Land Certificates Arrive at White Building; Titles Years Off

Weeks after Land Management Ministry officials flocked to Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building to gather documents and measure apartments, a handful returned this week to deliver ownership certificates to residents facing eviction.

But official land titles will not be delivered until a 21-story high-rise development, expected to take four years to build, replaces the 1960s low-income housing complex, according to a ministry official.

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Ministry of Land Management officials walk past each other on stairs at the White Building in Phnom Penh earlier this month. (Janelle Retka/The Cambodia Daily)

“We are providing them with ownership certificates to make it easy to negotiate with the company,” said Keurt Sareth, the ministry’s undersecretary of state, referring to Arakawa, the Japanese development company managing the $80-million project.

“I think the land titles should, in the meantime, be offered when the new building is complete,” he said.

Dy Sophannaramany, a residents’ representative, said 60 to 70 percent of the apartment owners had received certificates as of Thursday afternoon, two days after officials began the distribution process.

“Everyone is happy. It’s not very different to a land title. What’s important is that it’s evidence of who owns it,” she said. “If we are able to get ownership certificates, then we are going to be able to sell to them.”

There were concerns, however, among some residents as they examined the paperwork. Un Sopheap, 50, was unhappy about her allocation.

“Other people’s houses, which are similar to mine, they got more than 20 square meters,” Ms. Sopheap said. “Why did I get 18 square meters?…. I want them to remeasure my house.”

The dilapidated White Building in central Phnom Penh was built in 1963 and hosts hundreds of families and small businesses. It was condemned due to safety concerns in September 2014.

Mr. Sareth repeated the ministry’s position on Thursday that residents who do not wish to wait for an apartment in the new building should opt for a buyout from Arakawa.

But Kheng Ngun, Arakawa’s deputy managing director, has repeatedly told reporters that the company had no intention of buying property from residents.

“We want to build for them,” he said earlier this month. “That’s the intention from the first place.”

“It’s a free market, so they can sell to whoever wants to buy,” he added. “The new buyer will wait and get the new apartment.”

Contacted on Thursday, he said he had no updates about the White Building and was “not involved in this project anymore.” He declined to comment further or provide contact details for company representatives currently working on the project.

It remains unclear how an ownership certificate, rather than a land title, could be used to sell an apartment in the building. Land Management Ministry spokesmen either declined to comment or could not be reached.

Jessica Sercombe, a program adviser for housing rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said the contradictory statements made by the ministry and Arakawa about buyouts was worrisome.

“With conflicting information arriving and with concerns that have been shared by the community previously, there was the suspicion that issues like this would arise,” she said.,

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