was after 2008, when the new MP of Selayang, William Leong, took up the matter seriously and followed through it these past six years. The now-defunct developer, Sedaya Sdn Bhd failed to deliver the titles for both landed and strata properties.
After nearly 30 years of waiting, owners of landed properties in Taman Daya finally received their final titles from the Gombak Land Office. Meanwhile, Wong said that the master title of a three-block apartment, which was long abandoned by the developer, has been given to the Menteri Besar Incorporated (MBI) to safeguard the interests of the buyers. “As soon as the middle block is completed, the individual strata titles will be issued to the purchasers,” he said.
In another case, which I have been following up on behalf of some property owners, Palm Grove Home Sdn Bhd and Kennelwood Construction & Engineering Works Sdn Bhd has been identified by the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry as one of the developers which has failed to apply for strata title for Impiana Shop in Wangsa Permai.
Perhaps, the same developer going by the name of Palm Grove Housing Sdn Bhd and Majlis Sukan Negeri Selangor has also failed to apply for strata title for Pangsapuri Perdana apartments in Shah Alam.
Time for stern action
In the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry website, a few hundred developers have been blacklisted for failing to apply for strata title.
It is not that its Minister, Abdul Rahman Dahlan, is unaware of the problem, but actions have been found wanting. In the light of what a fellow cabinet minister of his, Tengku Adnan Mansor said about the BN government helping developers to make money, is it ironic to say that, in the process of helping the developers, the rights of the property buyers are not being looked after?
As Chang Kim Loong, secretary-general of the Housebuyers’ Association, put it, he cannot understand why the inordinate delays in implementing the Strata Management Act, 2013 (Act 757). It was a victory for him and those who fought for the property owners, but their sweet victory is leading them nowhere. Despite the Act receiving the Royal Assent on Feb 5 last year, and the law being gazetted three days later, the Act has yet to be enforced.
The Act is supposed to protect the interest of property purchasers, where under the Act, owners of new high rise units can expect to receive their strata titles upon moving into their property. But until the authorities can put their act together, Act 757 may be just flying nowhere.