In light of the recent inconsistencies and tumultuous circumstances, I recognized the necessity of adopting a proactive approach to effectively manage disputes pertaining to property owners. Consequently, I felt compelled to conduct a thorough investigation into alternative avenues beyond legal recourse.

And so instead of relying on online materials, I decided to go to the source and find out for myself. I went to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (KPKT). My primary objective was to gain a better understanding of the Ministry’s role in arbitrating disputes involving property owners.

Upon my arrival at the lobby entrance counter, I was cordially greeted by a hospitable attendant, who directed me to proceed to one of the upper floors. I promptly boarded the elevator and made my way up, only to realize that no general inquiry desk was present on the floor.

However, I was promptly guided to an automated machine, from which I obtained a queue number and was advised to wait my turn. After a brief period of less than five minutes, my number was called, and I approached the counter to be warmly welcomed by a courteous gentleman. Throughout our interaction, he demonstrated exceptional patience and hospitality while attentively addressing my numerous inquiries.

Understanding the Pun

  1. The Housing Tribunal of Ministry of Housing & Local Government

My questions began and he was kind to enlighten me. The Housing Tribunal, established under the Housing Development (Control and Licensing) Act 1966, is a specialized court that deals with disputes related to housing development, including defects in construction, non-compliance with contractual obligations, and breaches of warranties. The Tribunal has the power to hear and determine disputes between homebuyers and developers or management companies, and can order remedies such as repairs, compensation, or the termination of the sale and purchase agreement. The Tribunal’s procedures are generally less formal than those of a traditional court, and parties are not required to be represented by lawyers.

  • Commissioner of Building (COB)

He went on to educate me that another available dispute avenue, the COB, established under the Strata Titles Act 1985, is responsible for regulating and enforcing the provisions of the Act, which governs the ownership and management of strata properties such as condominiums and apartments. The COB’s primary function is to ensure that the management of strata properties is carried out in accordance with the law and the terms of the strata title. This includes matters such as the collection of maintenance fees, the appointment of a management committee, and the maintenance of common property. The COB has the power to issue orders and directives to ensure compliance with the Act, and can impose fines or initiate legal proceedings against non-compliant parties. For this, he told me that I need to forward whatever dispute to the Local Authorities/Majlis Tempatan from where the origin of the dispute originated.

  • Distinct Difference

I sought further clarification with him on the appropriate avenue for directing my disputes – whether to the Housing Tribunal or the Commissioner of Building (COB). Although both bodies play a pivotal role in safeguarding the rights of homeowners and enforcing legal compliance, it is crucial to distinguish between their respective mandates.

Notably, a key point of divergence is the scope of their jurisdiction. The Housing Tribunal primarily addresses housing development disputes, whereas the COB focuses on strata property management issues. It is essential to be cognizant of these differences when determining the most appropriate recourse for addressing any property-related grievances.

  • How to go about it

The first step is to obtain the necessary forms from the Tribunal office. These forms can also be downloaded from the official Housing Tribunal (KPKT) website. Once the forms have been obtained, the claimant must complete them in full, providing accurate and detailed information about the dispute, the parties involved, and the desired outcome. Supporting documents such as contracts, receipts, or photographs that may substantiate the claim should also be submitted.

After completing the forms and gathering all necessary documentation, the claimant must then submit them to the Housing Tribunal with five sets of photocopies. It is important to note that there is a filing fee of only RM100 payable at the time of submission, which varies depending on the nature and value of the dispute.

Upon receipt of the forms and payment of the filing fee, the Tribunal will issue on the same day a notice to the respondent upon submission of completed forms and supporting documents, informing them of the claim and providing them with an opportunity to respond. The Housing Tribunal will then set a hearing date and both parties will be required to attend to present their case before the Tribunal’s adjudicators. Minor glitch, you will also have to assist the Tribunal in posting the notice to the defendant via Registered Mail.

Fortunately, my quest for breakfast was rewarded as I dined at a bustling eatery located just outside the Housing and Local Government building. As I enjoyed my meal, I coincidentally spotted the same courteous officer who had assisted me earlier. He was here on his designated morning tea break. Without hesitation, I extended an invitation for him to join me at my table amidst the lively atmosphere of the crowded stall.

To start the conversation, I seized the opportunity to inquire about the reasons for referring a dispute to the Housing Tribunal. The courteous officer graciously provided me with valuable insights on the matter.

  • The officer clarified that his opinion was not legally binding but based on his experience and knowledge.
  • The Housing Tribunal provides a more cost-effective and efficient means of resolving disputes between homeowners, developers, or management companies.
  • The procedures at the Housing Tribunal are generally less formal and do not require legal representation.
  • The Housing Tribunal is a specialized court established under the purview of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.
  • Experienced officials who are well-versed in the relevant laws handle the department, ensuring swift dispute resolution.
  • The Housing Tribunal issues legally binding orders and awards, making compliance and enforcement more likely than with civil court judgments. In cases of non-compliance, taking civil action against the defendant is only necessary to save time and money. The Housing Tribunal can assist in registering your Tribunal judgment in the civil court. The defendant is given 30 days to comply with the judgment award. Failure to do so may result in civil and criminal action being taken. It should be noted that non-compliance carries a maximum fine of RM250,000, a maximum of three years in jail, or both.
  • Since 2016, there has been a significant increase in the number of disputes handled and settled by the Housing Tribunal, with the current figure standing at double the previous number. This marked increase is a testament to the trust and confidence placed in this dispute resolution platform. Notably, an impressive 95% of cases brought before the Tribunal have been successfully resolved, highlighting the effectiveness and efficiency of its procedures.

