Building must be checked before flat is leased
Joyce Ng and Olga Wong
Before a flat is leased, estate agents must now check whether the building has illegal structures or is subject to repair orders.
The new rule extends the agents' duty to conduct a land search for a property when dealing with a purchase to cover leases as well.
It is contained in a practice circular issued by the Estate Agents Authority yesterday. The authority said the collapse of a 55-year-old building in To Kwa Wan in January had sparked concern about old tenements with illegal structures.
'As many tenants living in old buildings are from the grass roots, they may not be aware of the risks involved in renting such properties,' it said.
An agent should check whether any orders requiring demolition or alteration of illegal structures are registered and whether these orders have been complied with, and then inform the potential tenant.
Even when no such order had been issued, if there appeared to be illegal structures, the agent should alert the client, the authority said.
An agent who fails to comply will face disciplinary action ranging from an admonition to the loss of his or her licence, depending on the case.
Pun Chi-man, a Kowloon City district councillor who has frequent contact with residents of old buildings, said new immigrants and some ethnic minorities could only afford cheap flats. Even if those contained illegal structures, such tenants did not have much of an alternative.
The problem of flats in poor condition would not be solved 'unless the government legislates and regulates how flats should be subdivided properly without overloading the structure and causing water seepage,' he said.
Meanwhile, owners of units in Galaxia in Diamond Hill complained yesterday that the management office built on the residential podium is an illegal structure.
The Buildings Department could not confirm whether the office was illegally built but said it would conduct a site observation.
Galaxia owners' committee chairwoman Mandy Tam Heung-man said the owners were worried that the office, which has about 10 staff, would not be covered by insurance.
'Owners will have to bear the liability if fire breaks out and management staff get hurt,' she said.
Tam said the committee had complained about the matter since 2003 to the former management company, Harriman Residential Management.
Neither the estate's developer, Wheelock Properties, nor Harriman would comment on the complaint.