It is now mandatory for high rise buildings including strata properties to be inspected every 10 years for the sake of the occupants and public’s safety, and inspection engineers have a big responsibility to ensure that your property is structurally sound.
Unbeknownst to the general public – a couple of years back, the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) drew up new building inspection guidelines to ensure building owners are accountable for the safety of their properties. Effective since 2018, these guidelines require that any buildings above 5 storeys (every floor in the basement is deemed as one 1 floor) will require a mandatory Periodic Inspection every 10 years, commencing from the date of the Certificate of Fitness (CF) and Certificate of Completion and Compliance (CCC). Thereafter, a subsequent periodic inspection is required after every decade from the date of the first inspection.
Why is a periodic inspection for buildings important?
A building’s condition reflects the physical state of the structure and hence its performance. The monitoring of a building’s condition is important to prevent property defects and failure of said buildings. With the ageing cities and townships in Malaysia, major local councils in the Klang Valley have started enforcing Section 85A of Act 133 (Periodic Inspection pursuant to Section 85A, Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974 ). The objective of such inspection is to have scheduled preventive checking on the level of dilapidation for the safety of the buildings, occupants and the general public.
This knowledge is especially important for the Management Bodies of strata buildings who are responsible for the management and maintenance of their respective buildings.
How is COVID-19 affecting periodical inspection of buildings?
The construction industry has been suffering from a downtime for a few years now and consulting engineers have been throwing prices in the bid for assignments, desperate for survival. The recent COVID-19 pandemic which has caused additional challenges for the industry, further amplifies this problem. However, this practice can prove detrimental if inspections are not carried out thoroughly. We look into the aspects of periodic inspections and the importance of having a knowledgeable and reliable inspector below.
How is the periodic inspection carried out?
The SOP of such periodic inspection (Figure 1) commences with the issue of a notification letter from the Local Authorities pursuant to Section 83 of the Act 133, to the owners or Management of buildings, upon its 10th year from the CF and Certificate of Completion and Compliance date.
However, the building owner may request for an earlier inspection should any abnormality in structural elements be discovered during maintenance. Then, a structural engineer registered to the Board of Engineers Malaysia according to the Registration of Engineers Act 1967, shall be appointed for the inspection. This engineer must not be the same person who designed nor has any vested interests in said building.
The inspection comes in 2 phases: Visual Inspection and Structural Investigation.
The scope of Visual Inspection should target to detect the property defects, deformation or deterioration of structural element(s) which will or are likely to endanger or reduce the structural stability or integrity of any part of the building. The major areas for such inspection should include, but not limited to the areas as follows:
- Unauthorised extension or alteration to the structural elements (movable shed, columns, beams and slabs)
- Unauthorised loading
- Unauthorised change in purpose (i.e. from residential to commercial or industrial)
- Water Tanks
- STP Tanks
- Slopes and Retaining Wall, if any
Dampness, cracked lines and spalling must be spotted and recorded during Visual Inspection. A moisture meter may confirm dampness easily. The width of cracked lines will be measured, and should there be any cracks above 0.3mm on the structural elements, further structural investigation is needed. For minor dilapidation, recommendation for maintenance and repair would suffice.
After the Visual Inspection, a report outlining the findings in the inspection will be submitted to the Local Council. In the event the engineer has reasonable grounds to suspect that there is a defect, deformation or deterioration in the building, he shall request for permission to carry out a full structural investigation. At this juncture, the Local Council may approve the proposal for further inspection either fully or in portion, reject or seek a second opinion; depending on their professional judgment.
After the structural investigation, the engineer shall write to the Local Council and report his findings pertaining to the structural investigation and the safety of the said buildings. In the event where the safety of the building is compromised and must be repaired and restored immediately, the Mayor may order such repair works under Section 83 of Act 133. Upon satisfactory repair, an inspection certificate will be issued and the case is considered “KIV” until further actions are required. If the building is found to be severely ruinous, no longer safe for use and/or endangers the adjacent structures, the Mayor may order demolition of the said buildings.
