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LCQ8: Handling water seepage in buildings

Following is a question by the Hon Abraham Shek and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (November 25):

Question:

Regarding the handling of complaints about water seepage, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that the Joint Office (JO) set up by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Buildings Department is responsible for handling complaints about water seepage in buildings, of the number of complaints about water seepage in residential premises received by JO in each of the past three years; among these complaints, of the respective numbers of cases in which investigation staff entered the premises concerned to conduct tests and those in which they failed to do so;

(2) whether the staff of the outsourced consultants or those of JO are currently responsible for entering the premises concerned to investigate water seepage complaints;

(3) of (i) the criteria adopted by JO for appointing the consultants, (ii) the average amount of fees currently paid to the consultants by JO for each case, and (iii) the total amount of fees paid last year to the consultants by JO; and

(4) in respect of cases in which the sources of water seepage have not been identified despite that staff have entered the premises concerned to conduct tests, whether JO will continue to follow them up, such as by arranging staff to enter the premises concerned to conduct other tests until the sources of seepage have been identified; if JO will, of the details, as well as the average amount of fees currently charged by the consultants on each occasion for arranging staff to enter the premises concerned for the second time to conduct other tests in respect of such type of cases; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:

President,

Proper management, maintenance and repair of buildings are the responsibilities of building owners.  If water seepage is found in private buildings, the owners should first arrange their own investigation of the cause of seepage and, as appropriate, co-ordinate with the occupiers and other owners concerned for repairs.  However, where the water seepage poses a health nuisance, a risk to the structural safety of the building or results in wastage of water, the Government would intervene and handle the case in accordance with the powers conferred by the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap 132), the Buildings Ordinance (Cap 123) or the Waterworks Ordinance (Cap 102) respectively.

Currently, the Joint Office (JO) set up with the staff of the Buildings Department (BD) and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) provides "one-stop" service in dealing with reports on water seepage.  In general, there are three stages in the investigation of a water seepage case conducted by JO. Stage I (confirming the existence of water seepage nuisance) and Stage II (initial investigation including colour water tests on drainage pipes or reversible pressure tests on water supply pipes) are carried out by JO staff. Where the source of seepage cannot be identified in Stage II, Stage III (professional investigation) will be required. In Stage III, an outsourced consultant is engaged to assist in conducting detailed investigation including the carrying out of moisture content monitoring of seepage area, water ponding test, water spray test and reversible pressure tests on water supply pipes to identify the source of seepage.  Once the source of seepage has been identified at any stage of the investigation, JO will issue a Nuisance Notice to the person concerned under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, requiring the abatement of nuisance within a specified period of time.

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

(1) In 2013, 2014 and the first eight months of 2015, JO received 28 504, 27 896 and 20 199 water seepage reports respectively, but JO does not separately compile statistics on cases concerning residential flats.  As regards the handling of reports, if the occupier of the flat suspected to be causing seepage does not cooperate by allowing the JO staff to enter the flat for investigation, JO may issue a Notice of Intended Entry and a Notice of Intention to Apply for Warrant of Entry in accordance with the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance. These notices have been effective in making most of these occupiers cooperate with JO in the investigation. If the occupier concerned remains uncooperative, JO will follow up by applying to the Court for a warrant authorising the JO staff to enter the premises for investigation in accordance with the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance. Therefore, there has not been any case whereby tests cannot be conducted in the flat concerned.

(2) As explained above, there are three stages in the investigation of a water seepage case. The JO staff are involved in the investigation work in respect of all water seepage reports, while the outsourced consultant is mainly responsible for the professional investigation in Stage III.

(3) Under the requirements of the outsourced contract, the consultant staff responsible for investigation work should possess the relevant qualifications in surveying/engineering/architectural disciplines and have work experience relevant to building works or investigation of water seepage.  The task of overseeing and verifying the investigation of water seepage should be undertaken by professional staff who are members of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, the Hong Kong Institute of Architects, or possess equivalent qualifications, and have work experience relevant to building works or investigation of water seepage.  The selection of outsourced consultants is conducted in accordance with the Government's tendering procedures.

In 2014-15, JO's expenditure for engaging consultants to conduct professional investigation was about $23 million, involving about 7 600 cases of professional investigation.  The average amount of fees paid to the consultants for each case was about $3,000.

(4) The cause for water seepage in buildings is complicated and often involves more than one source.  JO will conduct a series of appropriate non-destructive tests to ascertain the source of seepage.  Among them, for more complicated cases, JO has commissioned consultants to employ infrared camera and microwave tomography scanning device on a trial basis to facilitate identification of the source of water seepage since late 2013. However, the accuracy of these indirect tests varies with site circumstances, and they have to be supplemented by other tests or data in order to effectively confirm the source of water seepage.  For such complicated cases, the average amount of fees paid to the consultants for each case was about $14,000.

In order to improve the effectiveness of water seepage investigation, JO commissioned a consultancy study at the end of 2014 to review the latest technological methods for identifying the source of water seepage in buildings. The study will research into the technological development both locally and overseas, and carry out field tests on selected cases.  It will also assess and recommend the most suitable testing methods for use in private buildings, as well as formulate technical guidelines for JO.  The study is expected to be completed in 2016.

Ends/Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Issued at HKT 14:30

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