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In a fix over leaks

May 24, 2023

Wong showing a leakage in the ceiling at his new house. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

MANY people invest their life savings and spend much of their monthly income on buying a house of their dreams.

They look forward to moving into the house and enjoying the comforts that they have worked hard for.

However, not everyone gets to experience that ideal situation.

Turning green: Mould on the wall can damage a structure and is hazardous to health.

Lecturer Dr Wong Ya Ping, 56, obtained the keys to his million-ringgit house almost three years ago but has not been able to move in because of an unresolved leakage problem.

Wong said there were signs of dampness in the porch area the day he received the keys in March 2020.

Since the issue occurred within the property's defect liability period, he lodged a complaint with the developer.

The developer's contractors identified the leakage and had tried to repair it four times, but the problem persists until today.

Wong, from Cyberjaya, is stuck in the predicament as he is unable to move in or rent out the property and yet, still has to service the housing loan.

"Rental for the property is about RM3,500 a month so my losses are running at over RM100,000 at present.

"The defect liability period ends this month (February).

"I am not sure how my problem will be solved," he said.

A typical sign of waterproofing failure is efflorescence or the presence of soluble mineral deposits on the concrete.

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He has thought about bringing the matter to the Housing and Strata Management Tribunal for a cost-effective solution, but is aware of its limitations.

"Even if the outcome is in my favour, the developer can file a judicial review, which will require me to appoint a lawyer to fight the case in a civil suit.

"Despite having paid for the property, I am now required to spend more money to ensure that it is in good condition for habitation, which is troublesome and unfair.An infrared thermographic imager is a useful tool in finding the source of a leakage.

"Even if I decide to fight the case in court, I may not win the case and may end up with a defective house and lose more money.

"The developer claims to follow a design approved by the architects and engineers while trying to fix the issue during the defect liability period, and I fear they will absolve themselves of the problem after the liability period is over," said Wong.

Presently living in a condominium unit, he believes the leakage issue in strata developments is worse.

"I am a member of the condominium's joint management body and aware of the rise in leakage complaints in many strata developments.

"Building managements, which oversee the maintenance of common areas, are bogged down with complaints related to inter-unit leakages.

"But the root cause of the problem is poor workmanship, which should be the responsibility of the developer and its contractors," he said.

Scores of complaints

The number of inter-floor leakage cases in Klang Valley strata developments is rising.

In fact, it has more than doubled over the last few years.

According to data from the Local Government Development Ministry, Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) received 1,265 reports last year compared to 489 reports in 2018.

Similarly, all local authorities in Selangor cumulatively recorded 1,318 reports in 2021 compared to 778 reports in 2017.

Standards Malaysia Department waterproofing committee member Kuan You Wai said it was the second most common complaint received by the Strata Management Tribunal.Kuan says if a leakage is not addressed quickly, it can cause irreversible damage to a building.

The most received complaint is regarding unpaid maintenance fees.

Kuan explained that inter-floor leakage was determined by the presence of dampness, moisture or water penetration, and that such complaints must be acted upon immediately.

"If the problem is not addressed quickly, it can cause irreversible damage to the building and possible health problems.

"There will be accelerated degradation of building materials and structures over time.

"It could trigger corrosion on the metal bars that support the concrete structures, reducing the strength and integrity of the building's structure.

"It will also cause degradation of organic materials like plaster and wallpaper, as well as cause cracks on walls and ceilings," he added.

On the health factors, Kuan said it had been proven that dampness was associated with poor hygiene, indoor air quality and mould infestation.

Unfortunately, inter-floor leakage matters are not easy to resolve as it involves many parties, namely the affected unit owner, the likely causal unit owner and the management body; with one or more of them having to bear the repair costs depending on the contributory cause(s), he said.

The standard operation procedure to handle such matters is prescribed in the Strata Management (Maintenance and Management) Regulations (SMR) 2015.

Kuan said any dispute could be raised with the Commissioner of Buildings at local council level and the provisions in the Strata Management Act (SMA) 2013 followed.

Kuala Lumpur City Hall Commissioner of Buildings building surveyor Muhammad Hafizi Rosli said there was a clause in SMA 2013, which stated that building managers and neighbours who did not cooperate in an investigation and rectification might be subject to punitive actions including RM50,000 or three years’ jail, or both, upon conviction.

