Law casts doubt on ownership
By QUEENIE WANG
THOUSANDS of New Territories natives living overseas run the risk of losing their homes in Hong Kong under a new property law.
Legal experts are calling for a period of at least two years for these people to learn of the new law when it comes into force. The matter is expected to cause heated debate at a Law Society forum on Thursday.
Land Registry assistant manager Jenny Wong Hon Chun-lin promised 'substantial' resources would be allocated to try to ensure overseas owners did not lose out through ignorance of the new law. The new Land Title Bill, tabled earlier this month, stipulates the registered owner must also be the legal owner of the property.
Under the existing system, registering a deed does not guarantee legal ownership. There was a case of a woman who sold a flat as her name was on the title deed. But the court ordered the buyer to return the property to the husband who, although not named in the deed, was the original purchaser and legally the owner.
The new law will protect the buyer against such situations. But Urban Councillor Daniel Wong Kwok-tung, whose firm of solicitors specialises in conveyancing, said he feared New Territories natives living overseas were being kept in the dark and it would lead to many ownership disputes.
The Heung Yee Kuk claims there are 700,000 former New Territories residents living overseas, especially in Britain, Canada and the United States. Mr Wong said many existing deeds on New Territories houses were already in doubt.
He added a proposed 12-month grace period for owners to clarify their status, should be extended to two years.