A major component of the Government's efforts to improve building management is encouraging flat owners to form owners' corporations to take responsibility for safety and maintenance work. The measure is seen as crucial to arresting the further decay of some 8,500 residential buildings which are more than 30 years old. Its success, however, hinges on having civic-minded owners willing to take the trouble of staffing these corporations in the first place.
Regrettably, yet another incident has occurred to dampen the enthusiasm of many who do so. Wong Man-yin, an owners' corporation chairman, found himself sued by a company over a $15,000 bill that the corporation had refused to pay. Although the Court of Appeal ruled in his favour on a technicality, he may still need to fight his case before the Lands Tribunal should the creditor company refuse to let go.
The Government says, quite rightly, that it should not be directly involved in the management of private buildings. Instead, it has channelled resources into providing advice and organising the owners. But as Mr Wong's case shows, the owners' corporations need more than just advice. Those who volunteer to take up the thankless task of managing a building need to be protected from the risk of being held responsible for group faults.
A typical multi-storey residential building has hundreds of units. It is a community unto itself with its fair share of unco-operative owners or tenants, let alone illegal squatters. Many owners' corporations find themselves virtually powerless to deal with these problems, which even a court of law is ill-equipped to handle. Creating an accessible and cost-effective mediation mechanism would help owners enforce their rights and resolve disputes.