Maintaining buildings by multi-prong approach and partnership

"We come to you with a package of different solutions to our problems of building maintenance. Ours is a multi-prong approach for community partnership," Head of Task Force on building safety and preventive maintenance, Mrs Helen Yu said at a meet-the-media session today (November 23).

"It is owners' responsibility to maintain and manage their own property. Government will give all possible support to owners and owners' corporations, particularly those in need."

For technical assistance, Building Co-ordinators of the Buildings Department would continue to survey buildings jointly with other enforcement departments to provide technical advice under the pilot on Co-ordinated Maintenance of Buildings Scheme, using the existing laws.

The Task Force has also proposed enhancing the Building Management Resource Centres of the Home Affairs Department from providing information to be regional one-stop shops for referring enquiries and complaints to enforcement departments. Front-line staff of the Home Affairs Departments should have legal advisory support to offer effective advice to owners and owners' corporations.

Loans from the combined fund amounting to $700 million will have much wider coverage. Besides improvement of structural stability, external finishes and fire safety, it will also cater for repairs and maintenance, removal of unauthorised building works, lift and slope safety and improvement of cubicles for fire protection.

"While normal repayment terms are 36 months at an interest rate with no gain or loss to the public purse, we are particularly mindful of the needs of owners in hardship, e.g. elderly persons with very low income. They should have more generous terms.

"Our thinking is for them to repay over a much longer period, i.e. 72 months, at no interest, or to settle the loan upon transfer of title.

"To ensure proper understanding of their rights and obligations as well as application procedures, we will widely publicise the loan scheme and enlist the help of social workers and support teams for the elderly."

To help owners' corporations to act on behalf of willing and responsible owners, the task force has proposed empowering them to apply for loans to meet the shortfall resulting from able but irresponsible owners not co-operating and not paying their due towards maintenance of their own buildings.

Security for such loans should be a charge against those irresponsible owners' property titles. Appropriate measures must, of course, be put in place to guard against abuse.

Arrangements should be reviewed after the second year of operation for any improvement necessary.

Building Management (Amendment) Ordinance 2000, passed in June, empowers the Secretary for Home Affairs to order compulsory management for problematic buildings. To ensure quality of services, the task force considers registration of building management companies necessary.

In the course of study, the task force has examined the scope for introducing the mandatory building safety inspection scheme earlier proposed. It has concluded that Government should give positive and proactive support to owners in need, and regulatory or legislative measures should be kept to a minimum.

Meanwhile, Director of Buildings' pilot on Co-ordinated Maintenance of Buildings Scheme and Secretary for Home Affairs' Building Management (Amendment) Ordinance 2000, are both now in place. These are steps in the right direction. They should be given time to take effect. Government should assess the outcome in the light of experience to consider whether it is necessary to legislate for periodic inspection and maintenance.

As for new buildings, a long-range view is essential, starting well before construction. Land leases and deeds of mutual covenant govern relationships among developers, property owners and building management. These documents should specify maintenance responsibility even from the planning and design stages.

For instances, developers should design buildings for easy maintenance, use safe and durable materials, provide longer defects liability warranty, set out a schedule for future major repairs for owners' reference and kick-start maintenance reserve funds.

Owners should contribute to maintenance reserve funds by saving up a reasonable percentage of management fees and take out public liability insurance for the common parts of their buildings.

The task force firmly believes in the effectiveness of economic considerations and market forces in motivating owners. Well maintained buildings would attract higher market value and more favourable mortgage terms or rental income. Owners' desire for enhanced property value, lower insurance premium and management fee would help to mobilise them.

Some have suggested to classify buildings on their standards of safety, management and maintenance. The task force supports the idea and considers a voluntary scheme viable. Owners should be encouraged to come forward for independent rating after repairs and maintenance.

Good building care requires community participation and positive attitudes. "I have written to District Councils and relevant professional bodies to seek an opportunity to exchange views," said Mrs Yu. Sustained multi-media public education is key to promoting timely maintenance.

"There is no single panacea. Given the will and responsible care for our buildings, together we will overcome problems of disrepair," Mrs Yu added.

Members of the public are welcome to contact the task force at:

website <<>>

hotline 2848 2848

fax 2121 1595

e-mail <<>>.

The task force will later present their ideas on the other two areas: to control advertisement signboards and to tackle unauthorised building works.

End/Thursday, November 23, 2000