Time to revisit law and consider minority property owners' rights
With the entry into force on April 1, 2010, of an amendment to the law governing the compulsory sale of land for redevelopment, which reduced from 90 per cent to 80 per cent the proportion of dwellings in an ageing residential block an owner must possess in order to trigger the compulsory sale of the remainder, the number of applications for such sales received by the Lands Tribunal has increased significantly. According to the Development Bureau, there were only 64 cases in the decade from 1999 to January 2010, but the tribunal received 32 applications in the 12 months after the amendment became law. I am sure there have been more applications since April this year. The effects on minority owners have been far greater than was envisaged.
In the Legco brief prepared by the bureau in January, 2010, it was explained that the amendment was designed to better complement the efforts of the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) efforts to tackle building deterioration and meet Hong Kong's changing economic needs. However, I note that none of the applications for compulsory land sale orders under the ordinance have been submitted by the URA.
A vast majority of the applications for compulsory land sale orders were made by well-known property developers and property acquisition agencies. It appears that the new law, having operated for almost 18 months, works very well for those property giants. The minority owners, however, live their lives under tremendous stress when their properties become the target of the property giants. There are increasingly reported cases of harassment at those dwellings targeted for acquisition.
The methods used to force the minority owners to move out vary and the stress suffered by these people has become greater than ever.
The government claims that it has encouraged the professional institutes (including the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors and the Hong Kong Housing Society) to help educate the public to better understand the ordinance and the need for further protection for minority owners in compulsory sales situations. Having heard the outcry for help from these minority owners through press reports, I doubt very much that the these owners really understand their rights in a compulsory sale.
Maybe it is time for the government to have another look at this legislation.
Lam Wai-leung, Sha Tin