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LCQ9: Complaints about water seepage

Following is a question by the Hon Starry Lee Wai-king and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (November 19):

Question:

The Buildings Department and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department have set up dedicated Joint Offices (JOs) to handle complaints about water seepage in buildings.  For substantiated cases, JOs may issue a Nuisance Notice to the person concerned or apply to the Court for a Nuisance Order, and anyone who fails to comply with the Notice or Order may be prosecuted.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the total number of complaints about water seepage received by JOs between March and October this year; among them, the number of cases in which the source of water seepage had been identified; the average time taken between the receipt of a complaint and identification of the source of water seepage, and the percentage change of the figure as compared to those of the same periods in 2006 and 2007;

(b) of the total number of Nuisance Notices issued and the number of instances in which an application for a Nuisance Order was made to the Court by JOs during the above period; the number of cases in which prosecution was instituted and, among them, the number of those in which the persons concerned were convicted and the penalties imposed on them;

(c) as it was mentioned in the report released by the Office of The Ombudsman in March this year that the Government intended to introduce working guidelines to inform complainants regularly of the progress of the cases, whether the Government has already introduced such guidelines, if it has, of the details of the guidelines; if not, the reasons for that; and

(d) as earlier there were complaints that the colour water test in identifying the source of water seepage was ineffective, of the criteria adopted by JOs for determining whether such a test should be employed; among the present cases for which water seepage tests are conducted by JOs, of the percentage of those in which only the colour water test is conducted; whether it will replace the colour water test with other testing methods; if it will, of the relevant timetable; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

As pointed out in the Ombudsman's “Direct Investigation Report on Handling of Water Seepage Complaints” released in early 2008, water seepage in private premises is primarily a matter of building management and maintenance which should be the responsibility of property owners.  However, if the problem of water seepage causes public health nuisance, building safety risks or wastage of water, the Government has a statutory responsibility to consider its involvement by exercising the relevant statutory powers.  Based on this concept, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and the Buildings Department established a Joint Office (JO) as a pilot programme in 2006 to assist members of the public to resolve some of the water seepage problems.

Regarding the four parts of the questions, my replies are as follows:

(a) The required statistics are as tabulated below:

 
Water seepage
complaints received
Cases where sources of
water seepage successfully identified
March to October 2008
16,848
2,864
March to October 2007
12,414
2,128
March to October 2006
10,034
1,306

The JO has prescribed standard and requirements on investigation of sources of water seepage.  Some water seepage complaints received do not involve public health nuisance, building safety risks or wastage of water, hence do not fall within the scope of the authority of the JO.  There are also cases where the complaints are falsified, seepage has stopped or complainants have withdrawn their complaints such that the JO would not continue with the investigation.

Cooperation of the concerned owners/occupiers is critical to JO staff's entry into premises to conduct multiple tests to identify the source of water seepage.  With the full cooperation of concerned parties, an investigation can normally be concluded within around 130 days (90 working days).  However, in many cases, repeated arrangements have to be made with complainants on timing for site inspections and consents of respondents have to be sought in allowing multiple inspections inside the premises, such that it takes on average 168 days from receiving complaints to successfully identifying sources of water seepage.  The JO will enhance publicity to appeal for the cooperation of more owners/occupiers such that the Office can conclude its investigations swiftly.

As the JO service was only extended to the whole territory in July 2006, and the investigations of some complaints received in 2008 are still continuing, the figures of 2006, 2007 and 2008 cannot be compared directly.

(b) If investigation result reveals that the water seepage problem involves public health nuisance, the JO will serve a nuisance notice on the concerned owner, requiring him to abate the nuisance.  If the concerned owner fails to comply with the nuisance notice, the FEHD will prosecute the concerned owner, who will be liable to a maximum fine of $10,000 upon conviction.  Among the past convictions concerning water seepage, the amount of fine ranged from $500 to $4,000.

The table below lists the required statistics, including the number of nuisance notices served, applications for nuisance orders made to the Court, prosecutions and convictions during the concerned periods:

 
Nuisance notices served
Applications made to the Court
Prosecutions
Proceedings concluded
and defendants
convicted
March to October 2008
1,500
2
29
7
March to October 2007
458
1
14
9
March to October 2006
284
3
8
5

As the JO service was only extended to the whole territory in July 2006, and the investigations of some complaints received in 2008 are still continuing, the figures of 2006, 2007 and 2008 cannot be compared directly.

(c) The JO has formulated and implemented working guidelines.  The JO will, upon receipt of a water seepage complaint, acknowledge receipt within three working days and contact the complainant and arrange investigation within six working days.  If the investigation is concluded within three weeks, a detailed reply will be given to the complainant, otherwise investigation progress will be reported to the complainant within one month and at appropriate intervals afterwards.

With the full cooperation of concerned owners/occupiers, an investigation can normally be concluded within around 130 days, and results will be given to the complainant and owners concerned.  Otherwise, investigation progress will be reported to the complainant within around 130 days upon receipt of the complaint and at two-month intervals afterwards.

(d) The JO uses non-destructive testing methods during investigation of water seepage complaints.  The objective is not to damage household fixtures and hence to avoid unnecessary disputes and litigations caused by the investigation.  Investigators will adopt appropriate and effective tests depending on site circumstances and moisture changes of places affected by water seepage, including colour water test, flow meter test, reversible pressure test, water storage test for floor slabs or roofs, fluorescent colour water test and infrared thermal test, etc.  As combinations of testing methods are often adopted, the JO does not maintain separate statistics on individual testing methods.

Investigators will inspect or test for the most common sources of water seepage, including whether there are defects in drainage and water pipes, whether water proofing of floor slabs is damaged, whether the seepage is caused by rainwater, etc.  From past experience, among the cases where sources can be successfully identified, over half are caused by defects in drainage pipes or damaged water proofing of floor slabs.  Colour water test is a direct and effective means to confirm the source of water seepage.

Currently, there are apparatus, such as infra-red thermal scanners and microwave detectors, which can measure the temperature of the surface layers of objects.  Professionals may infer the situation or source of water seepage with the assistance of these apparatus and with their professional judgments.  However, the accuracy of these apparatus may vary with site circumstances, such that other tests or data are required to effectively confirm the sources of water seepage.  The JO will keep abreast of technological development with a view to enhancing methods of investigation and testing.

Ends/Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Issued at HKT 15:13

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