Column - Justice at last for house buyers

THE aggrieved parties fighting their cases in our courts just love it every time a judge comes out with what legal circles call a "landmark judgment".

It doesn't come that often of course but on Monday, High Court judge Hanipah Farikullah brought cheers and cause for a big celebration among affected long suffering house buyers.

She ruled that the housing controller has no power to grant an extension of time to developers who delay the completion of housing projects.

This newspaper hailed the judgment with a banner frontpage headline that reads "Developers must pay".

This means that developers who fail to complete their projects on time will have to compensate buyers and cannot seek an extension of the delivery date, which happens all too often especially in the medium and low-cost housing market.

The judge ruled that a regulation allowing the housing controller to modify provisions in the contract of sale is unlawful.

She made the ruling following a suit by 71 buyers of Sri Istana condominiums in Old Klang Road, Kuala Lumpur, against the housing controller and the urban wellbeing, housing and local government minister.

The minister had granted a 12-month extension to complete the project and this judgment is expected to lead to more legal suits by other house buyers facing similar woes and even trauma, especially from the financial standpoint.

This is a major victory for all house buyers that is going to hopefully put a stop to the practice among developers of taking the easy way out by going to the authorities for an extension to complete their projects to avoid paying compensation or liquidated damages to buyers.

If an extension is granted, buyers lose their rights to claim damages for late delivery of vacant possession.

The judgment should ideally lead to other positive repercussions including for the local government authorities with the powers of approval for the regulations related to the housing market to cut down the bureaucracy.

All too often delays in getting approvals have been blamed for late delivery including matters like getting the vital certificate of fitness before vacant possession can take place.

It's also long overdue to centralise the approving authorities and reduce their numbers to the bare minimum so that industry players need not go on a merry-go-round.

Ultimately such innovations might even lead to more affordable homes especially for the middle and low-income groups and more particularly the first-time house buyers.

Such a necessity is no longer an issue of dollars and cents but a moral question.

What is the meaning of nation-building if citizens can't afford a decent roof over their heads?

Equally important, I hope the brilliant judgment shakes up another ugly side of the housing market where we have far too many abandoned housing projects.

At any one time, there are hundreds of projects, especially in Selangor, where buyers have paid with their life savings but their dream homes were not delivered.

Based on media reports, there are also thousands of buyers who have over the years been suffering in silence after becoming victims of housing scams.

It's also long overdue for the powers that be to criminalise such flagrant fraudulent activity and bring to book those responsible and with very harsh punishment commensurate with their crime.

We need prompt action on this score and there should no longer be feet dragging and apathy over such a serious problem.

Justice Hanipah's judgment is also a big boost to the good image of the judiciary and more people who have become victims of wrong or bad decision making should seek the justice that's due to them.