Lengthy saga of rooftop resolved
Lands officials procrastinated for over 13 months before responding to the Buildings Department's request to remove a dangerous illegal structure on a rooftop the government owns as a result of a 20-year unresolved land lease dispute.
The Ombudsman, who eventually intervened, said that while the case involved complicated legal issues, the Lands Department should not have ignored, then refused to deal with, the problem.
At first, a spokeswoman for the Lands Department had insisted the government never 'took possession of or used the roof'.
She said that as the roof would eventually be given back to the previous owner, the government should not be liable for matters relating to it.
In fact, the roof's owner has since died and did not name a legal representative. The property currently belongs to the Financial Secretary Incorporated, with the Lands Department acting as agent.
Ombudsman Alan Lai Nin said that it would be a waste of public resources if all illegal structures left by previous owners on properties that now belong to the government had to be taken down by the government.
'It should be the previous owner who should take care of their illegal structures - and not using public funds,' he said. 'But if for some reason that isn't possible, the government should do it, as it's affecting other people.'
A complaint was made to the Buildings Department in February 2010 by a woman living one floor below the roof about serious water seepage from the illegal structure.
On inspection, buildings officials found cracks on walls and declared the structure potentially dangerous. The Buildings Department then urged the Lands Department to remove the illegal structure after learning that it was owned by the FSI.
But no action was taken despite more reminders.
A site inspection was finally conducted in mid-October, after another reminder, and an order was dispatched to the previous owner in April to take down the structure.
Only after a recommendation from the Ombudsman did the Lands Department finally remove the illegal structure and repair the water seepage last December, a year and nine months after the first Buildings Department advice.
The Lands Department acknowledged that there were illegal structures which affected those living below.
The same spokeswoman said the department removed the unauthorised structure and repaired the water seepage after taking legal advice, and reiterated that the department and the FSI were obligated to do so.
Legislator Lee Wing-tat said land lease cases were normally not this complicated.
However, since the property belongs to the government, then it is its responsibility to deal with the illegal structure, he added.
There are currently eight properties temporarily belonging to the government while owners go through the land lease renewal process.