PETALING JAYA: The Sydney apartment unit of a Malaysian who returned to Malaysia to become a Buddhist monk was auctioned off on Saturday following a court order.
According to a report in Domain.com.au, Law Siek Hong appeared to be no longer interested in worldly possessions, including the unit.
The report said Law is believed to be in Ipoh and that he could claim the balance of the money from the forced sale of his property.
The court order set a legal precedent in Australia, and will benefit apartment owner’s corporations trying to recover arrears on payments, such as strata levies.
According to the report, the 32-square metre studio unit on the top floor of the 74-unit, five-storey 1930s art deco Ballina Flats on Darley Street, was bought by Law in 1989 for A$75,000 (RM231,911). It had panoramic views of the Sydney skyline.
But then he went missing, and the building’s owners’ corporation spent 12 years and over A$60,000 trying to track him down to force him to pay his amassed strata levies totalling more than A$280,000.
The corporation hired a Malaysian agent to find him but that agent is reported to have disappeared with the money paid to him for the task.
The report said since Law could not be physically traced, senior strata lawyer Faiyaaz Shafiq went to the Supreme Court for an order that papers could be served via an email address that had been uncovered, and to enforce the New South Wales sheriff’s office to comply with a duty to sell the apartment on the owners’ behalf.
The court agreed, plotting a clear course of action for apartment owners in a similar predicament in future, the report added.
The report in Domain.com quoted Shafiq as saying that they had since found out that Law had become a Buddhist monk and had given up worldly possessions. Also, the report said, Law had now dedicated himself totally to his religion and preserving heritage sites in Ipoh.
Shafiq was quoted as saying: “It’s a big problem all across Australia at the moment of having foreign buyers, usually from Asia, who buy an apartment and then never live in it, and no one knows where they are.
“They might owe hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid levies or there might be maintenance issues in their apartment that affects the others around and below them. But often these people are impossible to track down, so no one can serve the legal papers on them that are necessary for any proceedings to get access to their property, or to sell the unit from under them.”
Joseph Alam, the strata manager of the apartment, was quoted as saying: “We can now recoup our legal costs, as well as the unpaid levies, back from the sale of the apartment. But this is a problem that’s happening more and more. This was the first case of this kind where they couldn’t track down the owner but it means that maybe it will be easier in future.”
The unit was auctioned off on Saturday for $550,000, the Domain.com.au report added.
“He (Law) apparently no longer has any interest in material possessions so did not respond to any of our inquiries. Ours was a novel application as there wasn’t any precedent for it.
“As a result of the sale, the owners corporation will be paid, the legal bills will be paid, the crown solicitor and whatever remains will be kept by the Supreme Court so he could turn up to claim the balance.
“But importantly there’s now an established precedent and a way to speed up this process for other apartment buildings having similar problems. And when the person can be found, the government really needs to change the rules around serving papers overseas as it’s now so difficult when the person you’re serving is overseas,” Shafiq was quoted as saying.