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LCQ18: Handling of Water seepage complaints

Following is a question by the Hon Kam Nai-wai and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (December 8):

Question:

Regarding the work of the Joint Office (JO) set up by the Buildings Department and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, dedicated to handling complaints and enquiries about water seepage in buildings, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) in each year since JO' establishment, of the total numbers of complaints and enquiries received by JO, with a breakdown by District Council (DC) district;

(b) in each year since JO' establishment, of the numbers of complaints and enquiries which JO finished handling; among such complaint cases, of the respective numbers of cases in which the sources of water seepage had been successfully identified, cases in which repair works had been carried out but the problem of water seepage had not yet been solved, and cases in which repair works had been done and water seepage stopped, with a breakdown by DC district; among the cases already completed, of the longest time and the shortest time taken and the average time required for completing each case;

(c) in each year since JO' establishment, of the total numbers of accumulated outstanding complaints and enquiries, of the nature of these cases, the number of cases requiring investigation into the sources of water seepage, the average waiting time for each case that required investigation into the source of water seepage, and the longest waiting time for such cases, with a breakdown by DC district;

(d) among the accumulated cases in each district in (c), of the number of cases which had been handled but the problems recurred;

(e) of the number of staff members involved in handling the complaints and enquiries since JO' establishment; and

(f) whether JO have reviewed the difficulties or bottleneck situations which occurred in the course of handling water seepage complaints; whether JO have studied the ways for handling water seepage problems in buildings more effectively and efficiently so that water seepage problem can be resolved as soon as possible?

Reply:

President,

As pointed out in the "Direct Investigation Report on Handling of Water Seepage Complaints" released by the Ombudsman in 2008, water seepage in private premises is basically a matter of building management and maintenance for which property owners are responsible.  However, if the problem of water seepage causes public health nuisance, risks of building structural safety or wastage of water, the Government will consider intervention by exercising the relevant statutory powers.  Based on the above principle, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Buildings Department established a Joint Office (JO) in 2006 to handle cases of water seepage involving the aforesaid problems.

Regarding the various parts of the question, the replies are as follows:

(a) The JO does not have statistics on the number of enquiries received.  The number of complaints received by the JO each year since its establishment up to the end of July 2010 is as follows (the JO does not keep statistical breakdown by District Council district):

 

Since JO's
Establishment
up to
end of 2006 
(*Note 1)

2007 2008 2009 2010
(up to end
of July) 
  -------- --------  --------  --------  -------- 
Total
Number
in Hong
Kong 
14,041 17,405 21,717 21,769 16,338



*Note 1: As the regional offices of the JO were established at different times, the figures in relation to the cases received or handled by them up to end of 2006 as set out in this reply may cover periods longer or shorter than one year.

(b) Currently, the JO has prescribed standards and requirements for the investigation into the sources of water seepage.  Past experience shows that some water seepage complaints do not involve public health nuisance, risks of building structural safety or wastage of water, and hence do not fall within the scope of follow-up action under the statutory authority of the JO.  There are also cases where the complaints are falsified, the seepage has stopped, or the complainants have withdrawn their complaints, etc.  Such cases will be screened out by the JO, and investigation into the sources of water seepage will not be conducted for such cases.

The JO does not have statistics on the number of enquiries processed.  The number for each year, since its establishment up to the end of July 2010, of cases with processing completed by the JO, cases ascertained to have satisfied the aforesaid criteria and for which the need for JO's investigation is confirmed, and cases in which the causes of water seepage were found are tabulated below.  As the JO does not keep statistical breakdown by District Council district, the numbers below are totals in Hong Kong:

  Since JO's
Establishment 
up to 
end of
2006 
2007  2008  2009  2010
(up to end
of July) 
  --------- ---------  ---------  ---------  --------- 
Cases with
processing
completed
(*Note 2)
8,410 13,375 16,708 18,237 12,124
Cases for
which the
need for
investigation
is
confirmed
4,050 7,025  9,564 10,122 6,010
Cases in
which the
causes of
water
seepage
were found
2,272 3,246 4,476 4,813 2,453



*Note 2: As there is a lapse of time between receipt of a complaint and completion of processing of a case, the number of complaints processed in a year does not necessarily correspond to the number of complaints received in that year.

The JO does not have information on the above cases' repair works and particular conditions afterwards.  In general, if a water seepage problem involves public health nuisance, risks of building structural safety or wastage of water, the JO and relevant government departments will require owners to carry out repair works under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132), Buildings Ordinance (Cap. 123) or Waterworks Ordinance (Cap. 102) respectively.  If the water seepage problem persists, the JO will take appropriate follow-up actions, such as taking enforcement actions.

Co-operation of the concerned owners/occupiers is crucial for the staff of the JO to enter into private premises to conduct multiple tests to identify the source of water seepage.  Since the circumstances of each case are different, the time required for investigation also differs.  With the full co-operation of parties concerned, 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 consent of respondents has to be sought in allowing multiple inspections inside the premises.  It therefore takes about 168 days on average from receiving a complaint to successfully identifying the source of water seepage.  The JO will continue to step up publicity to appeal for the co-operation of more owners/occupiers so that the JO can conclude the investigations promptly.

(c) Up to July 31, 2010, the JO was still processing 22,416 complaint cases.  As mentioned in part (b) of the reply, the JO has prescribed standards and requirements for the investigation into the sources of water seepage.  Therefore, the JO has to complete the processing of the 22,416 cases in hand before it can ascertain the nature of the cases and whether they require investigations into the sources of water seepage.  The JO does not maintain separate statistics on the waiting time for such kind of cases.

(d) As the JO was still handling the cases mentioned in part (c), there is no information available on cases with recurrence of water seepage problem.  However, generally speaking, there are a small number of past cases with recurrence of water seepage problem.  The reasons for recurrence include water seepage occurring in various locations of a building and change in circumstances, such as drainage pipe works carried out by new owners of the upper flats.

(e) In view of the continuous increase in public demand for the service of the JO, we have conducted several rounds of recruitment exercises for the JO last year and this year.  Additional manpower will further enhance the efficiency of the JO.  There are currently about 240 staff members in the JO.  Apart from such staffing resources, contract consultants have also been engaged by the JO to facilitate investigations.

(f) The demand for the service of the JO by the public has been increasing since its establishment.  In the past three years, on average, over 20,000 cases have been received every year, and the number is still on the rise.  While we will continue to implement the recommendations of the Ombudsman made in the 2008 investigation report and explore means to enhance the modus operandi and efficiency of the JO, we are reviewing the Government's long-term objectives and utilisation of resources for handling water seepage problem.  We will explore the feasibility of encouraging building owners to resolve their water seepage-related disputes through mediation.  We will also study whether legislation could be an effective means to resolve water seepage-related disputes between building owners in Hong Kong.  Reference will also be made to overseas regulatory experience in handling water seepage cases.  In the course of the review, we will encourage public discussion to explore the feasibility of various options, and fully consider the views of the stakeholders.

Ends/Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Issued at HKT 15:01

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