Man loses home due to Land Office negligence

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PUTRAJAYA: A man who had his land acquired without his knowledge lost all legal recourse yesterday to get justice when the Federal Court refused to grant leave for his appeal.

Ishmael Lim Abdullah, 53, will now have to vacate the 5,000 sq m piece of land in Templer’s Park which he had been occupying for 40 years and get a miserly compensation of just RM6,000 — the amount that the government deposited with the courts in 1974 to acquire the property for a military school.

In a unanimous decision the five-man panel — Tan Sri Ahmad Maarop, Tan Sri Hassan Lah, Datuk Zainun Ali, Datuk Seri Abu Samah Nordin and Datuk Ramly Ali — said Ishmael’s application did not meet the threshold for leave to be granted.

The court also awarded costs of RM5,000 each to the respondents, the Federal Land Commissioner and the Gombak Land Office, which failed to register the acquisition in the first place.

The ruling sends alarm bells to all landowners as it means land titles are not safe anymore and landowners will pay the price for negligence by the Land Office.

In Ishmael’s case as the acquisition was not registered by the Gombak Land Office, his father did not realise he was buying encumbered property from a Singaporean in 1975. Even when the title was passed to Lim in 1992, the acquisition was not registered.

Ishmael was hoping he would be paid compensation equivalent to the current market value of RM1.5 million.  However, as the appeal was dismissed, this means the 1974 offer still stands.

This also means Ishmael, who has spent close to RM100,000 on legal bills, will only get RM6,000.

The Federal Court did not address the issue of the military college which has now been moved to Putrajaya; hence the original intention for the acquisition is not valid.

There are fears that the land where Ishmael used to run a nursery will now be converted for commercial purposes.

Ishmael’s lawyer Trevor George De Silva pleaded that his client had been paying his quit rent diligently.

Prior to the appeal, the lower courts had heard that Singaporean Lim Cheng Kim did not know that the land had been acquired when she sold the land to Ishmael’s father. When buying the land, Ishmael’s father made checks with the Land Office then which indicated it was without any encumbrances. Ishmael inherited the land in 1992 and the transfers were done at the Gombak Land Office.

He even charged the property to a bank for a loan in 1993.

On March 9, 2005, the Gombak Land Office issued him an eviction notice saying his land and 12 other plots had been acquired for the military college. Between 1993 and 2005, five land searches confirmed Ishmael as the registered owner of the property.

Ishmael took the Federal Land Commissioner and the Gombak Land Office to court on April 7, 2005, to challenge the eviction notice.  The High Court, then ruled to keep things at status quo until Ishmael and the land administrators sorted out the land issues.

In spite of this order, the Land Office proceeded to cancel Ishmael’s ownership of the land. But his name was reinstated after he filed contempt proceedings.

He eventually lost the High Court case and later at the Court of Appeal which held that the land acquisition process began in 1973 and was completed in 1974, hence the land belonged to the state.

The Court of Appeal ruled the previous owner no longer had good title of the land, therefore the transfer of the land to Ishmael’s father was null and void.

Notably, the Court of Appeal held that the enforcement of “Form K” to register the acquisition — a requirement under the National Land Code — was merely a formality and not fatal to the acquisition process.

The Court of Appeal also held that although Ishmael had been paying quit rent, assessment fee and was able to charge the land for a bank loan, it “does not prove that his title is indefeasible”.

Speaking to The Edge Financial Daily, Ishmael said he had lost everything fighting for his rights.

“I did everything by the book. I have lost my home and incurred more debts. How is this right?” said a teary Ishmael.

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on November 19, 2014.