KLANG - While the Taman Medan shoplot church is definitely not illegal, it may be "technically unlawful", said a Selangor state government official familiar with local council regulations.
According to him, a development order must be obtained before places of worship can be set up in shophouses or commercial buildings.
"This is a prerequisite under the building law," said the official who requested anonymity.
"It is just like what kindergartens have to do when they use residential properties for their activities."
According to the source, a seemingly grey area exists as the ruling was not strictly implemented, with action for non-compliance initiated only when there were complaints. However, he added that local councils had to first inform the state before initiating action against places of worship.
For example, local councils must obtain the approval of the Non-Islamic Religious Affairs Committee and the state's executive council before initiating anything regarding these places.
Deputy director of the Subang Jaya Municipal Council's corporate planning department Muhammad Azli Miswan also agreed, saying places of worship in shophouses and commercial premises did not require licenses or permits as they were not businesses.
However, he said it was compulsory for them to apply for a planning permission as well as submit a building plan before starting operations.
"The planning permission will cover the conversion of the place from business premise to a place of worship whilst the building plan will inform us of the renovations made," said Muhammad Azli when contacted.
He added the applicants must also comply with certain conditions before planning permission is given and building plans are approved.
As a whole, Selangor has had a history of giving approvals to the conversion of commercial and industrial land into churches.
There is currently confusion over the status of the Taman Medan church with the Petaling Jaya City Council saying it was illegal, while the state executive councillor in charge of Non-Islamic Affairs Elizabeth Wong saying otherwise.
Corporate communications head of the Klang Municipal Council Norfiza Mahfiz said places of worship were not required to obtain permission before putting up symbols such as a cross.
"It is not a business, so they don't have to obtain a permit, just like how the crescent moon and star symbol in mosques doesn't require any official consent," she said.