Longhouse settlers’ housing rights unaffected by TTDI residents’ lawsuit, lawyer says

Longhouse settlers who live in the Taman Rimba Kiara area in Taman Tun Dr Ismail are seen at the Kuala Lumpur court complex, December 13, 2017. ― Pictures by Yusof Mat Isa
Longhouse settlers who live in the Taman Rimba Kiara area in Taman Tun Dr Ismail are seen at the Kuala Lumpur court complex, December 13, 2017. ― Pictures by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 14 ― Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) residents’ lawsuit against a condominium project will not affect the rights of longhouse settlers in the neighbourhood to permanent housing, the court was told.

Lawyer Balan Nair, who represented TTDI residents challenging a condominium project in the Taman Rimba Kiara area, said a successful challenge by his clients would not put an end to the longhouse settlers' rights to permanent and affordable housing.

“Their right to have affordable housing can't be defeated in any way, because that's a promise given by the KL mayor. They say DBKL has promised them affordable housing,” he told the Kuala Lumpur High Court yesterday, referring to the Kuala Lumpur City Hall by its initials.

Yesterday was the hearing of TTDI residents' application for a stay order to temporarily freeze any actions arising from DBKL's approval for a nine-block condominium project until the end of their lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed on August 11 by TTDI Residents' Association chairman Abdul Hafiz Abu Bakar and nine others is against the KL mayor, with three others recently joining as respondents ― project site owner Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan, property developer Memang Perkasa Sdn Bhd, and the longhouse residents association led by V. Sunderam.

Alliff Benjamin Suhaimi (left) and Balan Nair (right) are the lawyers for Taman Tun Dr Ismail residents challenging a planned development in the Taman Rimba Kiara area.
Alliff Benjamin Suhaimi (left) and Balan Nair (right) are the lawyers for Taman Tun Dr Ismail residents challenging a planned development in the Taman Rimba Kiara area.

Yesterday, Balan also cast doubt on the public interest argument that the respondents were raising, highlighting that the actual portion of housing units and space to be given to the longhouse settlers was “only a fraction” of the planned 12-acre condominium development.

“And the longhouse community, once the affordable houses are given to them, it covers only one acre of the total area of land that is being developed,” he said, claiming that the rest of the project would be meant for profit.

“One will have to look at the totality of the whole development. The position taken is the development is for public, for housing for longhouse settlers,” he said, noting however that about 350 units out of the over 2,000 units expected to be built would be allocated to the longhouse settlers.

“We are not taking issue with DBKL building affordable housing. What we are taking issue with is the scale of development in the name of public interest purportedly to deliver affordable housing to them,” he said.

A view as seen in 2014 of a unit in the row of longhouses where the former Bukit Kiara rubber estate workers have been staying 'temporarily' for over 30 years. — Picture by Choo Choy May
A view as seen in 2014 of a unit in the row of longhouses where the former Bukit Kiara rubber estate workers have been staying 'temporarily' for over 30 years. — Picture by Choo Choy May

Noting that the longhouse settlers who were formerly rubber estate workers have waited for 30-odd years for the permanent housing promised by the government, Balan said the lawsuit would likely take several more months to be heard.

He said however the longhouse settlers had not shown in court documents that they would be prejudiced if they had to wait for the additional months, in the event a stay order is granted.

Balan also pointed out that the developer had already said it had given RM750,000 to the longhouse settlers to allow for maintenance and upkeep of their existing houses, pending the construction of the condominium.

“To say that they are prejudiced is also a non-starter; they have been given funds to maintain houses until the housing is built.

“It doesn't extinguish their right and the promise that DBKL has given to them ― that they will be given affordable housing,” he stressed.

Datuk Jayanthi Balaguru is the lead counsel for the TTDI longhouse settlers that are under the Pertubuhan Penduduk Perumahan Awam Bukit Kiara.
Datuk Jayanthi Balaguru is the lead counsel for the TTDI longhouse settlers that are under the Pertubuhan Penduduk Perumahan Awam Bukit Kiara.

Datuk Jayanthi Balaguru, the lawyer who represented the Sunderam-led longhouse residents association otherwise known as the Pertubuhan Penduduk Perumahan Awam Bukit Kiara, opposed the stay order on behalf of her clients.

She also explained that the RM750,000 sum was a “one-off” amount given by the developer to the longhouse settlers as a social responsibility move, to allow the latter to repair their existing houses that were in a “deplorable condition” with problems such as leaking roofs.

“It's not as compensation or neither was it to keep the owners happy,” she said.

V. Sunderam, Chairman of the longhouse settler's association named Pertubuhan Penduduk Perumahan Awam Bukit Kiara.
V. Sunderam, Chairman of the longhouse settler's association named Pertubuhan Penduduk Perumahan Awam Bukit Kiara.

In a court document sighted by Malay Mail, Sunderam had said the master resettlement agreements signed between his residents association and Yayasan Wilayah Persekutuan meant that the longhouse settlers will get 100 units of affordable homes built on the project site for free, as well as an additional 100 units buyable at a preferential rate of RM175,000.

The longhouse settlers ― 98 families who had worked on the Bukit Kiara rubber estate previously bought over by the federal government and were promised better homes ― are currently living on 4.4 acres of land, which are also part of the project site.

High Court judge Datuk Kamaludin Md Said will deliver his decision this afternoon on whether to grant the stay order.

TTDI residents say the stay order is necessary to preserve the status quo and to prevent irreversible damage to the project site which they say is part of the 25-acre Taman Rimba Kiara public park, further saying that such a court order will prevent their lawsuit from becoming a mere academic exercise.

The TTDI residents’ lawsuit seeks a court order to quash DBKL's approval ― in the form of a February 28 conditional planning permission and July 13 development order ― for the project.

They are also seeking a court order to compel the KL mayor to adopt and gazette the Draft KL City Plan 2020.

Rows of trees in the area that is believed to be part of the project site.
Rows of trees in the area that is believed to be part of the project site.

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