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Penang local council lambasted for sealing housing unit over assessment fee arrears

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang Island City Council has been taken to task for sealing a low-medium cost (LMC) housing unit in Taman Seri Hijau here, over assessment fee arrears.
State Gerakan vice-chairman Lee Boon Ten said the council could be held liable for criminal negligence for sealing the occupied unit.
He said the council was also committing illegal imprisonment if its officers had locked the unit without checking if the occupants were inside the unit.
“It is criminal negligence if there was someone inside the unit, and that person had suffered injury or death because the doors were sealed,” he told reporters today.
Lee was commenting on reports that the council had chained and padlocked the unit after the owner failed to pay two years’ worth of assessment fees amounting to RM468.
It is learnt that the council sealed the unit on Monday, and attached a notice announcing that the property was sealed due to failure to settle assessment fees.
The council had issued a statement yesterday, stating that it had the right to seal properties of those who failed to pay their assessment fees on time.
The owner of the unit, 37-year-old businessman Chuah Yung Lin, said he had immediately paid up the arrears, including the assessment fee, for the remainder of the year.
“I paid a total of RM600 and the council officers handed me a key and asked me to unlock the padlock myself instead of coming here and unlocking it. I am not going to unlock the padlock. I want the council to come and do it as the unit is under tenancy currently, so I do not want to be opening it,” he said.
Lee said the council’s hard approach was disappointing.
“Thankfully, there was no one in the unit when the council locked it up, but if there was someone inside, either an elderly or disabled person or a child, how are they to come out?”
Lee said the council should have first pursued other avenues, such as sending legal notices and taking the owner to court, to claim back the arrears instead of sealing the property.
“Sealing the property and suing the landlord for bankruptcy should have been their last resort,” he added.
However, council treasury director Suhaida Kamalul Ariffin said the move was done according to procedures under Section 148(3) of the Local Government Act 1976.
She said the Taman Hijau unit was not the only unit to face such action.
“We cannot be lenient to those who fail to pay their assessment fees for years as it is not fair to those paying their fees diligently. The rules applies to everyone, and fairly,” she said.
Suhaida said, in fact, the move to seal up the properties were not the council’s first choice.
“Two weeks before, we issued notices, which were pasted on the door or grille of the units, informing the occupants and owners of the assessment fee arrears.
“Usually, the owners or occupants will call us to make the settlement, but there are also cases where the owners fail to contact us or make payments,” she said.
Suhaida said, in cases where the owners still failed to make payment, the council would go to the unit and seal it or seize moveable property.
“We will go to the unit, and if the occupant is at home, we will tell them that they have to pay the arrears, and seize movable property such as televisions. Sometimes, we will give the occupants one day to make the settlement,” she added.

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