Houses run like dorms

The misuse of residential units continues to go unchecked as owners convert their properties to accommodate a greater number of people to earn a higher rental.

The situation is prevalent in areas such as Bangsar and Bandar Sunway as greedy owners put in permanent partitions to form more rooms.

Nearby residents claim the local authorities seem to be turning a blind eye to the issue with nothing done despite numerous complaints.

Jalan Medang Serai, Bangsar

According to a resident living in Jalan Medang Serai, Lee*, there are at least six units that are being run commercially, similar to hostels.

"Another four townhouses are being converted into 'hostels' as I see the same people involved in the other places going in and out of these units," she said.

"The lower unit can be renovated to have a built-up of up to 6,000sq ft while the upper units are about 2,600sq ft. In the original layout, the lower floor units have only three rooms while the upper floor has four rooms."

According to Lee, each unit now has between nine and 13 rooms. The average rental is about RM600 (S$230) per room, and with a maximum of 13 rooms per unit, owners can make almost RM8,000, more than double the average rental of about RM3,000 a month.

An online advertisement posted on June 17 with the heading "Comfortable Studio Apartment" was spotted with a Jalan Medang Serai, Bukit Bandaraya, Bangsar address.

The advertisement describes the place as a "studio unit" which is clean, cool and very spacious, with a fridge, air conditioning, water heater, washing machine and balcony. The rental was advertised at RM900 a month.

When called, the advertiser, who was also a tenant, responded that a studio unit would be available in September after he moved out and that there were eight studio units in total, with every unit having its own private space.

A check showed that some studios were advertised earlier for up to RM1,400 a month.

The facade of these houses-turned-hostels is almost similar to the original design, but most of the converted units have a narrow front gate.

Another resident who expressed frustration about the situation was Ahmad*, who said the high occupancy had resulted in parking problems.

"There are up to 10 cars per unit and they park on the road opposite our houses. Most of the people staying in these places are students and young working adults and they have visitors even in the wee hours of the morning.

"They often park in our driveway to wait, chat, or kiss in the car with the engine running.

"Sometimes they park their cars in our driveway, making it difficult for us to drive out of our own houses," he said.

Lee recalled an incident when one of the neighbours almost missed her flight.

"My neighbour called out and knocked on the door incessantly but no one answered. The other neighbours had to break open the front door and go room by room, looking for the owner of the vehicle that was blocking her driveway."

Bukit Bandaraya Residents Association chairman Datuk M. Ali said the high number of occupants was a fire hazard as there is a surge of electricity use when everyone is at home.

"We have been complaining to Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) repeatedly for the past decade over the misuse of residential premises that have been converted into kindergartens, nurseries and hostels, but DBKL has not been proactive.

"We want the Federal Territories Minister, Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, to intervene and put a stop to these conversions and take action against them," he said.

PJS 7, Bandar Sunway

Double-storey houses in PJS 7, Bandar Sunway are also being converted into hostels because of the area's proximity to a private college located within walking distance.

A resident known only as Muthu* said more than 15 houses had been converted into hostels in the last two years.

He claimed that one property was functioning like a townhouse, with the owner staying downstairs and renting out at least seven of the rooms upstairs.

"My complaints to MPSJ have falled on deaf ears because more houses are being turned into hostels.

"The Bandar Sunway Residents Association is also not helpful as some members support the conversion and have also renovated their units for commercial purposes,'' he said.

Muthu was told by the MPSJ Engineering Department that there was no provision under the law to take action against the owners.

"I was told to write to the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry regarding this.

"This is not a new issue. MPSJ should do something instead of passing the buck," he said, adding that he did not want to antagonise his neighbours.

"Originally these houses are about 22" by 70"sq ft with four rooms. Now, there are about eight to 12 rooms," he said.

"The average rental is about RM2,000 a month, but owners who convert their properties can make up to triple this amount.

"These houses usually have more air-conditioning units and the porch cannot fit a car anymore as the rooms have been extended.

"Driving in this neighbourhood is a nightmare because of the haphazard parking," he said, claiming a group of individuals were managing these houses-turned-hostels like a business.

When StarMetro called up in response to an advertisement for rooms to let, the person on the other line seemed very cautious with his words.

He refused to give much information about the room and repeatedly asked if the caller was a student as he did not seem convinced.

However, he did reveal that the rent was RM600 a month and the room was suitable for only a single occupant but could squeeze in two.

It is not known if the owners of the properties on Jalan Medang Serai and PJS 7 have sought or received approval for the renovations.

However, under Section 78 of the Local Government Act 1978, the owner of an overcrowded premises shall be guilty of an offence with a fine not exceeding RM2,000 or a jail term not more than six months or both, upon conviction.

Overcrowding for commercial purposes, such as using dwelling units as hostels, is an infringement of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 and The National Land Code.

Under the Act, the owner would be liable to a fine of RM500,000, jail, or forfeiture of land, as the real intent was to use the premises as a commercial business of providing accommodation.