LCQ22: Implementation of Mandatory Window Inspection Scheme
Following is a question by the Hon Wu Chi-wai and a written reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council today (July 9):
Under the Mandatory Window Inspection Scheme (MWIS), the Buildings Department (BD) selects 5 800 private buildings aged 10 years or above each year and serves statutory notices to the owners of such buildings, requiring them to carry out the prescribed inspection of the windows of such buildings and prescribed repair works found necessary after inspection. The owners concerned must appoint a Qualified Person (QP) within three months from the date of the statutory notice and complete the inspection concerned and the necessary repair works within six months. Regarding the implementation of MWIS, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) as I have learnt that flat owners who have arranged for the installation of aluminium windows for their flats by registered minor works contractors may be exempted from mandatory window inspection within five years from completion of the works, of the number of owners exempted since the implementation of the Scheme;
(2) why flat owners of buildings aged less than 10 years are not required to carry out mandatory window inspection whereas other flat owners may be required to carry out window inspection five years after they have installed new aluminium windows of their own accord; whether the Government will review the legislation concerned and amend the requirement to the effect that window inspections are required once every 10 years, so as to align the related requirements under the legislation; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(3) as the Government has indicated in its reply to a question raised by me regarding the estimates of expenditure for 2014-2015 that BD has received six reports on suspected irregularities involving registered minor works contractors since its implementation of MWIS up to the date of its reply to me, of the details and investigation progress of each case; how BD deals with reports not involving issues of building works (e.g. collusive price fixing); whether it has compiled statistics on the total number of reports received so far which involve window inspection but are not within the purview of BD and, among such reports, of the number of those referred to other government departments;
(4) of the means adopted by BD to eliminate irregularities which involve window inspection and are within its purview (e.g. problems of minor works contractors exaggerating the repair works needed and the quotations, etc.), and the progress of the work concerned;
(5) as some flat owners has relayed that as profits on window inspection and supervision of related works are not substantial, quite a number of those QPs who are also engineers are not interested in providing such service, and it is therefore difficult for the owners to engage QPs for carrying out such works, whether the Government will relax the qualifications and experience required of QPs, or even introduce a licensing system for window inspection works, so as to increase the number of personnel in the market who can provide such service; and
(6) of the number of applications received so far by BD for extension of time for completion of window inspection and related repair works and, among such applications, the number of those approved; of the number of prosecutions instituted by BD for non-compliance of statutory notices for window inspection, as well as the penalties imposed by the court on the convicted persons?
The Buildings Department fully implemented the Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme (MBIS) and the Mandatory Window Inspection Scheme (MWIS) on June 30, 2012 to tackle the problem of building neglect in Hong Kong at source. Under the Buildings Ordinance (BO) (Cap. 123), MWIS applies to private buildings aged ten years or above (except domestic buildings not exceeding three storeys). BD may issue statutory notices to the owners of these buildings, requiring them to appoint a qualified person (QP) within a specified timeframe to carry out prescribed inspections and supervise prescribed repairs found necessary of the windows of the building. As for the inspection cycle, according to the current law, BD must not serve a fresh notice in respect of the same window before the expiry of five years after the date of the preceding notice.
The original target of MBIS and MWIS was to select about 2 000 target buildings aged 30 years or above and about 5 800 target buildings aged ten years or above each year for implementation of MBIS and MWIS respectively. Buildings selected for MBIS will also be selected for MWIS under the same cycle so that owners can carry out the inspection and repair works under two schemes concurrently; the rest of the buildings will only carry out MWIS. The operational experience in the past year or so reveals that the workload associated with the implementation of the schemes is exceptionally heavy. There are also many views in the community that the pace of implementation should be slowed down to give building owners and the building industry more time to understand the new schemes and get prepared. Therefore, BD has adjusted downwards the number of target buildings to be newly selected in 2014. Apart from continuing to issue statutory notices to buildings that have already been selected in the past, this year BD will select only about 1 000 target buildings for carrying out MBIS and MWIS concurrently, and will not select any buildings for carrying out MWIS only. BD will review the progress and implementation details of the two schemes each year in the light of experience gained and feedback from stakeholders and the community.
My reply to the six-part question is as follows:
(1) There is no provision under BO that an owner who has appointed a registered minor works contractor (RMWC) to install aluminium windows may be exempted from carrying out MWIS within five years from the completion of the works. In general, where a RMWC has carried out aluminium window installation works in respect of all windows in a flat unit under the Minor Works Control System, the owner may take the initiative to request the contractor to carry out an inspection in accordance with the requirements and procedures of MWIS and submit the required documents to BD. BD will consider not issuing a statutory MWIS notice to the owner within five years. BD has not kept statistics on the number of these cases.
(2) The two-stage public consultation on MBIS and MWIS in 2003 and 2005 indicated a community consensus to pursue mandatory inspection schemes, founded on the principle of "prevention is better than cure", to tackle the long-standing problem of building neglect in Hong Kong. The legislative amendment proposal for the two schemes was passed by the Legislative Council after detailed scrutiny between 2010 and 2011. In respect of MWIS, the community consensus revealed in the public consultation was that the scheme should apply to private buildings aged ten years or above, and the inspection cycle should be five years. As MWIS is currently at the early stage of implementation, BD will formulate the number of target buildings for the scheme each year having regard to actual circumstances. At present, BD has yet to draw up the timetable for the issue of the next round of statutory notices under MWIS, and also has no plan to revise the inspection cycle. However, BD will review the scheme as and when appropriate based on the operational experience gained, the market condition and the feedback from stakeholders and the community. BD also encourages owners to carry out inspections and repairs as necessary on their own initiative to ensure good maintenance and safety of windows. The Department will also continue to educate members of the public, through publicity initiatives, to use windows properly and carry out maintenance and repair regularly.
