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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bankers and lawyers should know better

BUYING a property that eventually becomes abandoned is a painful experience for many house buyers. It not only hurts purchasers who have lost their hard-earned money but also affects the property industry's reputation which has taken a beating due to unethical activities of a few culprits.

This is particularly so when the abandoned project is not caused by factors such as economic downturn or withdrawal of purchasers, but solely due to irresponsible people who claim to be “developers” but do not hold a licence to do so.

It was recently reported that our Housing and Local Government Ministry has identified 195 abandoned developments that were unlicensed in our country. I am puzzled as to how these “developers” are able to start their projects when they do not even have their licence to apply for financing if they require a bridging loan, and is their sales and purchase (S&P) agreement properly attested by a lawyer before they start selling?

In this context, what can be done and who should play a part in reducing these unlawful developers? Assessing our existing housing development process would provide us with some ideas.

When a developer plans for a housing project, he must first get the necessary approvals and licences from the relevant authorities such as the development order, building plan, advertising permit and developer's licence. The developer then may need to source for a bridging loan from a financial institution and this is followed by getting lawyers to prepare the legal documents which include the S&P agreement.

When the project is launched to the market, the developer will require the purchasers to sign the S&P agreements in order to finalise the purchase. Should the purchaser acquire a housing loan from a bank, the bank will come into the picture to process the loan application submitted by the purchaser. Those are the basic procedures involved in developing and marketing a housing project in Malaysia.

For unlicensed development, the regulatory bodies are not in the picture. In such cases, it becomes apparent that the lawyers and/or bankers, both representing the house purchaser, have a role to play as the first line of defence to protect the interest of the purchaser.

Hence, there are questions that begged to be answered. How is it possible for financial institutions to approve the end financing loan for a property development in the absence of all or part of the required approvals and licences? The same questions are posted to lawyers who prepare the legal documents for unlicensed development.

I believe everyone has a role in identifying irresponsible players in the industry, especially the bankers and lawyers with their better access to information and strong regulatory network as compared to the general public. As a purchaser and a customer, you would have expected your banker and lawyer to carry out their due diligence duties to ensure that your interest is not compromised.

In other industries, professional practitioners who do not convey the right message and do not protect customers' interests can be given stern punishment as their action may be deemed as negligence, fraud or even criminal breach of trust.

According to the record of National House Buyers Association, in the case of Keng Soon Finance Bhd (1996), a financial institution had granted a loan to an unlicensed developer, and it was decided that the loan and the security offered were invalid. The bank could not institute the foreclosure proceedings on the land and therefore could not recover its loan.

Under our Housing Development Act, a property developer that engages in, carries out or undertakes housing development without having been duly licensed can be fined between RM250,000 and RM500,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or both. This is an avenue to take action against unlicensed developers. While we have the law in place, it is equally important to ensure strong enforcement comes along.

For house buyers, you are strongly advised to purchase property from reputable developers and to do thorough “shopping” and analysis before signing on the dotted lines. Responsible developers are keen to work hand-in-hand with purchasers and appreciate the role of the National House Buyers Association which advocates the protection of house buyers in Malaysia. We should stand together as a team to fight against irresponsible developers.

And for anyone of you who think that you have bought into one of those unlicensed developments mentioned earlier in the article, it is time to write and call your banker or lawyer for clarification.

Datuk Alan Tong is the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties, he was the FIABCI World president in 2005-2006 and was named Property Man of The Year 2010 by FIABCI Malaysia.

By The Star

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