PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 June, 2011, 12:00am


With illegal structures found in the properties of top officials, such as Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung, it is clear many people believe they can do whatever they like with their homes.

It is not a bad thing to extend your living space with enjoyable and personalised designs, but unauthorised building works are not only illegal, but also raise safety and fire prevention issues. To do it legally, there are three steps to follow, according to Anthony Wong, creative director of ACM Landscape Design Development.

1: Initial design: After homeowners have decided on the project, they can pass on functional requirements to the building or interior design company to work on the preliminary design and drafting.

2: Design process If the need for alteration work arises, the homeowner should consult an authorised person or registered minor works contractor. After consultation, the homeowner can take into consideration the consultation fee and building cost before deciding whether to proceed with an Addition and Alteration submission. The Buildings Department will issue the result within 60 days.

3: Deciding whether to proceed with minor works If the works fail to obtain an approval, or the cost and time needed are too high, homeowners can consider other design solutions that would not violate the Buildings Ordinance. If the homeowner decides to proceed, he or she should hire a registered contractor and sign a minor works agreement.

Wong suggests that homeowners consider using movable and lightweight facilities to prevent having illegal structures on their premises. 'They can use glass fibre instead of cement structures, portable outdoor furniture, plants and artworks, together with appropriate lighting and flooring, to achieve a desirable effect,' he says.

Lam Shui-wah, project director of Ample Design, says there is a common misconception among homeowners who unknowingly violate rules. However, when construction work is involved, projects are subject to the Buildings Ordinance. Apartment buildings and detached houses are managed by the Buildings Department, while village houses are overseen by the Lands Department. The maximum penalty for building unauthorised structures is two years' imprisonment and a fine of HK$400,000. However, Lam says designs that are transportable, movable and easily removable do not constitute unauthorised works.

Due to community safety and ventilation concerns, homeowners need to follow guidelines found in the Deed of Mutual Covenant or Land Grant, and the Buildings Ordinance of the Buildings Department or the Lands Department.

Some items, such as drying racks, supporting frames for air conditioners, canopies and small structures that do not affect the loading of a building, are exempted from the provisions of the Buildings Ordinance. However, there are areas of potential ambiguity. 'Sometimes objects are exempted from the Buildings Ordinance but not the Deed of Mutual Covenant,' Lam says. 'Movable objects are supposed to be allowed, but decorations such as large stone sculptures may affect structures. Homeowners need to consult professionals.'

Lam offers two examples. 'While you think having a wind screen on the rooftop garden will look good, it can be blown away during a typhoon. The best way is to submit an application for minor works with a plan to build a large metal frame to fasten the screen.'

Likewise, external walls cannot be modified with cladding without proper authorisation through an Addition and Alteration application.

'The best way is to seek help from a lawyer or other authorised persons,' Lam says.

Movable objects are supposed to be allowed, but decorations such as large sculptures may affect structures Illegal structures are so commonplace that Education secretary Michael Suen has an unauthorised store room at his Happy Valley home. Photo: Jonathan Wong