(3) In replying to one of the questions raised by Legislative Council Members regarding the estimates of expenditure for 2014-15, BD stated that since the implementation of MBIS and MWIS in June 2012, the Department had received six reports on suspected irregularities involving RMWCs. After studying individual cases in detail, BD has found that two of the cases are only general enquiries and are unrelated to suspected irregularities involving RMWCs. In respect of the remaining four cases, the RMWCs concerned were appointed as QP by the relevant building owners to carry out a prescribed window inspection and repair under MWIS. The suspected irregularities reported mainly concerned unnecessary window repair or replacement prescribed by the QP and unreasonable inspection and repair cost. Information about the six cases is set out at the Annex.
Regarding reports on suspected irregularities or misconduct involving service providers, if the person making the report can provide sufficient information, BD will conduct an investigation and take appropriate follow-up actions, including considering instigating prosecution or disciplinary action. As for reports involving window inspection but are not within the purview of BD (e.g. collusive price fixing), BD has not kept statistics on such cases. So far, there has not been any case warranting a referral to other enforcement departments for follow-up.
(4) Upon the completion of inspections and/or repairs, BD will conduct audit checks on the certificates in the specified forms submitted by the QPs to ascertain that the inspections and repairs have been carried out in accordance with the regulation and the guidelines issued by BD. If irregularities of the service providers are found, BD will consider instigating prosecution or disciplinary action against them. Whether a specific matter (e.g. the scale of repair works and price quotation) is an irregularity depends on the specific circumstances and generalisation is inappropriate.
BD has promulgated the standards and guidelines relevant to MBIS and MWIS to enable members of the public to better understand the requirements of the schemes, including producing the "General Guidelines on MBIS and MWIS", "Code of Practice for MBIS and MWIS" and "Important Notes about Window Safety" pamphlet, specifying the standards and guidelines for inspection and repair. Owners may make reference to these standards and guidelines to assess whether the items and scope of inspection and repair suggested by the QP are reasonable.
Moreover, through various channels, BD has advised QPs, when providing quotations on window inspection and repair, to set out clearly all the repair items, distinguish the basic items required by a prescribed repair under MWIS and other suggested window upgrading works items, and provide separate price lists for owners to consider. This may avoid misunderstanding and disputes between the two parties on the requirement and scope of a prescribed repair required by MWIS. If a building owner only wishes to comply with the basic requirements of MWIS and has no intention to carry out any window upgrading works, we also advise the owner to make this clear to the QP at the price quotation stage. Owners may also invite different QPs to provide quotations for reference and comparison. If a QP after an inspection considers that window repair or even replacement is necessary, the building owner as a consumer may seek clarification from the QP on the reasons. If the owner does not agree with the judgment of the QP eventually, he may consider appointing another QP to carry out the inspection and make a repair proposal. If the building owner is not satisfied with the service provided by the QP appointed, he may cease the appointment of the QP and appoint a new QP to carry out the prescribed inspection/supervision and an independent registered contract to carry out the prescribed repair found necessary.
(5) Under the BO, the QP for carrying out prescribed inspections or supervising prescribed repairs of windows under MWIS shall be a person whose name is for the time being listed on one of the following registers kept by the Building Authority, including authorised persons, registered structural engineers, registered inspectors, registered general building contractors and RMWCs registered for the class, type and item of minor works in respect of windows. The above registers have been uploaded onto BD's website. There are currently about 17 000 QPs qualified to provide window inspection services, among which more than 15 000 are registered contractors. The number of these service providers should be sufficient to ensure a level playing field. BD has also liaised with the relevant professional institutes, contractor associations and trade associations. These organisations have compiled lists of their members interested in providing services under MWIS, and the hyperlinks to these lists have been uploaded onto BD's website for easy reference of the public.
(6) Under MWIS, upon receipt of a statutory notice, the owners should appoint a QP within three months, and complete the prescribed inspection and repair (if necessary) within six months from the date of the statutory notice. An extra three months will be allowed for owners of buildings without an owners' corporation (OC) to organise and arrange the required inspection and repair works. If owners have difficulties and need more time to arrange the works, the owners/OC may submit a written application to BD stating the justifications for extension of time. BD will consider the application on a case-by-case basis. BD has not kept statistics on the number of cases applying for extension of time in carrying out MWIS.
Under the BO, an owner/OC who does not comply with a MWIS statutory notice without reasonable excuse may be served with a penalty notice for a fixed fine of $1,500. Repeated offenders may be prosecuted and are liable upon conviction to a fine of $25,000 and imprisonment for three months. BD may also arrange for the required inspection and repair works to be carried out by its consultant and contractor, and then recover the cost of inspection and repair works as well as the supervision charge from the owners/OC, together with a surcharge of not exceeding 20% of the cost.
BD has so far served a total of 17 penalty notices against non-compliant MWIS statutory notices. In 14 of these cases the penalty has been paid, while the remaining three cases are being followed up. As MWIS is still at the early stage of implementation, BD will deal with non-compliant statutory notices in a pragmatic and flexible manner. BD will first issue a warning notice to advise the owner to carry out an inspection and the necessary repair works as soon as possible. So far, BD has not instigated any prosecution action in respect of MWIS statutory notices that are not yet complied with.
Ends/Wednesday, July 9, 2014
Issued at HKT 15:15