What will happen if no action is taken by the building owner?
Should there be any violation of the Act, the relevant owner shall be subjected to legal actions in accordance with Act 133. Such punitive actions include an order for demolition and/or a monetary fine, or both. Besides, the Local Council may order an action to be carried out if it is deemed necessary to secure the safety of the buildings. For instance, Section 81 of Act 133 empowers the Local Council to instruct the building owners to construct proper drainage if a building’s system is found to be unsatisfactory.
The Ministry of Urban Well-being, Housing and Local Government (KPKT) has recommended an internationally recognised standard in assessment, maintenance, repair and rehabilitation of concrete structures, namely the EN1504: Products and systems for the protection and repair of concrete structures. Definitions, requirements, quality control and evaluation of conformity in the event of concrete diagnosis, assessment and repair. It outlines systematic approaches and options for Non-destructive testing and inspection – which are vital during a structural investigation that address the deterioration to the concrete matrix and corrosion of reinforcement steel bars – scientifically, with optimum lifecycle costs.
What is the responsibility of an engineer during periodic inspections?
Concrete pathology is an ever-evolving knowledge. EN1504 was implemented in Europe in 2011. In North America, 562-16 Code Requirements for Assessment, Repair, and Rehabilitation of Existing Concrete Structures and Commentary was implemented in 2016. These are relatively new knowledge which is lacking amongst Malaysian engineers in general.
It is widely understood that the design engineers are liable for the structural integrity of the buildings they designed. Nevertheless, independent structural engineers are vicariously liable to the building’s structural integrity during an inspection, too.
Take, for example, a periodic inspection report for a condominium in Bangsar. It was located on a slope and rainwater emerged from an edge with cracked lines abutting to the soil in the basement car park. The structural engineer recommended sealing the cracked lines with chemical grouting without identifying the cause of water ingress. Luckily, the strata building manager engaged another party for a second opinion, to look into the source of water leakage. With the assistance of an abseiler to climb up to the steep slope, it was discovered that an elbow of a rainwater downpipe on the slope cracked due to impact and rainwater gushed to the cavities between the huge stones on the slope.
Should there be continued erosion of rainwater and a catastrophic failure arise, what is the liability of the appointed engineers for such failure? Knowing that building elements require maintenance and inspection, the design engineers should ensure all utilities are accessible for inspection and maintainable. The design engineer should have designed access to the rainwater downpipes (which does not rely on an abseiler to reach it). On the other hand, the structural engineer should exercise due diligence to recommend further investigation to the leaking source, instead of the cosmetic repair – and perhaps carry out an assessment of possible corrosion to the reinforcement steel bars which have been subjected to cyclic wetting and drying due to the rainwater ingress.
Engineers should realise their liabilities and duty of care in performing the periodic inspection. Failing which, they are responsible for negligence should reasonable diagnosis, precautionary measures and repair is not done in due time and the inspected building suffers failures. Unfortunately, in Malaysia, engineers are not taught or familiarised with the professional diagnosis and repair methods prescribed under the EN1504 standard. This may result in erroneous or inadequate diagnosis and repair to the aged and dilapidated buildings as well as in the gross negligence of the engineers who are oblivious to their lack in knowledge regarding signs of building deterioration and the prevention measures thereof. Thus, continuous professional training in Non-destructive testing in concrete pathology and EN1504 is recommended.
This article was written by Mr Kuan You Wai, a repair and rehabilitation contractor turned consultant who has over 20 years experience in contracting repair work in concrete repair, waterproofing, cracking, leaking, plumbing and mould remediation. Mr Kuan was a joint instructor for EN1504 in Institute of Engineers Malaysia on 25th of Nov, 2019. Besides, he was an instructor in Inter-Floor Leakage in Tribunals of Home Buyer Claim and Strata Management, KPKT, Royal Institute of Surveyors Malaysia, University of Malaya, etc.