40pc of checks on subdivided flats thwarted
Inspectors enforcing a crackdown on subdivided apartments have been unable to enter many of the flats they visited, the development chief said yesterday, as she called on lawmakers to support a law change to make it easier for officials to enter private homes.
The inspectors were either denied entry by, or failed to contact, owners of about 40 per cent of 677 subdivided flats, Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told the Legislative Council.
She said an amendment to the Buildings Ordinance, being debated in Legco, would make it possible for inspectors to get court warrants to enter homes and carry out their duties.
'We are not thinking of using the power to break into flats frequently,' Lam told Legco. 'I understand the importance of individuals' privacy and property-ownership rights. It is not an ideal way to solve the problem of divided flats.' The Legco meeting was discussing improvements to be made after last week's fatal fire in the Fa Yuen Street street market in Mong Kok.
Officials inspected 105 buildings from April to October, entered 396 flats and issued 657 advisory letters and removal orders, she said. In the next six months, officials aimed to inspect 334 more old buildings situated beside hawker stalls.
Lam urged lawmakers to support the amendment, which would allow inspectors to apply to a magistrate for the issuing of a warrant to enter a property.
The Buildings Department currently uses its power of forced entry, with police officers, only in extreme cases where there is a clear sign of imminent danger or a serious environmental or health hazard.
But Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah told the meeting that the government should be adopting a broader focus in all its housing policies. 'It is not just about how to break into divided flats. The focus should be on making better arrangements for the people living inside,' he said.
Meanwhile, Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok told Legco that inspections and enforcement action against hawker stalls had increased since a fire in Fa Yuen Street last year. Over 600 prosecutions were made for obstructions in the past year, but Chow conceded these measures were not enough.