LCQ10: Handling of water seepage cases

Following is a question by the Hon Starry Lee and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (October 30):


The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and the Buildings Department set up a Joint Office (JO) in 2006 to centralise the handling of complaints and enquiries about water seepage in buildings. In his 2010-2011 Annual Report, The Ombudsman pointed out that the lack of concerted effort among the departments concerned in handling water seepage problems was very common and he had drawn the attention of the Central Administration to the matter and had urged for effective measures for improvement. The Director of Audit's Report No. 59 released last year also pointed out that among 10 of the more recent water-seepage cases examined, there had been long periods of inaction by FEHD in eight of them, with the time of inaction up to five years in individual cases and 44 months on average. The Audit Commission suggested FEHD to improve the efficiency of its investigations. Besides, some professionals have pointed out that the testing techniques currently adopted by the Government are extremely out-dated, requiring entry into the complainant's unit as well as the unit suspected to have caused the seepage, which will prolong the investigation time, and the success rate of ascertaining the source of seepage in the end is on the low side. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of complaints about water seepage received by JO in each of the past three years, with a breakdown by District Council district where the complaints arose; of the number of those cases in which the source of seepage could not be ascertained in the end and investigation was discontinued; and of the number of cases investigation of which has lasted more than a year but has yet to be concluded since the setting up of JO;

(b) of the measures the departments concerned will take to improve the success rate in ascertaining the source of seepage and to shorten the investigation time required; whether they will consider changing testing techniques to be employed and use more advanced equipment; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) in respect of the cases in which investigation has lasted more than a year but has yet to be concluded, whether the departments concerned will consider according priority to tackling such cases with one-off deployment of additional manpower; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



As property owners are responsible for management, maintenance and repair of their buildings, they have a responsibility for resolving any inter-floor water seepage problems. Hence, if water seepage is found inside a private property, the owner should first investigate the cause and, as appropriate, co-ordinate with the occupants and other owners concerned for repairs.

Where the water seepage problem poses a public health nuisance, a risk to the structural safety of a building or water wastage, the Government would be obliged to intervene and take action in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap 132), Buildings Ordinance (Cap 123) or Waterworks Ordinance (Cap 102). The Joint Office (JO), currently set up with staff of the Buildings Department and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, is tasked to tackle water seepage cases through a "one-stop shop" approach.

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

(a) The JO is committed to assisting property owners to handle water seepage cases. The JO conducts different tests to investigate the cause and source of water seepage. However, as there are many different reasons causing water seepage in buildings, there may still be cases where the cause or source of water seepage cannot be established despite extensive practical tests conducted, especially where the seepage is not obvious or only intermittent. In the absence of sufficient evidence which proves that the seepage constitutes a contravention of the relevant legislation, the departments concerned cannot take further enforcement or follow-up action in the case.

In the past three years (i.e. 2010, 2011 and 2012), the JO received a total of 76 730 reports on water seepage. Other than those non-actionable cases which did not involve water seepage, the JO, after the completion of investigation and testing, categorised 6 374 cases as "the source of water seepage could not be ascertained". In 2010, 2011 and 2012, the numbers of reports on water seepage received by the JO as well as cases in which the source of water seepage could not be ascertained and investigation into which was ceased, broken down by the 18 District Council districts in Hong Kong, are set out at Annex. As there was a lapse of time between receipt of a report and the completion of investigation, a water seepage case into which investigation was ceased in a particular year might not necessarily be received in that same year.

The JO does not keep statistics on the processing time of individual cases. Generally speaking, cases which took longer processing time were mainly those with recurring or intermittent water seepage, which called for prolonged investigations and monitoring by the JO.

(b) As mentioned above, there are many different reasons causing water seepage in buildings. In the light of circumstances of individual cases, the JO will adopt appropriate non-destructive tests to ascertain the source of water seepage. The moisture metre and colour water test currently adopted by the JO are widely used and effective means for ascertaining the source of seepage. The moisture metre is user-friendly and can provide accurate and direct measurement of moisture content for reference. As regards the collection of evidence for enforcement, colour water test is the most direct way for proving the source of water seepage.

To enhance the effectiveness of the JO's investigation of the source of water seepage, the JO, with the assistance of the Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute, is working to explore more effective methods for water seepage investigations. In parallel, the JO has recently commissioned consultancy to explore other testing equipment, such as infrared thermography and microwave tomography, with a view to facilitating identification of seepage sources in water seepage investigations.

Since its establishment in 2006, the JO has from time to time reviewed its modus operandi as well as strengthened its manpower and monitoring with a view to enhancing the efficiency and quality of the service. The JO has implemented a number of improvement measures progressively, including strengthening co-ordination and co-operation among the JO staff through regular liaison meetings, formulating milestones and enhancing the Complaint Management Information System for enhanced progress monitoring of cases, as well as drawing up various operational guidelines for reference of staff to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of handling water seepage cases.

(c) The time required for processing a water seepage case largely depends on the complexity of the case and the extent of co-operation of the parties concerned, in particular the owners and occupants involved. Since the circumstances of individual cases vary, the procedures and time taken for investigation may also differ widely. For complicated cases which may, for instance, involve multiple sources, recurring or intermittent water seepage, JO staff will have to conduct different or repeated tests or ongoing investigations and monitoring in order to ascertain the cause of water seepage. As these tests take time and require full co-operation of the owners/occupants concerned, the processing of such complicated cases takes more time in general. Where vacant units or uncooperative owners/occupants are involved, the JO would have to apply to the court for warrants of entry in order to carry out investigations. The processing of these cases would be even more time-consuming.

The JO will take into account the circumstances and needs of individual cases and take appropriate steps to conduct investigation so as to expedite the processing of each water seepage case as far as practicable. Given the varied circumstances of individual cases, prioritising water seepage cases for investigation simply based on the handling time lapsed may not effectively expedite the processing, and is not the most cost-effective arrangement. As such, we have no plan at this stage to accord priority to processing the unresolved cases in which investigation has lasted more than a year. The JO will endeavour to expedite the handling of each water seepage case, taking into account the circumstances of individual cases.

Ends/Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Issued at HKT 14:31