Legco against easing of building sale restrictions

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2008, 12:00am

A revised proposal to make it easier for developers to seek the forced sale of a building where a few owners are holding out was still opposed yesterday by lawmakers, who feared the relaxation would encourage the demolition of old buildings that remained structurally safe.

The government wants to lower the threshold for a forced sale from 90 per cent of owners in agreement to 80 per cent in some circumstances.

It had earlier proposed this should apply in three situations - smaller buildings where a single holdout represented 10 per cent or more of the shares; buildings aged 40 years or older; and those with missing or untraceable owners who accounted for at least 10 per cent of the shares. The third provision was removed from the revised proposal because the government said redeveloping the flats of missing owners might infringe private property rights.

The government said lowering the threshold in the first situation would facilitate private redevelopment of buildings with five to nine flats where a deadlock could develop when one owner refused to sell.

The change was made after a three-month consultation launched last year. A public hearing at which owners and developers will be able to express their views to lawmakers on the revised proposal will be held later this month.

The government said earlier that any amendment to the law would incorporate public views, but no timetable has been set.

Under the Land Ordinance, any person who owns not less than 90 per cent of the total undivided shares of a lot may apply to the Lands Tribunal for an order of compulsory sale of the whole lot.

Yesterday lawmakers asked for stronger justification for the lower threshold. Albert Chan Wai-yip, who proposed the 90 per cent threshold in the 1990s, said further lowering it would speed up the acquisition of old buildings and eventually eliminate characteristics of old districts.

Legislator Raymond Ho Chung-tai, representing the engineering sector, said he was unconvinced by the new proposal because buildings 40 years or older were still structurally safe.

Records show more than 20,000 private buildings have nine flats or fewer and there are 9,000 buildings 40 years old or more.

Permanent Secretary for Development Raymond Young Lap-moon said the new proposal struck a balance between improving the living environment of old buildings and protecting private property rights.

He said the Lands Tribunal would issue an order of compulsory sale to developers in accordance with the age and condition of the buildings.

He said the tribunal, in one case, did not issue the order although the building had reached the criteria of 40 years old because the building was still well maintained.

Miriam Lau Kin-yee of the Liberal Party said the government should issue detailed guidelines that specified conditions under which the order should be issued.

'It will help the tribunal to make a fair judgment instead of relying on the individual decision of judges.'