Following is a question by the Hon Chan Hoi-yan and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Ms Bernadette Linn, in the Legislative Council today (December 14):
At present, the Joint Office for Investigation of Water Seepage Complaints (JO) set up by the Buildings Department and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department will conduct investigations upon receipt of reports from members of the public on water seepage in buildings and, where a nuisance has arisen, issue a nuisance notice or institute prosecution under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance. However, it is learnt that particular water seepage situations (e.g. condensation water caused by the operation of chilling facilities) are determined as "not causing any public health nuisance" and will not be followed up further. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) among the cases into which investigations had been completed by the JO in each of the past five years, of the number of those cases which were not followed up further as such cases had been determined as "not causing any public health nuisance", and the percentage of such cases in the total number of reports;
(2) of the specific conditions that constitute "causing public health nuisance" under the existing legislation, and whether sewage seepage must be involved in the situation in order to be regarded by law enforcement officers as meeting the relevant conditions for taking follow-up actions; and
(3) as there are views that chronic water seepage in buildings not only causes hygiene problems, but may also cause damages to building structure, whether the authorities will examine amending the legislation to empower the JO to follow up cases of non-sewage seepage that may affect structural safety of buildings?
Water seepage in buildings is generally caused by defective building fabric or installations and their lack of proper maintenance. It is the responsibility of building owners and occupants to properly manage and maintain their buildings, including resolving water seepage problems. In general, if water seepage occurs in private buildings, owners should first arrange their own inspection of the cause of seepage and co-ordinate with occupants and other owners concerned as necessary.
Nevertheless, the Government recognises that owners may encounter difficulties in tackling water seepage problems, and therefore has set up the Joint Office (JO) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and the Buildings Department (BD). Through inter-departmental coordination, exercising the powers under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Chapter 132) (the Ordinance), the expertise of relevant departments, co-operation of the building owners/occupants concerned, as well as one-stop and systematic testing methods, the JO seeks to identify the source of water seepage and require the owners concerned to carry out repair works.
Regarding the three questions raised by the Hon Chan Hoi-yan, our responses in consultation with the Environment and Ecology Bureau, the FEHD and the BD are as follow:
(1) In the five years between 2017 and 2021, the JO received around 34 170 to 43 230 water seepage reports each year (Note 1). Among them, 13 870 to 21 810 (Note 2) cases were not followed up further mainly because the cases did not meet the 35 per cent moisture content criterion, cessation of seepage, or withdrawal of report by the complainants, etc. Around 13 650 to 15 870 cases were investigated by the JO in the past five years. The JO did not compile statistics on cases which "did not cause any public health nuisance" and were not followed up.
(2) Section 12 of the Ordinance sets out the nuisances which could be dealt with summarily, including, among other things, the nuisance constituted by the state of such facilities as drains, sanitary conveniences, soil or waste pipes; and the nuisance caused by deposits, dust, fumes or effluvia, or by the discharge of water, whether waste or otherwise, from a ventilating system.
Upon receipt of reports of water seepage, staff of the JO would be sent to the complainant's premises for conducting inspection and investigation. If the source of water seepage identified falls into the aforementioned nuisances stipulated in section 12 of the Ordinance, the JO would issue a Nuisance Notice to the owner(s) of the premises causing the seepage problem. Other cases not involving the nuisances under the Ordinance (including seepage of rainwater due to such structural defects of roofs, external walls or windows, or leakage from dilapidated fresh water mains, etc) would be referred to relevant departments for follow-up actions by the JO, if necessary.
(3) According to the established mechanism of the JO, building structural problems identified during its investigation of water seepage would be referred to the BD for follow-up in accordance with the Buildings Ordinance (BO) (Cap. 123).
Upon receipt of referrals, the BD staff would conduct inspection. If building structure safety hazards (e.g. spalling concrete from ceiling and rusty reinforcement) or problems with improper or defective exposed drain pipes (e.g. rainwater pipes or foul water pipes) were identified, the BD would take necessary actions, including issuing advisory letters, investigation orders or repair orders under the BO, to the owners concerned.
From the perspective of the BD's enforcement, as long as a case poses building structure safety risks, no matter the seepage involves foul water or non-foul water, the BD has sufficient power to take follow-up actions under the current provisions of the BO.
Water seepage has an impact on the relations of a neighbourhood. We encourage co-operation among owners and occupants in finding solutions. Property management companies or owners' corporations could also play a more proactive role.
Furthermore, the Government understands the concern of the general public on water seepage issues. The District Matters Co-ordination Task Force led by the Deputy Chief Secretary for Administration has included water seepage as one of its study topics. We would review, from various perspectives, possible solutions for handling water seepage issues in the best interest of the society, including the impacts of different types of water seepage on public environmental hygiene, building structure safety etc, the adequacy of existing legislation in tackling various types of water seepage, whether preventive measures could be taken at source, as well as the benefits of the various feasible solutions, etc.
Note 1: The exact number of water seepage reports received in the past five years were 36 002, 36 684, 34 169, 39 166 and 43 233 respectively.
Note 2: The exact number in the past five years were 14 732, 14 571, 13 867, 21 345 and 21 813 respectively.
Ends/Wednesday, December 14, 2022
Issued at HKT 15:33