Oftentimes, when embarking on a home renovation project, house owners only think about things like interior design, budget and contractors. However, home renovation also requires groundwork that includes obtaining a permit from the local authority and educating oneself on building rules and compliance.
In a mass housing development, the standard home designs may not cater to every house buyer’s needs and requirements. This leads to the spin-off industry of home renovation.
Renovation refers to modifying the original design of a house either by addition, omission, or a combination of both. Some common examples are kitchen extensions, adding a bedroom upstairs and hacking down a wall to widen a living area.
It is quite common for a terrace house owner in Malaysia to have his house renovated at some point based on some designs he found in his favourite architecture magazine or blog.
However, excessive renovation that is done without taking into account the impact it would have on aesthetics would make a house appear disjointed, incongruous and at odds with the houses next door. As a result, the renovated house would either stand out like a sore thumb or cause inconveniences such as blocking views, sunlight and ventilation for its neighbours.
The values of these properties would then suffer. Worse still, you can get into trouble for breaking laws related to the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974, leading to compounds and demolition. For the benefit of newbie home renovators, the National House Buyers Association (HBA) would like to offer the following cautionary pointers:
1. Ensure the house has been certified as ready for occupation
In their rush to renovate, some house purchasers do not wait for the Certificate of Fitness (CFO) or Certificate of Completion and Completion (CCC) or Occupational Certificate (OC) to be issued, which causes delays across the board. The fact is no house owner is allowed to occupy his property before the issuance of any of these certificates. There have been cases where extensions to two or more linked units have caused an entire row of houses to sink and crack, especially with houses built on a landfill scheme or former sand mining land.
2. Find out what you can and cannot do from the Local Authority
Make sure to look into this prior to asking for quotations from builders or contractors. Before engaging any consultant, ask the local authority on the building requirements based on the nature of your intended renovation work.
For those who reside in Kuala Lumpur, the local authority is Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL), while for those who live in Petaling Jaya, the local authority is Majlis Bandaraya Petaling Jaya (MBPJ). Check your assessment bills to find out what your local authority is.
Check with the authority whether a professional is required to draw up plans and make submissions, or will a standard form or pre-approved plans suffice. Simple jobs such as a kitchen extension may not require submissions for approval by an architect or draughtsman. You should seek written confirmation from the local authority for record purposes. Also enquire about things such as ‘setback’ requirements, i.e., the minimum distance from the boundary for erecting your building or column and wall, as well as height restrictions.
3. Obtain consent from your Management Corporation (MC)
In many gated and guarded strata schemes, the Management Corporation or MC has a right to vet through a proposed renovation by a house owner to preserve the cohesiveness of the neighbourhood, by virtue of you having signed the Deed of Mutual Covenants when you purchased your property from the developer.
The MC may comment on topics such as aesthetics, style of design, the extent of renovation works, colour scheme, building height and how the surrounding environment would look like.
Do take note that although the intention of the MC may be good, the only body that can approve renovation works is the local authority. The in-house policies and procedures of the MC are subservient to the laws such as the Town and Country Planning Act 1976, Uniform Building By-Laws 1984 and a host of others.
That said, house owners would do well to consult the MC and seek amicable arrangements to ease the path in the renovation.
4. How to perform renovation works while the home is still being built
For houses that have obtained the CFO, CCC or OC (including individually built units), you may renovate by applying to the local authority to amend the previously approved building plans that were submitted by your developers.
As for landed homes such as terraces, semi-detached, super links and zero-lot bungalows, you may commence renovation works after getting your CFO, CCC or OC. However, clause 14 of the Sales and Purchase Agreement (SPA) and schedule G of the Housing Development (Control and Licensing) Regulations 1989 allow renovation to be carried out concurrently with the construction of the main body of the house based on your preferred specifications.
Should you choose to exercise this option, it is important that you figure out the detailed works and specifications to be incorporated in your housing unit and coordinate closely with your developer while the main body of the house is being built.
5. Get your contractor to set aside a safety deposit
For residents of gated and guarded communities, check the part in your Deed of Mutual Covenant that says the MC would impose a deposit on you to be used to rectify non-compliances left behind by building contractors engaged by you. These include non-removal of building debris and materials or damage to common properties such as roads and drains in the neighbourhood.
