While most of us are pretty tolerant with our neighbours—some things they do can be a nuisance, like when they watch TV loudly. But in some circumstances, the things they do can even be...illegal.
Now, just assume your neighbour renovated his house recently. It didn’t seem like much at first—it was probably just an additional room or shed in his front yard. But 2 months after the renovation, you notice that there is a structure that looks like a temple in his compound and frequent visitors come to his house weekly, for religious ceremonies.
You try and close one eye over this issue, but the frequent visits from devotees and the excessive noise is starting to get out hand. So you might wonder: is it legal for your neighbour to transform his house into a place of worship?
Before we look into that...let’s establish what amounts to a place of worship.
It is a place of worship if it is open to public
Most religions in Malaysia have different places of worship, such as a mosque, a church or a temple. These buildings can be distinguished from their structure, which is iconic to each religion.
But what if the religious activities are performed in an ordinary house, and prayers are conducted on a daily basis with people coming to visit the premise as a place of worship?
This judgement from the case of United Hokkien Cemeteries Penang v The Board of Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang would help shed some light:
“As a place of worship, it must be public. No difficulty needs arise in this regard...it is also open to those members of the public who would avail themselves of the facilities it has to offer.” – Chang Min Tat, Federal Court Judge.
Based on the case, property can be classified as a place of worship if it is open for public. So a temple, mosque or church does not necessarily have to look like one. So long as people come and go, and there are prayers and religious ceremonies being conducted in the premise, it’s considered a place of worship.
So does this mean your neighbour is free to convert his house into public property i.e; a temple?
There are no laws to stop building a place of worship
There are technically no laws that disallow people from building a temple, mosque or church. This is because the Federal Constitution upholds freedom of religion under Section 11(3):
Basically, we have the freedom to practice our own religion and the Constitution states that it’s NOT unlawful for someone to build and maintain a place of worship. So long as the religious group or person can manage the premise, there is very little you can do to stop them.
So to prevent people from abusing the law or building a place of worship at home, there are additional laws to stop them from doing so.
House owners must comply with the local housing plan
There are certain regulations set by the local authorities. The developer of an estate and the owner of the property must abide by these regulations. Section 18 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1976 states the following on the use of land and buildings:
Basically, if your property is classified as a house, and is not meant for commercial purposes—carrying out any other activity besides what it’s meant for is an offence under the Act. Those who break the law will face a jail sentence up to 2 years, a fine up to RM 500,000.00 or both.
The Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974 defines and differentiates a temple and a house as such:
Place of public resort (Place of worship):
Dwelling house (Residential property):
So if your neighbour uses a residential property aka his home for any other purpose besides living in it, he will be fined an additional RM25,000.00 and served a nuisance order or an abatement order by the court, as stated under the Act.
You can stop them with just one complaint
As much as you want to maintain the bond you have with your neighbours, there can be certain things that can push you to a point of no return. So, you might want to take action before your neighbour’s house becomes the next popular place of worship in your area.
The Local Government Act 1976 provides that local authorities have the power to take necessary steps to resolve certain types of nuisances and non-compliance of property.
This means, you can always lodge a complaint with your local authority (i.e. Majlis Bandaraya, DBKL, MBPJ) via their websites or call their available hotlines which are also provided on their sites.