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LCQ9: Unauthorised building works in New Territories village house

Following is a question by the Hon Lee Wing-tat and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (December 21):

Question:

Regarding the handling of the problem of unauthorised building works (UBW) in village houses in the New Territories, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the respective numbers of advisory letters and removal orders issued against cases of UBW in village houses by the Buildings Department (BD) under the Buildings Ordinance (Cap. 123) in each of the past five years; as well as the respective numbers of cases in which owners had complied with such removal orders and those who still failed to do so by the end of each year;

(b) of the respective numbers of prosecutions instituted by BD in respect of the non-compliant cases in (a) each year; among these cases, of the number of cases in which the persons involved were convicted, and the maximum fine and longest imprisonment term imposed on such convicted persons; as well as the average fine and imprisonment term imposed in most cases;

(c) among the non-compliant cases in (a), of the number of cases in which the specified dates in the removal orders had been overdue as at the end of each year, broken down by the overdue period in each case (i.e. less than one year, one to less than two years, two to less than four years, four to less than five years and five years or above);

(d) given that the Lands Department (LandsD) may serve a notice in writing on the lessee or licensee of the land on which structures are erected in breach of a Government lease or licence, and require him to demolish such structures under the Lands (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Cap. 28), of the number of cases in which notices in writing were issued by the LandsD against UBW in village houses in the New Territories in the past five years, as well as the respective numbers of cases of compliance and non-compliance with the orders stated in such notices to date;

(e) given that the LandsD may exercise its right to re-enter the land or terminate the lease against structures which are erected in breach of a Government lease or licence under the Government Rights (Re-entry and Vesting Remedies) Ordinance (Cap. 126), whether it had exercised its right of re-entry against UBW in village houses in the New Territories in the past five years accordingly; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(f) whether the authorities will step up prosecutions against cases in which removal orders are long overdue but have not been complied with, or re-enter the land or terminate the lease according to the law, so as to heighten public awareness of compliance with removal orders and refraining from erecting UBW?

Reply:

President,

The Buildings Department (BD), as the enforcing department on building safety issues, has been taking enforcement actions against unauthorised building works (UBW) in New Territories exempted houses (commonly known as "NT village houses") in accordance with the enforcement policy.  For UBW on leased land (commonly known as "private land") which constitute a contravention of the lease conditions, the Lands Department (LandsD) would take appropriate lease enforcement action.

In enforcing the provisions of the Buildings Ordinance (BO) (Cap. 123), the BD adopts an enforcement policy which takes into account relevant factors such as building safety and availability of resources. Upon receipt of complaints and reports about UBW in NT village houses, the BD will carry out investigation and, in accordance with the prevailing enforcement policy, take enforcement action against UBW which constitutes obvious hazard or imminent danger to life or property, UBW in progress and newly built UBW. Since April 2011, the BD has broadened the definition of "new UBW in progress" to cover fitting-out or site clearance in progress even after the completion of the main frame of the UBW. This has helped enhance the effectiveness of enforcement and contain the proliferation of new UBW. As we reported to the Panel on Development on two successive occasions this year, the BD is making preparations for the implementation of the enhanced enforcement against UBW in NT village houses.

My reply to the six-part question is as follows:

(a) In accordance with section 24(1) of the BO, the BD issues removal orders against UBW in high priority targets category, requiring the owners to demolish or to rectify the UBW. The numbers of advisory letters issued in respect of "UBW in progress" in NT village houses by the BD in each of the years from 2007 to 2011 (up to November 30, 2011) are listed below:

Year         Number of advisory letters
----         --------------------------
2007                   158
2008                   424
2009                   291
2010                   305
2011                   325
(up to November 30)

The BD also issues advisory letters in respect of existing UBW in NT village houses but it does not keep statistics on these.

The numbers of removal orders issued by the BD in relation to UBW in NT village houses, including those which constitute obvious hazard or imminent danger to life or property, UBW in progress or newly built UBW, in each of the years from 2007 to 2011 (up to November 30, 2011) are listed below:

Year         Number of removal orders
----         ------------------------
2007                   152
2008                   423
2009                   291
2010                   304
2011                   328
(up to November 30)

The numbers of removal orders complied with and the numbers of non-compliant removal orders at the end of each year from 2007 to 2011 (up to November 30, 2011) are listed below:

Year     Number of         Number of
         removal orders    non-compliant
         complied with     removal orders
----     --------------    --------------
2007          115                37
2008          266               157
2009          136               155
2010          145               159
2011            8               320
(up to November 30)

(b) Where an owner fails to comply with the requirements of a removal order by the specified date, the BD would normally institute prosecution under section 40(1BA) of the BO against the owner concerned. In regard to the non-compliant cases, the numbers of prosecutions instituted by the BD and the associated numbers of convictions in each of the years from 2007 to 2011 (up to November 30, 2011) are listed below:

Year        Number of         Number of
            prosecutions      convictions
----        ------------      -----------
2007             17               12
2008             66               38
2009            132               76
2010            129               77
2011            186              152
(up to November 30)

In relation to the convictions mentioned above, the maximum fine imposed was $50,000 and the average fine was about $5,500. Over the past 5 years, there was only one case in which the owner concerned was sentenced imprisonment for 3 months, with the sentence suspended for 3 years.

(c) The BD does not maintain yearly statistics on the over-due periods of non-compliant cases. As at November 30, 2011, the number of non-compliant cases, broken down by the number of years which they had been over-due, is tabulated below:

Over-due period             Number of removal orders
---------------             ------------------------
Less than one year                    282
One to less than two years            159
Two to less than four years           312
Four to less than five years           37
Five years or above                     0
                            -------------------------
                     Total:           790

(d) Generally speaking, the LandsD will consider taking appropriate lease enforcement action when, on receipt of enquiries or complaints, a structure on private land or part thereof is found to be in breach of the lease conditions. Such action may include the issue of a warning letter to the lot owner concerned, requesting rectification of the lease breaches. If the lot owner does not rectify the lease breaches by the deadline, the LandsD may register the warning letter at the Land Registry, commonly known as "imposing an encumbrance". As appropriate, the LandsD may also refer the cases which involve UBW, including UBW in NT village houses and UBW which exceed the height and area restriction stipulated in the Buildings Ordinance (Application to the New Territories) Ordinance, to the BD for follow-up action. In the past five years, the LandsD has not required, under the Land (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance (Cap. 28), any lot owner to demolish structures in NT village houses which are in breach of the lease conditions.

(e) In the past five years, the LandsD has not exercised the right of re-entry under the Government Rights (Re-entry and Vesting Remedies) Ordinance (Cap. 126) against any structures in NT village houses which are in breach of the lease conditions. Where the cases involve UBW, the LandsD would refer them to the BD for follow-up, as appropriate.

(f) In considering prosecution against non-compliance of removal orders, the BD takes into account various factors, including whether the owner concerned has lodged an appeal or is arranging for the necessary works stipulated in the removal order. That said, as the Administration pointed out at the meeting of the Subcommittee on Building Safety and Related Issues under the Legislative Council Panel on Development held on December 8, 2011, the BD would increase the resources and set up a dedicated section to implement the new enforcement strategy against UBW in NT village houses. The BD would also enhance publicity and public education, and through internal monitoring, step up prosecution against the long overdue non-compliance cases with a view to enhancing the general public's awareness of compliance with removal orders and combating UBW.


Ends/Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Issued at HKT 16:10

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