The dream of homeownership crumbles in a Borey

cracking tiles and damaging walls
One year after construction had finished, the floor in Leng Malin’s home started to sink, cracking tiles and damaging walls. Pha Lina

The dream of homeownership crumbles in a Borey

Leng Malin opens the front door to her house in Borey Chomkar Svay, looking down at cracked ceramic tiles on a sunken floor, is her welcome home. As she walks further into the house, she points at cracks and water stains on walls and ceilings.

Currently she is spending around $1000 on cosmetic repairs in her home – as much as she spent last year – but the cracks in the floor tiles and the wall, keep reappearing.

Leng has lived in a Borey home for three years and has been dealing with water damage and sinking foundation for the last two. Since the contract with the Borey owner only included a warranty for six months, she and her husband alone are responsible for repairs.

“I didn’t understand the problem when I initially bought the house, so I didn’t talk about the details with the Borey owner,” she said. “The Borey owner should have been responsible for this issue and should have helped to fix my home.”

Teng Sokleab, the developer of the Borey Chomkar Svay housing project refused to comment on whether he felt responsible for repairs.

The approximately 100 houses in the Borey Chomkar Svay housing project
The approximately 100 houses in the Borey Chomkar Svay housing project are all built on former wetlands and face the same construction defects. Pha Lina

What happened to Leng’s property is not an isolated occurrence but rather a systemic lack of construction standards that affects Borey projects across Phnom Penh. In Borey Chomkar Svay, up to 100 houses alone may be affected, believed Malin.

Cherng Channy, who opened the maintenance company MKS four years ago, specializes in repairing water damage, especially in broken tiles. From what she sees, the majority of her work comes from the inadequate construction standards that plague borey projects. She believes the primary culprit for tile damage is the lack of solid foundation, as many Borey’s are built on filled in wetlands.

“My workers don’t have enough time for all the house owners calling for repairs,” she said. And repairing tiles doesn’t come cheap. Even for easy fixes, the company charges $4.50 per square metre. As the difficulty of the repair increases, naturally the costs climb.

Construction engineer Sona Seng from Advancing Engineering Consultants Cambodia told Post Property that these foundation problems likely occurred when there was a lack of soil analysis before the development.

“If there is no soil investigation carried out and there is no structural engineer involved in the design and construction process, the structure will likely fail. The developer’s interest is to build cheap and fast. Usually they do not have independent engineers to check their design and construction quality.”

Phum Chansothea, an engineer who investigated the construction defects in Leng Malin’s house, confirmed Sona’s assessment.

“Developers have inadequately built foundations on top of sand that had been pumped into the wetlands. This poses a real financial risk to residents.”

The problem of sinking floors is mostly seen in cracked tiles
The problem of sinking floors is mostly seen in cracked tiles. Pha Lina

He added that on top of this, damages were caused by the use of substandard materials that included improperly mixed cement to construct pillars, causing them to be too weak to support a house, or heavy rainfall.

“I calculate that in 20 years, the majority of houses will encounter foundation problems,” he said, adding that “Since the ministry of land management, urban planning and construction does not properly scrutinize construction sites, unregulated development continues. When the ministry does check to give the license, they only take money for the ‘service’,” he said.

“It’s time for the Ministry to do their job,” he said.

Echoing Phum’s call of responsibility, Malin said, “I think the ministry of land management should be in charge of the problem, since the ministry is the one responsible for [issuing the construction license] but they just stay quiet.”

Seng Lout, spokesperson for the ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said that “developers have to submit a letter when they finish the construction of a new home for inspection. Officials then always scrutinize construction sites to ensure owners follow construction standards.”

According to Seng Lout, when a construction company does not follow the standards, the ministry takes action to remedy the situation.

For the houses in Borey Chomkar Svay facing concrete problems, the ministry doesn’t seem to have a remedy yet, and apparently no responsibility either.

“House sinking and water leak issues are under the responsibility of the construction owners and the buyers, as they sign the contract together,” he said. “The ministry does not have a law to address the problem yet, but we advise construction site managers to ensure developers follow standards.”

The foundation hasn’t been dried up properly, humidity is creeping up the walls
Because the foundation hasn’t been dried up properly, humidity is creeping up the walls. Pha Lina

But standards, which the ministry claims to issue, such as construction permits that regulate concrete foundations in Borey Chomkar Svay, don’t follow sound construction practices. And for developers, they are merely a choice, not an obligation.

“Cambodia has no building codes, which makes it difficult for local builders, engineers and other stakeholders when it comes to structural integrity since there are very limited regulations to be referred to,” Sona Seng told Post Property.

The number of Borey projects in Phnom Penh has increased from 77 in 2011 to 148 by the end of the third quarter of 2014, according to Bonna Realty Group. Each borey consists of 50 to 100 houses. Time will tell how widespread construction defects in the Borey are.

Meanwhile, Leng Malin is considering her options. With the lack of regulation, it is clear that no one but herself and her husband will have to shoulder the liabilities caused by severe construction defects that let her dream of an own home literally crumble.

Under normal circumstances, it would have taken her seven years to pay off the mortgage. However, with the added expenses of fixing her home that keeps falling apart, Leng may take her chances in selling the home after the next repair. The house has not only turned into a liability to her quality of life, but also a major risk to the entire savings the family would make within the next seven years.

Additional reporting by Julius Thiemann

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