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LCQ13: Water seepage/leakage in residential units

Following is a question by the Hon Priscilla Leung Mei-fun and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (November 30):

Question:

Regarding the handling of complaints about water seepage/leakage in residential units, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the average time needed to complete the procedures for handling public complaint cases of water seepage/leakage in residential units received by the Joint Office (JO) of Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and Buildings Department, an office responsible for handling water seepage in buildings, in each of the past three years, and list the breakdown in table;

 (b) of the reasons why the number of cases in which the source of water seepage/leakage could not be established and investigation was terminated increased from 986 in 2008 to 1 433 in 2009 (up by 447 from 2008), and surged to 2 322 in 2010 (up by 889 from 2009) as indicated by the statistics provided by the Secretary for Development in her reply to the question asked by a Member of this Council on May 25, this year;

(c) of the reasons why there are cases in which the cause and source of water seepage/leakage could not be established even after completion of extensive professional tests; whether it has examined if such cases are related to the manpower of the JO or technology level of the equipment used; of the method and equipment used by the JO to test the seepage/leakage condition of buildings at present, and which types of experts are responsible for conducting the tests, and whether the method of testing and the equipment used are the most advanced in the world at present;

(d) as the Secretary for Development also indicated in her reply on May 25, this year that the JO would issue a warning letter to the party concerned and requested it to arrange for repairs once the source of water seepage/leakage was established, and that if the situation did not improve, the FEHD might issue a "Nuisance Notice" under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) to the party concerned requesting it to abate the nuisance within a specified period, of the total number of warning letters and "Nuisance Notice" issued by the authorities in the past three years; and

(e) whether the authorities will consider introducing new measures to resolve the disputes over water seepage/leakage in residential units more effectively; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

As property owners are responsible for maintaining and managing their buildings, they also have responsibility for resolving any seepage/leakage problems.  Hence, if water seepage/leakage is found inside a private property, the owner should first investigate the cause and, as appropriate, co-ordinate with the occupants and owners concerned for repairs.

Where the water seepage/leakage problem poses a public health nuisance, a risk to the structural safety of the building or water wastage, the Government would step in and take action in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap 132), Buildings Ordinance (Cap 123) or Waterworks Ordinance (Cap 102).  The Joint Office (JO) was set up with staff of the Buildings Department (BD) and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) to tackle such offences through a "one-stop shop" approach.

The reply to the five-part question is as follows:

(a) The time required for processing a seepage/leakage case largely depends on the complexity of the case and the extent of co-operation from the parties concerned, in particular the owners and occupants involved.  Since the circumstances of individual cases vary, the procedures and time taken for investigation may also differ widely.  In relatively straight-forward cases, where the source of water seepage/leakage could be identified by the JO staff during initial site inspection, the case can normally be concluded within a short period of the inspection.  These cases may be completed as quickly as within four weeks.  For more complicated cases and cases involving other occupants, the JO could, with cooperation from all parties, generally be able to complete the investigations in about 130 days.

For more complicated cases which may, for instance, involve multiple sources or intermittent water seepage/leakage, JO staff will have to conduct different or repeated tests or ongoing investigations and monitoring in order to ascertain the cause.  As these tests take time and require full co-operation from the owners/occupants concerned, from experience such cases would on average take about 170 days.  Where vacant units or uncooperative owners/occupants are involved, the JO would have to apply to the court for warrants of entry in order to carry out investigations.  These cases will take even more time.  The JO does not keep statistics on the time taken for investigation of individual cases.

(b) The increase in 2010 of the number of cases where the source of water seepage/leakage could not be established and investigation thus terminated corresponds to a substantial increase in the number of complaints received and handled by the JO in that year.  The JO received a total of 25 717 complaints in 2010, which increased by 3 948 cases when compared with the 21 769 cases received in 2009.  While the latter (i.e. number of complaints received in 2009) increased by only 52 when compared with the 21 717 cases received in 2008.

(c) There are many different reasons for water seepage/leakage in buildings which may be caused by defective water pipes, sanitary fitments or drainage pipes.  Water seepage/leakage may come from defective pipes in the flats above, in adjacent units or even from inside the same flat.  It may also be due to water seeping through common areas, such as the roof or external walls.  Especially in cases where water seepage/leakage is not obvious or only intermittent, it is possible that the cause or source of water seepage/leakage still could not be established even after extensive professional tests.

According to established procedures, JO staff will inspect the unit concerned upon receipt of a complaint to ascertain the condition of water seepage/leakage and conduct basic investigations and tests with a view to establishing the source of water seepage/leakage.  Where necessary, the JO will further arrange for a consultant to conduct more in-depth professional tests.  Staff of the consultant, who conducts field investigation, possesses the relevant qualifications in the building studies/building surveying/engineering/architectural disciplines and with working experience relevant to building works or investigation of water seepage.  The investigations are overseen and testified by professionals, who are members of the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors or equivalent and have working experience relevant to building works or investigation of water seepage.

The JO and its consultants will take into account the circumstances of the individual case and will adopt appropriate tests to ascertain the source of water seepage/leakage, including colour water test at drainage outlets, ponding test, water spray test for walls and moisture content monitoring, etc.  These methods are generally recognised to be direct and effective means for investigation of source of water seepage/leakage.

To further enhance the effectiveness of the JO's investigation work, the BD and Innovation and Technology Commission, with the assistance of the Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute, are looking into ways to improve the JO's methods and equipment used in the investigation of water seepage/leakage.

(d) The numbers of Nuisance Notices issued by the FEHD under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap 132) from 2008 to 2010 are tabulated below:

Year        Number of Nuisance Notice Issued
----        --------------------------------
2008                   2 101
2009                   3 581
2010                   3 379

Since April 2008, the JO has stopped issuing warning letter to the party concerned in order to expedite the enforcement process.  Once the JO has completed the investigation with the source of water seepage/leakage confirmed, the FEHD would issue a Nuisance Notice directly to the owner of the premises concerned.

(e) We appreciate the public concern over the problems of water seepage/leakage.  We will continue to review and improve the modus operandi of the JO with a view to further enhancing the efficiency.  We will consider promoting public awareness of building maintenance, repair and management through publicity and public education.  We will explore the feasibility of various options and will draw from the experience and practice of handling water seepage/leakage cases in other territories. 


Ends/Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Issued at HKT 16:40

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