Loophole exposed on property owner lists

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 August, 2003, 12:00am

After investigation, the Lands Registry has agreed to change its procedures

The Home Affairs Department is moving to close a loophole that the Ombudsman fears is exposing the names and addresses of residential property owners to potential misuse.

The Office of the Ombudsman revealed the loophole during its investigation of a recent complaint.

At present, people who want to set up an owners' corporation in their estate can obtain a list of the other owners' names and addresses free of charge if they can prove that they have the support of 5 per cent of a building's owners.

The Land Registry's service charge - which can reach about $30,000 for larger residential developments - has been waived to encourage the public to establish these corporations following the Sars crisis.

But the Ombudsman's investigation found that in one case, the Home Affairs Department had failed to verify the 5 per cent support from the owners.

It is unclear what the applicant did with the list as an owners' corporation had not been formed.

When a second request was made for the list, however, the department asked the applicant to place advertisements in local newspapers convening an owners meeting.

'There was no suggestion that the data was used wrongly, but it at least opened up a theoretical loophole that data could be used wrongly,' said Alice Tai Yuen-ying, the Ombudsman.

'There ought to be steps to verify the intention [of these applicants].'

The Home Affairs Department has accepted the Ombudsman's call to revise its internal guidelines in handling such requests. It will ensure that the 5 per cent of the owners who support the formation of an owners' corporation are also willing to be conveners of the meeting.

The names and addresses of residential property owners are public records that can be bought from the Land Registry for $15 each. The Home Affairs Department issues a certificate of waiver for the fee to encourage the formation of owners' corporations.

Ms Tai said it was important that this issue was brought to light because many people were interested in forming owners' corporations after the Sars outbreak to better manage their properties, particularly in matters of cleanliness.

Other public records that can be obtained for a fee include names of people who have been registered to be married and owners of vehicles.

Last year, the Marriage Registry removed the address field from the marriage form after newlyweds complained that they were getting unsolicited mail from bridal companies.