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LCQ10: Enacting legislation to regulate sub-divided units

Following is a question by the Dr Hon Priscilla Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Eric Ma, in the Legislative Council today (March 29):
 
Question:

According to a survey conducted by the Census and Statistics Department in 2015, there were some 25 200 quarters with sub-divided units (SDUs) in Hong Kong, and the total number of SDUs was about 88 800 with some 200 000 persons living therein.  Quite a number of grass-roots people who have been waiting for years for but have yet to be allocated public housing units have moved into SDUs, resulting in the number of SDUs rising day by day.  On the other hand, some members of owners' corporations and minority property owners have relayed to me that there are a large number of SDUs in their buildings, which has caused problems of environmental hygiene, law and order, building structure and fire safety.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
 
(1) whether it has compiled statistics on the number of SDUs in buildings for both commercial and residential uses; if so, of the latest figures; whether it has regularly conducted inspections on such buildings to ensure that the SDUs therein will not cause any environmental hygiene and law and order problems; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
 
(2) given that there have been cases in which alteration works for SDUs led to water seepage in buildings and the cracking of beams caused by the expansion of corroded reinforcement bars, which resulted in owners of other units having had to spend over a million dollars for repairing the damages in their units, whether the Government will adopt specific measures to protect the rights of such owners; if so, of the details of such measures; if not, the reasons for that; and
 
(3) whether the Government will, on the premise of striking a balance between addressing the housing needs of grass-roots people and safeguarding the rights and interests of minority property owners, conduct a study on enacting legislation to regulate SDUs; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:
 
President,
 
The Government is aware of the recent public concern over building and fire safety, environmental hygiene, and law and order problems associated with sub-divided units (SDUs).  The Government's policy is not to eradicate all SDUs but to ensure their safety.
 
At present, building works associated with SDUs are regulated under the Building (Minor Works) Regulation (Chapter 123N).  Such works are required to be carried out by qualified professionals and contractors to ensure the quality of works with a view to minimising the associated safety problems.  Through public education and publicity efforts, the Buildings Department (BD) has reminded members of the public about building safety problems that may result from improper flat subdivision works.
 
In consultation with the Transport and Housing Bureau (THB) and the BD, the Development Bureau provides a consolidated reply as follows:

(1) From time to time, the Census and Statistics Department (C&SD) conducts surveys regarding SDUs in Hong Kong to learn about the housing condition of households residing in SDUs.  Based on data obtained from the Thematic Household Survey on Housing Conditions conducted by C&SD in 2015, the total number of SDUs in private domestic/ composite buildings aged 25 years and above in Hong Kong was 88 800.   This number covers SDUs in private domestic/ composite buildings (excluding village houses) built on or before December 31, 1990; the Government does not have the breakdown on these two types of buildings.  C&SD has also collected information on the population and the number of households residing in SDUs in the 2016 Population By-census.  The relevant statistics will be released in end-2017.

(2) The Joint Office (JO) set up by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the BD handles water seepage cases in buildings.  Where the source of seepage causing health nuisance is identified, the JO may issue a Nuisance Notice under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) to the person concerned, requiring the relevant owner to abate the environmental hygiene nuisance within a specified period of time by conducting appropriate maintenance works.  If the seepage is caused by defective drains, or the seepage has affected the structural safety of the building, the BD may issue repair orders under the Buildings Ordinance (Cap. 123) to the owner concerned, requiring the completion of repair works within a specified period to ensure public safety.  If the source of seepage is related to leakage of water supplies pipes and wastage of water is resulted, the Water Supplies Department may take appropriate enforcement action under the Waterworks Ordinance (Cap. 102).

Apart from responding to referrals from Government departments and reports from the public, the BD has also conducted large scale operations (LSOs) against irregularities of building works associated with SDUs in composite/domestic buildings to rectify irregularities in associated with SDUs-related building works.  Where actionable irregularities, which include those which result in obstruction to means of escape and structural problem, are identified, the BD will issue removal orders to the owners concerned, and consider instigating prosecution against those who fail to comply with the removal orders.  From 2011 to 2016, the BD has inspected 1 163 target composite/domestic buildings through LSOs.

(3) As stated in the Long Term Housing Strategy (LTHS) promulgated by the THB in December 2014, even though the LTHS Steering Committee's public consultation document had put forward a suggestion to introduce a licensing or landlord registration system to regulate SDUs, the Government noted that the community had expressed considerable reservations over the suggestion during the LTHS public consultation exercise.  There were concerns that a licensing or landlord registration system would reduce the supply of SDUs and drive up the rents of SDUs, thus causing further hardship to SDU tenants.  There were also concerns that a loose licensing or landlord registration system would compromise the safety of SDU tenants and residents living in the same buildings.  Some property owners who were not SDU landlords were also concerned about the structural safety, environmental hygiene and building management of buildings with a large number of SDUs.

In view of the concerns expressed by the community, the Government has no plan to introduce a licensing or landlord registration system for SDUs.  However, as mentioned above, the BD will continue to take enforcement actions against irregularities relating to building and fire safety.

Ends/Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Issued at HKT 14:20

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