You can then impose this on your building contractor at the engagement stage where a sum owing to the contractor is to be set aside. For those who do not stay in gated and guarded communities, these non-compliances will expose you to fines and sanctions by the local authority. Therefore, you must get your contractor to set aside a sum to prevent you from having to pay fines for offences committed by your contractor.
⏩ Make sure to watch HBA’s Youtube video before starting your Home Renovation!
6. Time for carrying out renovation works
The time for carrying out renovation works is stipulated by the MC as part of its conditions. This restriction is to ensure works are only carried out during the day. Typical working hours would be 8.00 am to 6.00 pm from Monday to Friday and 8.00 am to 1 pm on Saturday. No work is allowed on Sunday as it is a rest day for most residents.
A similar time restriction is also imposed by the local authority regardless of whether the property is within the gated and guarded communities or not. This is to ensure the neighbourhood is not overly burdened by the construction activities to the point they become a nuisance, especially during the evening and weekend.
7. Comply with the approved building plans.
Failure to follow strictly an approved building plan has accounted for many cases where the house owner failed to obtain a CFO, CCC or OC for renovation.
In some cases, the owner deviated from the approved drawings without consulting the architect and obtaining approval for the amendment. The owner was then imposed with a hefty fine by the local authority and issued with a stop work order, resulting in setbacks and delays to the renovation work.
8. Determining your home renovation budget
Draw up your wish list, itemise it, then pare it down to suit your needs and budget. If you do not estimate your home renovation costs properly, you may end up abandoning the work halfway through when you have exhausted your funds. Unless the renovation work is so small that it makes no sense to engage a professional, seek the help of a quantity surveyor who knows how to do a proper estimation of the costs.
Alternatively, obtain quotations from a few builders or building contractors. Remember to ask for a breakdown, particularly of the more expensive or dispensable items, and most importantly, the time frame needed to complete these works. If the scale of the renovation is relatively complex and large, get professional help.
9. Engage the right professionals to avoid legal complications
If the work involves structural changes such as an extension that requires removing columns or the addition of beams to create room within your existing property, it pays to consult a qualified architect or a qualified engineer. If you are not sure, consult one on what needs to be done including whether their services are needed instead of engaging just a building contractor.
Any structure added without professional engineering input may cause structural stress or failure, not only to the unit being renovated but also to neighbouring houses. The involvement of these professionals may also be a legal requirement. If you do not engage professionals, local authorities will not entertain your applications and building plan to carry out the renovation.
A building draughtsman may be engaged to facilitate your application to the authority for renovation works of a:
i. one-storey building not involving reinforced concrete or steel structure provided the total built-up area doesn’t exceed 100 sqm (about 1,076 sq ft);
ii. two-storey building not involving reinforced concrete or steel structure provided the total built-up area doesn’t exceed 300 sqm (about 3,230 sq ft).
Tip on home aesthetics
This is for owners of landed homes. Indiscriminate renovation can render the neighbourhood incohesive and devalue the property. Try to pay attention and be sensitive to the existing architectural aesthetic. Consult your designer or architect before embarking on a renovation that can affect the overall look of the building.
10. Tips on securing a responsible builder or contractor
It is important to engage a responsible builder or contractor who can ensure timely completion of the project and deliver quality workmanship without exceeding the budget. Follow these steps:
Step 1: Shortlist the candidates on the basis of word of mouth recommendations, then interview them with the assistance of a friend who is knowledgeable in this field.
Step 2: Find out as much as you can about the finances and track records of these candidates. They usually operate as sole proprietorships or partnerships, or a small scale company with limited capital and financial resources.
Step 3: Usually, building contractors do not have large permanent teams of competent or skilled workers. The workers are recruited on an ad hoc basis. If a contractor has such staff, it is usually a reliable indication of the health of his business.
Step 4: At this time, construction workers comprise predominantly of non-skilled and semi-skilled foreign workers. Therefore, before engaging a building contractor, enquire about the background of the workforce.
Step 5: Check out how many current projects the contractor is undertaking. This indicates available resources and focus.
Having the financial resources and capital outlay is crucial to the successful completion of a dream renovation works. If at any point there is an interruption in the steady stream of money, it would hamper the work. You must make sure not to bite off more than you can chew. For more ideas on home renovation, read our articles here.
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This article is jointly written by Datuk Chang Kim Loong, Hon Secretary-General and Ar YS Ng, Technical Advisor of the National House Buyers Association (HBA).