IN June 2011, the Selangor government promised Petaling Jaya Old Town house owners they could renew their 99-year leasehold land titles for a mere RM1,000. On 5 July 2012, at a public dialogue at the PJ Civic Centre, Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim reaffirmed this commitment and said applicants need not wait longer than three months.
What has become of this promise? And more importantly, is the renewal of leasehold land titles legal?
For some applicants, it’s been a year, and their applications are still pending.
Petaling Jaya Section 2 resident Alwin Lim said he was charged RM2,042 instead of RM1,000 to renew his leasehold title. An additional RM542 was added on for administrative costs, and then a further RM500 for a burial site, whether or not the applicant uses the state’s cemetery land eventually.
He’s also been given the runaround when following up on his application, made more than six months ago. “I have asked what happened to my application and I have been passed from one department to the next, from the Sungai Buloh Land Office to the Shah Alam Land Office and back again,” Lim relayed to me recently.
But the delay in renewing the leases could be the least of property owners’ worries. When we take a close look at renewal of leasehold titles, it appears that there are actually no legal provisions for such an exercise.
As a starting point, let us look at the official booklet on the leasehold renewal programme published by the Selangor Menteri Besar’s office. In his opening address, Khalid said the following in the third paragraph:
Reformasi dilakukan untuk membolehkan individu yang telah lama menduduki tanah kerajaan secara tidak sah boleh mendapatkan hak milik, lanjutan tempoh hak milik tanah boleh dilakukan dengan kadar premium yang mampu dijelaskan, memutihkan hak milik individu yang telah melanggar syarat kegunaan tanah… (emphasis mine)
So the premise is that residents who have been squatting on government land illegally can now legalise their residency. How will this happen? Here’s what the booklet says about the remedy:
KTN (Kanun Tanah Negara) tidak memperuntukkan seksyen khusus untuk melanjutkan tempoh pajakan tanah atas hakmilik. Walau bagaimana pun, amalan yang dipraktikan adalah melalui Seksyen 197 dan Seksyen 76 KTN yang mana permohonan tersebut dilakukan secara serentak dan 204B KTN. (emphasis mine)
First, there is an admission that there is no provision to renew land leases. Nonetheless, the state government cites three provisions of the National Land Code (NLC) used to process the application anyway, because that’s how it’s been done — Sections 197, 76 and 204B. Let’s take a look specifically at what these sections say:
- Section 76 states that a state government can alienate out state land for a lease of 99 years or alienate it in perpetuity (freehold).
- Section 197 states that land can be willingly surrendered to the government by title holders.
- Section 204B deals with situations where a landowner surrenders a plot of land to enable it to be divided into two or more parcels. The state government then returns the subdivided parcels to the landowner.
None of these three provisions mention anything about leasehold renewal. So, it appears that what the Selangor government is doing is illegal.
What’s been happening in the application process is this — owners fill up Form 12A which mentions section 197. This means they are surrendering their land willingly to the government. This makes their land “state land” again, enabling the state to re-alienate the land under section 76, if it so chooses. The government then returns the land title to the owner with a further 99 year lease.
But when the owners surrender their titles with their application forms, and effectively surrender their lands voluntarily to the government, there’s nothing on the form stating that the government will sell back their lands to them. Once they hand their titles over with Form 12A, the land they live on belongs to the state government. The current process basically leaves it to the good graces of the government to re-alienate the land and return the titles back to the owners.
Now consider the possibility that the application form along with the original land title goes missing for whatever reason. Where would the landowner stand then? This makes delays experienced by Lim, described above, even more worrisome, as the loss of his title could result in serious complications over who owns the land he currently lives on.
As for section 204B, Form 12A doesn’t mention this section at all, nor would applying this section help. When land is surrendered under this section, the land title is exchanged immediately so the ownership of the land remains with the title holder during the application process. But this section is meant for subdivision of land, not leasehold renewals. And you can’t divide the land under your house into two or more lots because the NLC does not allow for a building to sit across two plots of land and requires such lands to be amalgamated (joined).
Of course, there have been people who have successfully “renewed” their leasehold tenure on their land titles and these cases typically involve persons who pay the full sum which could be around RM100,000 or more. But the legality of such renewals remains questionable.
The issue I have highlighted here is just a fraction of the problems that plague Petaling Jaya leasehold land titles. From my research, it appears that some leasehold titles are even invalid, and their owners entitled to freehold titles. It is because of these problems that I began advocating giving freehold land titles to Petaling Jaya residents back in October 2010. That, to me, would be the right thing for the Selangor government to do, and not offer leasehold renewals that may entangle landowners in yet another legal conundrum.
For those who would like to know more about the history of Petaling Jaya and the rights of leasehold property owners, former MBPJ councillor KW Mak has written a book entitled The Truth About Petaling Jaya Land. It includes reference materials like government documents, letters and maps from the 1950s and 1960s that expands on the arguments presented online. Those who are interested in purchasing the book can find copies available at Silverfish Books.