Councillor urges ban on estate agents
Austin Chiu, Joyce Ng and Kobi Chan
The government should ban estate agents from arranging the sale or lease of properties which have illegal structures or were structurally altered, a Kowloon City district council special meeting heard yesterday.
'There are many properties with illegal structures being sold or rented out blatantly in the market. I think the situation is similar to selling drugs - if someone sells drugs in the streets, he will be prosecuted,' district councillor Ho Hin-ming said. 'So why can't we do the same for illegal buildings? Can we charge the agents?'
Ho called on the government to outlaw the practice which he said was particularly prevalent in old districts.
Estate agents oppose the move.
A spokesman for the Estate Agents Authority says there is no law banning agents from arranging the sale or lease of properties structurally altered or with illegal structures. But agents are obliged to provide tenants or buyers with documents from the Land Registry showing whether repair orders or orders to remove illegal structures have been issued.
The authority said tenants or buyers can lodge a complaint if agents fail to comply. The errant agents will be fined or lose their licence. However, no compensation can be sought.
Residents displaced by the building collapse in Ma Tau Wai Road, To Kwa Wan, last week said they were not shown any documents on the condition of the building. 'The agent took me to view the flat, we negotiated a price and then signed the contract,' said Ko Man, who lived on the first floor of the collapsed block. 'The agent did not tell me anything about the building.'
Estate agents are against any move to tighten their role, saying it is a blow to their business.
An agent with the Richland Agency in To Kwa Wan said: 'Twenty per cent of our income comes from renting of cubicles in old buildings. I think the government should prosecute the property owner instead of us.'
The Lands Department said 103 people from 46 families were homeless following the building collapse. Seventy-one people from 32 families have moved into temporary housing at Shek Lei in Kwai Chung.
Ip Yu-sun, the chief manager of the Housing Department, said it had received 13 applications from the Social Welfare Department for further vetting. Displaced residents would be allotted public housing three days after the vetting is completed.
District councillor Pun Chi-man called on the government to take over the maintenance of old buildings as workers shunned repairs on old buildings after the tragedy. He cited as an example a building on Kai Ming Street, also in To Kwa Wan, which has serious structural problems.
A system to monitor the quality of renovation work was already legislated last year and will be in place shortly, Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told lawmakers yesterday.
The system will simplify the procedures for building owners to have renovation works done in their properties. Once contractors complete a training course and register with the Buildings Department, they are allowed to carry out simple works, such as alteration of non-loading bearing walls and window repairs, without having to obtain department approval for every job.
Building owners who hire unregistered contractors for repair work will face prosecution.
Meanwhile, about 20 people from a Buddhist group held a ceremony at the scene yesterday morning to mourn the four people killed in the building collapse.
Residents held another ceremony last night.