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New measures to further enhance building safety

The Government will introduce the Buildings Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2011 into the Legislative Council (LegCo) on December 7 to propose new measures to further enhance building safety.

The Bill, which will be gazetted this Friday (November 25), contains the following five measures:

* Surcharges on defaulted works;
* Penalties against persons who refuse to share the cost of works by an owners' corporation for compliance with statutory orders or notices;
* Warrants for entry into the interior of individual premises;
* A signboard control system; and
* Requiring Registered Inspectors (RIs) to comprehensively report exterior unauthorised building works (UBWs) under the Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme.

A spokesman for the Development Bureau today (November 23) said that the proposals would better equip the Building Authority in taking enforcement against irresponsible and uncooperative building owners and thus help deter non-compliance with statutory orders and notices, and would encourage owners to discharge their responsibilities in maintaining their properties.

The proposal on warrants for entry into the interior of individual premises is particularly useful for enforcement actions against unauthorised sub-division works and UBWs within private premises, the spokesman added.

Currently, enforcement by the Buildings Department (BD) against such kinds of unauthorised works is often frustrated by owners or occupants who refuse to grant entry to the BD's staff. Although the BD has the authority under the present legislation to break in and enter private premises in the presence of a police officer, being mindful of the owner's private property rights, the BD normally does so only in extreme cases, for example, when there is imminent danger in the flats concerned.

"The introduction of the proposed measure on court warrants will assist the BD in carrying out more effective inspection and enforcement to address public concern over building safety of such works. We have set out clearly in the Bill the grounds on which the BD could obtain a warrant and the Court will act as the gatekeeper to ensure that it is genuinely necessary to grant the warrant," the spokesman said.

The signboard control system and additional duty imposed on RIs to report exterior UBWs will enhance control over existing UBWs, while the proposed measures on imposing a surcharge on defaulted works and a penalty against owners who refuse to share the cost of works will encourage owners to more readily take up their responsibilities in maintaining their properties.

The enabling provisions of these five measures were once introduced through proposed committee stage amendments (CSAs) to the Buildings (Amendment) Bill 2010 relating to the implementation of the Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme and the Mandatory Window Inspection Scheme with a view to bringing them into effect as early as possible. While most members of the Bills Committee expressed support for the new measures, there was a prolonged discussion on certain technical issues. In order not to delay the passage of the original Buildings (Amendment) Bill 2010, the Administration decided not to pursue the proposed CSAs further and undertook to introduce a new Bill into LegCo as soon as possible. 
 
Details of the legislative proposal are set out in the relevant LegCo brief, which can be downloaded from the websites of the Development Bureau (www.devb.gov.hk) and the BD (www.bd.gov.hk).

"We would like to reiterate that building owners have the ultimate responsibility to properly maintain their properties and keep them in good repair. Owners might be legally and financially liable for the damage and casualties caused by poor building maintenance. Therefore, building owners should act without hesitation to keep their properties properly maintained," the spokesman said.

Legislation forms part of the multi-pronged approach for enhancing building safety. The current Bill is the third amendment bill aimed at enhancing building safety brought forward by the Development Bureau in this term of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government.

"Its implementation, together with the introduction of the Minor Works Control System since December 2010 and the Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme and Mandatory Window Inspection Scheme in 2012, will provide a solid basis for strengthening building safety in Hong Kong," the spokesman said.

Apart from legislative means, under the multi-pronged approach, the Buildings Department will continue to conduct large-scale operations against UBWs and dilapidated buildings. The Administration, in partnership with the Urban Renewal Authority and the Hong Kong Housing Society, will also provide adequate support and financial assistance to owners in need and carry out public education aimed at cultivating a robust building safety culture in the community.

 

Ends/Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Issued at HKT 17:46

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