“Building Doctor” takes the pulse of old buildings
Timely building repairs and maintenance can weed out problems at an early stage and ensure public safety. The building surveyors of the Buildings Department (BD) are like “building doctors”, “taking the pulse” of aging buildings to prevent their safety conditions from deteriorating. Sometimes I share different stories of my colleagues in “My Blog” to give a better picture of the work of the various departments under the Development Bureau. This time, I have invited Ms SHUM Ying, a young building surveyor, who will tell us about her daily work and remind us of the importance of the Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme (MBIS) and the Mandatory Window Inspection Scheme (MWIS).
The work of a “building doctor” is, of course, related to buildings. A building has to go through the stage of design and conceptualisation before the construction commences. After completion, the building will go through the normal stages of ageing, deterioration and finally demolition. No matter whether it is the “birth, ageing, sickness or death” stage, building surveyors are involved, giving “diagnosis” on the building to find out any hidden “ailment” and prescribe the “cures” in order to ensure safety and health of the building.
Inspection and maintenance are keys to ensure safety
Ms SHUM has been working in the Mandatory Building Inspection Section of the BD for over three years, mainly responsible for issuing notices under the Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme to owners of private buildings aged 30 years or above, issuing notices under the Mandatory Window Inspection Scheme to owners of buildings aged 10 years or above; following up and conducting random checks on building inspection and repair works; and handling all sorts of related public enquiries.
Without proper care and maintenance, an old building may pose potential threats to the residents and the public at large. The MBIS and the MWIS were fully implemented in mid-2012, based on the principle of “prevention is better than cure”. Under these two schemes, owners of old buildings are required to carry out prescribed inspections and repairs on their property regularly to identify problems and carry out remedial works at an early stage, so that accidents can be avoided. As at end–2017, the BD had served the statutory mandatory building inspection notifications on about 3 600 private domestic and composite buildings, of which 1 800 are aged 50 years or above.
Offering professional advice with patience
Ms SHUM received the Ombudsman’s Award last year for her outstanding performance in handling complaints and serving the public. She indicated that her work involved a lot of contact and communication with the public, and she often needed to explain the MBIS and the MWIS, offering professional advice alongside, to help building owners to fulfil the statutory requirements. She said she appreciated that building owners might felt disoriented and puzzled when they received the statutory notices served by the BD. She hoped that through patient explanation, she could help building owners solve the problems, and understand the importance of proper building maintenance.
Ms SHUM illustrated with examples that she often received enquiries from members of the public saying that their flats were in good shape, and the windows were not defective at all as they were always closed. They queried why they were chosen for mandatory building or window inspection. Facing these enquiries, she would patiently explain to them that windows were external parts directly exposed to wind, rain and sunlight. Therefore, keeping the windows closed all the time did not imply an absence of defects, as they may suffer from rusting and aging. In serious cases, window frames may even fall off, which is highly dangerous. As for the building condition, it is difficult for a building owner to make an assessment on his/her own, therefore it is also necessary to appoint registered professionals for regular inspections.
Proactive follow-up and hiring professionals to undertake inspections and repairs
As Ms SHUM describes, buildings will get sick and old like humans do. However, they will not voice out for help. That is why owners and professionals must work together to take proactive action. Early symptoms for old buildings, including concrete spalling, cracks on the wall and drainage blockage, may deteriorate over time if they are left unattended, affecting not only the owners themselves, but also public safety. Thus, buildings need regular “body checks”, and their owners should appoint professionals registered with the BD to undertake building and window inspections regularly.
If owners have any doubts and queries about the notices, they can approach the BD for assistance. The Hong Kong Housing Society and the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) will continue to provide financial and technical assistance to the owners when necessary under Operation Building Bright 2.0 coordinated by the URA, to help owners carry out building repairs. It is hoped that all parties will join in to ensure building safety and make our city a safe place.
18 November, 2018