Expressing my gratitude to the officer is beyond words, as he not only simplified the procedural process for filing a dispute here, but also provided insights I never thought I could have gained while confined to the limited perspective of my living environment. And we parted ways.

The Second Opinion

By chance, as I delved deeper into dispute resolution, I developed an interest in understanding the disparities and benefits between civil action lawsuits and the cases handled by the Housing Tribunal, one similar to what Jaya One has encountered.

To see things from a civil action perspective, I thought it would be refreshing to speak to someone from another side of the fence as supposed to lawyers.

Fortunately, I was able to seek the opinion of a family member who works in the administrative side as an Assistant Registrar of the Shah Alam court. He cited that there are growing number of civil suits from many strata properties.

He pointed me to how I can obtain some examples of cases and below are just some of many current and past civil class: –

  • The Ampang Park Shopping Centre Class Action Lawsuit: In 2018, more than 100 tenants of Ampang Park Shopping Centre filed a class action lawsuit against the shopping centre’s management company, claiming that the company had breached its obligations under the tenancy agreements by failing to provide a safe and secure environment for the tenants and their customers.
  • The Bukit Antarabangsa Landslide Class Action Lawsuit: In 2019, a group of residents affected by a landslide in Bukit Antarabangsa in 2008 filed a class action lawsuit against the property developer, claiming that the developer had failed to take necessary measures to prevent the landslide, which resulted in loss of lives and damages to properties.
  • The Selayang Heights Condominium Defects Class Action Lawsuit: In 2020, a group of residents of Selayang Heights Condominium filed a class action lawsuit against the property developer and management company, claiming that the companies had failed to rectify various defects in the condominium units, including water leaks, defective electrical wiring, and inadequate security measures.
  • The Desa Putra Condominium En Bloc Sale Class Action Lawsuit: In 2021, a group of residents of Desa Putra Condominium filed a class action lawsuit against the management company, claiming that the company had acted unlawfully and breached its fiduciary duties by initiating an en bloc sale of the condominium without proper consultation with the residents and without obtaining the required consent.
  • The Taman Rimba Kiara Development Class Action Lawsuit: In 2022, a group of residents of Taman Tun Dr. Ismail filed a class action lawsuit against the property developer and government agencies, claiming that the proposed development of Taman Rimba Kiara would cause environmental damage and violate the residents’ right to a healthy living environment. The lawsuit also alleged that the approval process for the development was flawed and lacked transparency. While some experts argue that the legal system provides a more direct and efficient route to justice, others suggest that it may reflect a lack of confidence in the regulatory bodies and their ability to hold businesses accountable. As such, the issue warrants further investigation to understand the underlying reasons behind this shift in consumer behavior.

According to his observations, there are sadly lawyers in Malaysia whom are exploiting property owners by encouraging them to pursue civil action instead of seeking resolution through regulatory bodies like the Housing Tribunal or Commissioner of Buildings. The judicial trend and rising cases of strata property disputes is in no doubt enabling lawyers to follow the money trail. Property owners generally are still quite ignorant to the Strata Management Act and you can’t blame home owners for their ignorance since the Act is actually 153 pages long. So it is easier to rely on their first instinct which is to seek legal advise from solicitors, instead of speaking to COB or KPKT. Below are some  There are some reasons why civil suits are growing:-

  • Firstly, lawyers may see civil action as more profitable, with the potential for higher fees and larger settlements or awards.
  • Secondly, the legal system in Malaysia can be complex and intimidating for property owners, making them susceptible to pressure from lawyers. Furthermore, some lawyers may lack confidence in the effectiveness of regulatory bodies or perceive them to be biased towards developers or management companies.
  • It is also important to consider the competence of the lawyer hired and the experience of the Presiding Judge in property disputes, as these factors can significantly affect the outcome of a court case. However, Judges are assigned to cases based on workload and availability, with relevant experience or expertise being a secondary consideration. Given the significant backlog of cases in our courts, this situation is concerning.
  • This approach can have negative consequences, who may end up spending more time and money pursuing civil action, with no guarantee of success. Moreover, taking civil action can also be emotionally taxing, who may face stress and uncertainty throughout the whole process.

The Third Opinion

After becoming deeply involved in the issue at hand, I wanted to seek an independent view as I was dissatisfied with my understanding of whether our pursuits was proper and will be fruitful. And so I  wanted to get a view from lawyers and it was fortunate that I had a former classmate who is a practicing lawyer.

  • The Precedent

He agreed with all the insights that I had gained in my information gathering mission but he advised me based on precedent that disputes should be handled at the Housing Tribunal for a better advantage in saving time, money and stress as the Housing Tribunal issues legally binding orders and awards. Only when the defendant fails to comply that is where he as a lawyer is appointed and steps in. The decision and ruling of the Tribunal are necessary to form a foundation which will be extremely important in helping judges in the civil court circuits to hear and decide on.

My Take

As such, it is important for us to be aware of our rights and the available options for resolving disputes, including referral to regulatory bodies such as the Housing Tribunal or Commissioner of Buildings. We should not be so quick to rely and follow lawyers advise, instead  we should weigh our decision on recourse based on advice from COB and KPKT.

Questions arising

  1. Does taking civil action guarantee legal control over matters and a victory outcome?
  2. Why did we circumvent the Housing Tribunal process to get judgment in our favor and then only file a non-compliance of this judgment by the defendant with the civil court saving us so much money and time? This has been a precedent that many disputes are handled this manner.
  3. If we are so confident of Tetap Tiara misdeeds, then why are we taking civil action instead of referring it to the local regulators saving us money and time?

I look forward to your feedback in the comments section provided below.

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