However, he said no one had been convicted thus far.

"Anyway, there is a flaw in the law.

"Upon conviction, the party concerned will only be punished but the leakage problem will not be solved, which defeats the purpose of it," he said.

Possible causes

Kuan, who has investigated inter-floor leakages and been called in as an expert witness for several court cases related to this issue, said domestic water pipes and waterproofing failure were the most common causes.

"Buildings with plastic water pipes and dilapidated metal water pipes tend to burst easily under unsafe water pressure.

"This can be solved with better plumbing and maintenance according to the Uniform Technical Guidelines in Water Reticulation and Plumbing Systems of the National Water Service Commission (SPAN).

"Other common causes of water leaks include cracked external walls and dilapidated window sealant," he added.

Kuan said the cause of a leakage could be identified by observing the consistency of the dripping water.

If the dripping was not consistent, Kuan said the source could be from the roof, rainwater downpipes, gutters, external wall cracks, condensation from an air-conditioner's copper wires, leaking air-conditioner and air leakage.

"If the dripping is rapid, it is likely from a domestic water pipe.

"If the dripping was consistent and with a foul smell, it could be from a waste pipe.

"If the consistent dripping was neither rapid nor foul smelling but efflorescence (presence of soluble mineral deposits on the concrete), it could be waterproofing failure," he said.

He explained that it could be verified by conducting a flood test at the wet area – temporarily blocking the waste pipe, filling the area with water and monitoring the dampness level with a moisture meter for the next 24 hours.

"Moisture mapping can be done under the wet area or on the walls of the wet areas.

"If there is apparent increase in moisture reading, it shows that the waterproofing has failed," said Kuan, who has 20 years of experience as a repair and rehabilitation contractor.

He noted that there were also inspection and testing standards as well as leak detection tools such as infrared thermographic imager, endoscope, pressure gauge testing, wall scanner and acoustic leak detector, among others, that could be used.

Dealing with the problem

A building manager, who wanted to be known only as Shane, said houseowners were frustrated with having to deal with such problems, including in high-end developments.

He said some luxury units priced at about RM1mil started having water leakage and seepage problems in less than five years.

"Developers wash their hands off it after the defect liability period is over and the burden of resolving such matters is passed on to the building management.

"Affected houseowners often vent their frustrations to the building's management, although the source of the problem is coming from private units.

"Many do not know about the SMR 2015 and they expect building management to rectify the matter.

"Residents have to understand that the funds managed by a building management cannot be used for individual benefit," he said.

Shane said a lack of experts in the field also made it difficult for repair work to be done efficiently.

"Often, the plumbing plan given by the developer is only a basic guide and different from the actual design.

"Repair contractors and plumbers who take on the job often use the trial and error method, instead of finding the root cause before the repair.

‘‘Building managers depend on repair contractors and plumbers to help fix the problem," he added.Wooi says complaints about inter-floor leakage is common, and seen even in newer developments.

Property manager Evon Wooi, who oversees 11 stratified properties in Penang, confirmed that leaks between floors were becoming very common and they occurred even in some newer developments.

She said many houseowners would report the matter to the developer to fix it within the defect liability period, which was usually 24 months after vacant possession.

However, she said some were unfortunate as the leakage problem only surfaced after the defect liability period ended and owners had to bear the repair cost.

"Even if a leakage is detected within the defect liability period, the developer's contractors sometimes apply a temporary fix that does not last long, and by the time the problem reappears, the defect liability period is over," she said.

In her experience, Wooi said that about three out of every 10 cases reported, would be difficult to solve.

"If the responsible party refuses to cooperate and does not make any effort to rectify the problem within the time given, I will get three separate quotations for the repair work and give it to them for consideration.

"I will give them another seven days to get their own contractor to do the job, failing which, I will appoint the contractor that gave the lowest quotation to start work, provided the job can be done without getting access to the unit above.

"The cost will be included in their next maintenance bill.

"However, if the repair work can only be done with access to the other unit, the case must be referred to the tribunal to get an order," she elaborated.

She added that the Local Government Development Ministry must look into protecting the interest of the buyer, who depended on the property developer for a house of reasonable quality.

Tags / Keywords: water proofing , water leaks , ceiling ,

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