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LCQ6: Unauthorised building works

Following is a question by the Hon Albert Ho and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (December 12):

Question:

The Court of Final Appeal recently ruled, in respect of a compensation claim arising from an accident involving unauthorised building works ("UBWs") fallen from a building, that the owners' corporation ("OC") of the building concerned was liable for compensation. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the current total number of buildings with UBWs in Hong Kong, and among them, the number of buildings for which OCs have been formed and which have third party insurance taken out for their common parts (including the parts with UBWs);

(b) when individual owners ignore the requests of OCs or the Buildings Department ("BD") for the removal of UBWs, what powers OCs may exercise and duties OCs must discharge to protect themselves against the liability for compensation for accidents caused by those UBWs; and

(c) of the progress of removing UBWs from buildings by BD (including the numbers of warning letters and removal orders issued as well as the number of UBWs removed in each of the past three years), and whether it will expedite the removal of certain UBWs next year; if so, of the details?

Reply:

Madam President,

Unauthorised building works (UBWs) in buildings is a complex issue, involving two major policy areas, namely building management and building safety. The Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) and the Home Affairs Department are responsible for Hong Kong's building management policies, formulating legislation relating to building management, and providing advice on and assistance in building management for owners. The Development Bureau (DEVB) and the Buildings Department (BD) are responsible for building safety policies, formulating the related legislation and taking enforcement actions to remove UBWs.

The following is the reply of the two policy bureaux to the three-part question:

(a) Given the prevalence of UBWs, the Government does not have the exact statistics of existing private buildings with UBWs in Hong Kong. According to the estimate of 2000, there were about 800 000 UBWs in Hong Kong at that time. Since the launch of strengthened and systematic enforcement action against UBWs in 2001, the BD has endeavoured to curb the emergence of new UBWs and removes about 40 000 UBWs every year. Therefore, we estimate that at present there are still about 520 000 UBWs in Hong Kong.

Currently, there are about 40 500 private buildings in Hong Kong. According to the statistics of the HAB, 15 578 buildings have formed owners' corporations (OCs). Among these buildings, 13 806 buildings (i.e. 88%) have taken out third party insurance. Nevertheless, as the scope, items and terms covered by insurance policies are agreements between the insurance companies and the relevant OCs, the Government does not have the statistics on whether the parts of buildings with UBWs are covered in those third party insurance policies.

(b) An OC is a body corporate with independent corporate status and power. The Building Management Ordinance empowers an OC to act on behalf of the owners in managing the common parts of the buildings. At a meeting of an OC, any resolution may be passed with respect to the control, management and administration of the common parts or the renovation, improvement or decoration of those parts and any such resolution shall be binding on the management committee and all the owners.

In addition, a member of a management committee and any other authorised person may, on reasonable notice to the owner or occupier thereof, enter a flat at any reasonable time for the purpose of inspecting, repairing, maintaining or renewing any common parts in the flat, or any other objects in the flat which may affect adversely the common parts or other owners, and abating any hazard or nuisance which may adversely affect the common parts or other owners.

The Ordinance also provides that any costs incurred by the management committee in connection with the exercise by it of the above powers conferred shall be recoverable by the corporation as a civil debt from the owner of the flat in respect of which such costs were incurred.

(c) After extensive consultation, the BD announced in 2001 the "Enforcement Policy against UBWs" to handle UBWs in Hong Kong. For UBWs that are of high priority, including UBWs constituting obvious or imminent danger to life or property, new UBWs and UBWs constituting a serious hazard or environmental nuisance, the BD will issue to the owner a removal order requiring him to remove the UBWs in question or he is liable to prosecution.

As for the types of UBWs which do not belong to the category of priority demolition, the BD will issue a "warning notice" (WN) to the owner as appropriate. Should the owner fail to remove the UBWs before the specified period of time, the BD will register the WN against the title of the subject premises in the Land Registry and will deregister it only after the UBWs in question are completely removed.

The progress of enforcement actions taken by the BD over the past three years is as follows :

The BD issued 25 007 and 32 711 removal orders in 2005 and 2006 respectively. In the first 10 months of this year, a total of 28 984 removal orders were issued. As for warning notices, the number stood at 2 184 in 2005, 8 498 in 2006 and 7 098 in the first 10 months of this year.

Through the BD's enforcement actions against UBWs, a total of 40 365, 48 479 and 44 197 UBWs were removed in 2005, 2006 and the first 10 months of 2007 respectively.

Since the implementation of the current enforcement policy in 2001/02, the Government has further allocated more than $1.3 billion to the BD for taking enforcement actions against UBWs and enhancing building safety. In the light of its past enforcement experience and manpower requirements, the BD will maintain the annual target of removing not less than 40 000 UBWs in future. The BD will be provided with adequate resources to continue with its multi-pronged approach in handling UBWs, including immediate removal of dangerous and new UBWs, annual large-scale operations to remove existing UBWs, and enhancing the public's awareness of problems of UBWs and their responsibilities as owners through publicity and education programmes.

Following the existing enforcement policies, the BD will conduct reviews from time to time to step up enforcement actions for specific types of UBWs. For example, the BD has, since 2006, intensified the demolition of unauthorised mounting of large glass panels on the external walls of buildings and large signboards to ensure public safety. The BD will continue to take vigorous enforcement actions in the future.

Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Issued at HKT 16:56

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