Monday, December 27, 2010

Ill-conceived renovations put houseowners' safety at risk

WHEN I first moved into my condo more than 10 years ago, a contractor asked if I wanted to have additional floor space by renovating the air-well.
When I asked him if it was legal, he said since other condo owners were doing it, it should be all right with the law.

The authorities would have to think twice before tearing mine down, he said, because it would be too much hassle for them.

Not only would they have to act in my condo complex but also across the entire Klang Valley. And possibly, even the entire country.

The thought of having additional floor space was tempting, but I told him it would eventually give me sleepless nights.

Putting a floor where it does not belong is courting trouble. Adding load-bearing structures to completed buildings without considering additional stress created on existing beams and steel bars spells danger.

Anyone who had gone to engineering school will tell you that. Besides, air-wells are created to allow proper ventilation. So, I declined the offer.
Recently, this paper carried a story about how Kampung Chempaka residents' penchant for renovation could one day spark a tragedy should a fire break out. If you have read the story, I think you will share my concern, too.

There are many "Kampung Chempaka" around the Klang Valley, of course. From Desa Setapak in Wangsa Maju to Taman Sri Sinar in Segambut.

You will probably know more such places hidden on the fringe of Puchong or Shah Alam where greedy houseowners flaunt their wealth and expose their poor understanding of aesthetics at the same time.

I have seen two-storey low-cost cement-brick houses built in the early 80s that have been today transformed into three-storey bungalows. They stick out like sore thumbs in the neighbourhood. Some are designed like flashy stainless steel fortresses, others have more floors added, and roof gardens.

Corner-lot houses are especially susceptible to renovation, I noticed. Small porch areas are enlarged by claiming public road into one's own and the buffer zone between houses are turned into additional kitchen space.

There is no limit to the renovator's creativity. If you have the cash, some builder out there will be willing to help you turn chicken coops into castles.

Asking if some renovations are legal will make you look stupid, of course. But seeing so many where they should not be makes you wonder about the enforcement of building laws or the lack of it.

Who approves such renovations in the first place?

Do we blame the renovator for his greed, his neighbour for not reporting it to the authorities, or the authorities for their lack of vigilance in monitoring conspicuous illegal renovations or extensions?

And if such renovations contribute to loss of lives, directly or indirectly, whom do we hold responsible?

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