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"Eye Em Bee”

You may remember that last week I left a miserable man draped over a pile of rather high quality rubble mumbling hysterically to himself. The only sounds I could make out were “eye em bee, eye em bee,.....”

This poor distraught piece of humanity was of course referring to the IMB or, more accurately, lamenting his lack of one. An IMB I hear you say – what's that? Perhaps a dyslexic computer manufacturing company or maybe the International Monetary Bungle? No, in fact IMB stands for Ijin Mendirikan Bangunan which literally means “permit to establish a building” commonly known as a “Building Permit”.

IMBs are important, very important.

Make no mistake, after the land certificate the IMB is probably the most important document regarding properties in Indonesia. The building permit is not only a permit to carry out the initial building but it also continues through the building's life as a registration document. The permit defines (through a pile of associated documents that are lodged with the application) the specification of the building that is or has been built and the purpose the building can be used for.

All buildings should have one, unfortunately many don't.

The IMB is the responsibility of the owner of the building. If you are the owner then it will be your responsibility, if you rent or lease a building it is your landlord's responsibility. Do not buy or lease a building that does not have an IMB or you may have problems. If you lease a building that has an IMB and wish to use it for a different purpose than is stated on the IMB (say you want to use your building for keeping elephants or perhaps for night time activities involving “social networking” when it is currently registered as a private house) then the IMB must be changed. If a villa is to be rented out rather than used as a private residence you also probably need to be careful.

Balinese people often do not bother getting an IMB but take note - they can get away with it. Don't assume that you will be able to. Once a government official smells a walking ATM with a foreign passport you will (or will not) be surprised just how quickly compliance with the law can be officially urged. This may happen even more quickly should your neighbour not like elephants or does not appreciate the more subtle aspects of “social networking”.

Obtaining an IMB is really a part of the town planning process. Permits are issued by the Dinas Tata Ruang Kota dan Pemukiman (one of those typical Indonesian government department names that slips off the tongue as easily as a mouthful of sawdust) which means the Department of Town Planning and Settlements. With the IMB certificate comes a metal plate rather like a car number plate to be mounted at the front of the building (you don't see many of those do you?)

To get an IMB it is necessary to submit a pile of documents that will include the following:

  • A land certificate including the relevant survey plan.

  • An ijing Kavling (permit to subdivide) if one is needed.

  • Correct land zoning for the building that is planned.

  • Drawings of the buildings that comply with local building regulations.

  • Structural and services drawings to make sure that the buildings have been properly designed and specified.

A common pitfall for unwary property buyers in Bali is the fact that, while there are many professional developers that do the right thing, there are quite a number that start building before they have obtained an IMB. This is illegal.

I recently came upon what is, sadly, an all too common occurrence, a very expensive villa nearing completion which, after some nifty issue avoiding dance steps from the developer that would make Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers look like mere amateurs, we were able to determine had no IMB. I suggest that if someone is going to spend perhaps a million dollars building a villa it is a perfectly reasonable expectation that a building permit is obtained beforehand.

In fact it is hard to understand why developers or builders so often proceed without an IMB. If they comply with the regulations and obtain the permit at the start they will avoid problems and increased expense later on.

Many assume that financial lubrication will achieve anything but bear in mind three things:

1 The further the building process progresses, the larger the dose of lubricant that will be required.

2 The fact that someone (perhaps your developer) does not wish to seek an IMB before starting the building process is a sign to you, it immediately suggests a lack of integrity and further that something is probably not right – perhaps the design is not acceptable or there is not a full set of drawings..

3 Times are changing, government is being cleaned up and lubricant is becoming a dirty concept, it may be that an IMB is obtained now but, beware, if the building doesn't comply you could well have a problem later on.

It appears that many IMB applications in Bali are “arranged” and eased through the system with a healthy dose of green folding benevolence. Not a good idea because the staff in government departments have a tendency to move on and a holder of a dodgy IMB may suddenly find new staff have arrived and start to check the records diligently seeking out further contributions to their department's widows and orphans fund.

Remember that the drawings and specifications of your building submitted for the IMB remain on file and at any time in the future they may be pulled out and compared to the building.

This is what has been happening in and around Singaraja in recent months where local authorities have been carrying out checks to make sure that houses have IMBs, that the building usage matches the IMB and also that the building taxes have been paid. Do not doubt the government's resolve, a bad outcome can lead to demolition and several expatriates in that area have been warned, if they cannot resolve their issues they may well find themselves atop a pile of very expensive rubble babbling expletives. Somewhere a little Balinese man who specialises in demolition is rubbing his hands in anticipation.

Compliance with building regulations is checked in the IMB process. For example it is policy that buildings should be no higher than the palm trees. How high is a palm tree, well, for implementation purposes, it is defined as five floors or 15 metres (have you noticed how, as the years pass, palm trees seem to be growing taller and taller?). There is, of course, one famous exception to this rule – the Grand Bali Beach Hotel which was built by the government in the 1960s before the “palm tree” rule was established. Recently the Anantara Suites fell foul of this law and had to remove its 6th floor.

The design of buildings is also checked in the IMB process. It is stated government policy enshrined in legislation that buildings are to have elements of traditional Balinese design in them.

These days in Bali there are many international architects (and, sadly, a fair number of self proclaimed architects whose only qualifications to design buildings are a birth certificate and a token from a packet of cornflakes) and for many of these minimalist architecture is their preference being both cheaper to build and not requiring traditional design skills. Unfortunately minimalist design is, generally speaking, against the wishes of the Balinese and some of it may even be illegal here.

I recently saw drawings submitted for an IMB of a villa with Balinese tiled roofs when the actual building “as built” has flat concrete roofs. Not only does this contravene the regulations it is a violation of our Balinese host's desire that this island retains its cultural identity.

It is very sad that people come to this island and disregard what is in fact a sensible desire of the Balinese people for new buildings to respect their traditional designs and maintain Bali's unique appeal.

Only recently I sat in the lobby of a brand new hotel in Kuta that had as much aesthetic appeal as a mortuary on a bad day. I particularly noted the vinyl seat covers - very sensible should someone soil their pants while admiring the décor. No doubt this will be a contender in the annual Dodgy Developer Awards which are presented each year for people who have managed to build the ugliest building possible with the proviso that they have also managed to find someone to actually pay for it. Competition for this prestigious award is, I understand, fierce and year after year ugliness becomes uglier.

I must say I have to respect the achievement, on an island packed full of creative and talented artists and designers and with beautiful natural materials so readily available it takes a particular skill to manage to produce some of the bland, unappealing buildings that are starting to go up all around us.

But there again some are starting to come down!

There is now a thriving real estate industry in Bali but this industry and the many highly professional people who work in it are under threat by the arrogant attitudes and shonky dealings of a few opportunists. The industry needs ethics and standards if it is to survive and prosper. The IMB is a key instrument in setting and maintaining these standards and in protecting the interests of both the Balinese people and of property buyers.

Phil Wilson

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2009
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.

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