The problem of abandoned houses is being addressed through legal means with owners being hauled to court by the local authorities.
The situation has become so rampant and widespread that the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) has formed a task force under the Abandoned Houses Committee to look into the issue.
The task force, established last year, has identified 299 houses which have been left vacant in the municipality while seven bungalow owners have been taken to court.
One owner paid the RM350 fine while the court dates for the other six have been set for later this month and July.
"Those who fail to show up may be arrested for disobeying a court order" said MBPJ councillor Jeyaseelan Anthony who heads the task force.
Jeyaseelan explained that under Section 74 of the Local Government Act 1976, the owner or tenant found guilty of abandoning their properties or leaving the land in an unmaintained state, can be fined not more than RM1,000, face a jail term of not more than six months, or both.
In addition, owners served with a court order will be fined an extra RM100 per day on top of the RM1,000 fine if they do not clean up the premises.
Although MBPJ would like to take more owners to court, they face many road blocks in tracing them, said Jeyaseelan.
The process is a long one as first the committee has to identify the abandoned house, usually based on public complaints.
Apart from it being home to creepy crawlies and pests like snakes and rats, abandoned houses are also sometimes used as a hideout for criminals and drug addicts. They have also contributed to dengue outbreaks in their neighbourhoods.
MBPJ will first try to trace an owner through the land office, which most of the time does not have complete or updated information. "Sometimes all we get is a name, no address, not even their MyKad number.
"Without that, it is difficult to trace them in the National Registration Department (JPN) database" he said. Meanwhile, others who could be traced have either died or migrated to another country.
For those who can be traced, MBPJ will issue a notice to the owner to clean their property within 14 days.
To date, MBPJ has issued a total of 416 notices advising owners to clean and maintain the cleanliness of their abandoned houses. Only 135 owners responded and cleaned up the house while MBPJ cleaned up 101 houses which were in critical condition. There were 154 repeated notices issued to those who failed to respond, with 26 notices recently sent out.
Failure to respond to these notices will result in legal action. "We are in the process of tracking down more owners and will take them to court, if necessary" said Jeyaseelan, adding the committee also tries to trace the owner through the payment of their assessment fee.
If the owner cannot be traced, MBPJ will clean the abandoned houses immediately.
"We will send the bill for the clean-up to the owner once we locate them. This will include other expenses for tracking them down, including the postage fees" he said.
"If the owner fails to pay three or more bills, then we will take them to court" said MPSJ assistant corporate director Azfarizal Abdul Rashid.
As a final resort, the property will be forfeited.
MPSJ took legal action against four owners of abandoned properties between 2007 and last year.
So far, 354 notices had been issued to owners of abandoned houses while a total of 1,334 houses have been cleaned by MPSJ's task force from 2011 to September last year.
"We will only clean the house as it is our policy not to demolish abandoned houses" said Azfarizal.