Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fee defaulters make living in high-rise condo a nightmare

HOW do you get errant condominium owners to settle their maintenance fees and charges? A friend who was living in a medium-cost condominium in Kepong asked me this at dinner the other night. The condominium's management committee, of which he is a member, had been grappling with the issue for years. Because of insufficient funds to manage the high-rise, everything is falling apart.

The lifts frequently broke down and garbage not collected regularly. Last week, the security company quit and two foreigners who could barely understand Bahasa Malaysia or English were engaged to man the gates as a stopgap measure.

The problems that he was facing are nothing new, I said. They were as old as the Strata Title Act introduced in 1985 to spell out the roles and responsibilities of property owners and the managers for the proper management of a stratified property.

Even after the Building and Common Property (Maintenance and Management) Act 2007 was gazetted and the Commissioner of Buildings (COB) established to adjudicate recovery procedures against errant property owners, problems related to non-payment of maintenance fees and charges continue to plague highrise owners.

New high-rises do better. Some developers make property buyers pay maintenance fees and charges up to a year in advance to stave off problems years down the road. But the older premises continue to suffer because a vicious circle has developed. Insufficient fee collection leads to poor service which in turn causes more residents to stop paying until maintenance comes to a halt and everyone suffers.

Right now, building managers employ various means to collect debts. A common one is to bar defaulters from driving into and parking their cars in the compound by not renewing their electronic entry cards until payment is made. Another method is to cut the water supply to defaulters' homes. Although the legality of the latter is questionable, some swear it is quite effective in recovering bad debts.

The best bet, I told my friend, is to turn to the COB for help. Under the law, defaulters can be fined RM5,000 upon conviction and RM50 daily until payment is made. If an errant property owner has owed the maintenance fees for over six months, the COB can issue a warrant of attachment on his apartment. If he still refuses to pay up within a given time, the assets within his property can be auctioned. And in the case of a badly managed property, the COB can also appoint a professional property manager to take over from the errant management committee.

My friend said that it was easier said than done and wondered if the COB had the means -- logistically -- to deal with his problem swiftly and effectively given the fact that more buildings are coming up in the city, and along with them, new problems are surfacing each day.

He was also sceptical that the management committee -- which comprised resident volunteers -- would want to take it to the COB for fear of retaliation. As much as they hate bad debts, they fear bad hats more. Threats to life and limb are real, he said.

He could move, I said, into a landed property where there would be no fee payment issues. Or pray for the culprits to mend their ways, or move out. Until that happens, he has to live with the deterioration that is fast setting in and turning his condominium block into a slum. The choice is his, really.

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