Kitchens at centre of shabby flats row

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 January, 2011, 12:00am

The 'rubbish dump flat' controversy raging over pricey apartments in Mid-Levels boils down to an attempt to avoid fire safety rules over open kitchens, a businessman involved in the sales said last night.

He said apartments at The Icon in Conduit Road were first built with closed kitchens.

But he told the South China Morning Post most buyers of flats A and D reached a deal with the developer to pay an additional HK$140,000 for a renovation package to install open kitchens in the tiny units.

The businessman said this was a ploy to get the plans past the Building Department.

But a few of the buyers were upset by the arrangement and complained to the media they had purchased HK$10 million flats that were left in shabby condition.

Cameras caught pictures of the mess left by workmen - but the developer did not regard the job as finished, the businessman added.

The businessman also said that the first buyer who took her story to the media, a woman named Chu, was given 'hundreds of thousands of dollars of compensation' yesterday and subsequently withdrew her complaint against the developer to the Estate Agents Authority. Chu could not be reached for comment last night.

The Buildings Department, told of the possibility that the flats' layouts may be altered to deliver the unapproved open kitchens, said last night it will step up inspection at The Icon to check out any illegal works.

Also, the Estate Agents Authority and the Consumer Council are investigating the roles of the developer, Winfoong International, and Centaline Property Agency, the sole agency for selling the flats.

The businessman said when buyers bought Flats A and D early last year, they were given a choice of an alternative layout, comprising two bedrooms and an open kitchen. The flats are 690 sq ft in gross floor area, but only 436 sq ft in saleable area.

But it was difficult to make such a layout conform with building rules since the open kitchen's window would face the pipe well rather than fully open space.

The developer then drew another layout plan, containing an enclosed kitchen near the balcony, to submit to the Buildings Department for approval.

Under the deal, buyers would sign off all transaction documents, take the flat with an enclosed kitchen and then return it to the developer.

The developer would then tender the renovation for a third party to remove the wall and set up an open kitchen elsewhere in the apartment.

He added that the renovation agreement was written down in the provisional sale and purchase agreement.

'But a few buyers now do not want to go ahead with the deal and complained to the media and lawmakers,' the businessman said.

He said flats B and C of the block had no such problem because they had a bigger enclosed kitchen in the original layout.

Chu's representative, Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan, said she was not aware of any deals about an open kitchen and said the formal sale and purchase agreement, which makes no mention of such a deal, should supercede the provisional one.

Vincent Ho Kui-yip, a spokesman for the Institute of Surveyors, said setting up an open kitchen requires special procedures.

'You have to submit to the Buildings Department an assessment report on fire risk and an application for altering the structure if you remove structural walls. Even if you use an electrical stove instead of a gas stove, you also have to follow the rule.' An open kitchen also has to have smoke detectors and sprinklers.

The Buildings Department said staff inspected one of the flats yesterday and found no illegal alteration works done so far.

'The department will continue to contact other flat owners to inspect more flats. Should any unauthorised building works be found, we will take appropriate action,' it said in a press release.

It added that the building plans approved for all Icon flats contain enclosed kitchens, and if owners want to alter them, they should seek professional advice.

The maximum penalty for carrying out building works without prior approval is HK$400,000 and two years in jail.

Vivien Chan, Estate Agents Authority chairwoman, said the authority will investigate whether Centaline Property Agency, which provided buyers with a promotional leaflet that contained a layout with an open kitchen, had furnished inaccurate information.

'Normally, agents say what they have been told by developers.

'We will look at whether the agency was just fulfilling its duty in good faith,' Chan said, adding that the company rather than individual agents could be penalised.

Centaline said the company would assist the inquiry.