What if contractors daren't fix rickety blocks?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 February, 2010, 12:00am

It's one thing to know your building is in danger of collapse; it's another to get it fixed.

The decision of a contractor to pull out of doing repairs to an old building near the tenement that collapsed last week, killing four people, has led to fears companies are avoiding vital maintenance work because they see it as too risky.

The five-storey block at 45J Ma Tau Wai Road collapsed into rubble in a matter of seconds on January 29. Police are investigating what renovation workers were doing minutes before the block caved in.

A contractor who began repairing a tenement at 21 Kai Ming Street, two streets away, on the day of the collapse walked off the job two days later. 'I think the contractor fears this building may collapse,' said Sit Wo-sang, one of the owners who banded together to hire the company.

The contractor told them it had downed tools because some had not made the required down payment for the work.

The 53-year-old, seven-storey tenement is loaded with two illegal rooftop houses. Flats on the five upper storeys have been heavily altered with the addition of unapproved partitions and drainage systems. A Buildings Department repair order issued in December requires owners to remove loose, cracked concrete and finishes on walls and to fix new steel bars in walls. The building is 'liable to become dangerous', it says.

Sit, who bought his 150 sq ft cubicle on the sixth floor of the building in 1999, said the contractor had just made an excuse to stop work.

Water was seeping through his bedroom ceiling and he had to use a canvas to collect drops, Sit said. 'I don't want to pay for the repairs now. The only thing I want is to move out.'

A Mrs Wong who lives on the second floor said: 'I feel my flat is shaking when there is a typhoon. I am afraid my building will fall in as it is too old. I heard a construction worker say this building may collapse within three years. I am very scared.'

The company, Wadabuild Construction, refunded the down payments received. Its registered boss, Ho Chi-ming, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

A unionist said contractors were being more careful about what jobs they took on in the wake of the collapse in Ma Tau Wai Road. The incident had heightened awareness of structural safety in the industry, said Chow Luen-kiu, president of the Construction Industry Employees General Union.

Some contractors hired labourers with no experience, he said. 'These workers just do what they are told. They don't know what a load-bearing wall is about.'

A Buildings Department spokeswoman said it would consider hiring a contractor to carry out repairs and charge owners for the work.

Raymond Chan Yuk-ming, former president of the Institute of Surveyors, said: 'If people are worried their buildings are at risk but do not yet want to have a thorough examination, which is costly, our preliminary check may come in handy.'

The institute will launch a free three-month inspection service on Monday for building owners and tenants. Those needing the service can call 6307 8007.

Voluntary building surveyors will check internal and external conditions of blocks aged between 30 and 50 years old that do not have an owners' corporation in order to identify problems such as dangerous illegal structures, substandard fire safety access and peeling concrete.

The institute will refer urgent cases to the government.