Sheung Shui villagers fined for illegal fourth floor

Magistrate rejects claim that the extra 300 sq ft storey was exempt from building regulations and criticises them for ignoring removal orders

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2012, 3:29am

Two Sheung Shui villagers were each fined HK$26,300 yesterday for ignoring government orders to remove an illegally built fourth floor at their home.

Hau Kwok-cheung and his nephew Li Kwan-kwai were each convicted of one count of failing to comply with a Buildings Department removal order for an illegal structure at their house in Kam Tsin village.

"This is a serious breach of regulations. You have dragged the matter on for as long as you can. You have disregarded all laws and regulations," Magistrate Eric Cheung Kwan-ming said in Fanling Court.

On top of a basic fine of HK$10,000, the magistrate ordered the two to pay HK$50 for each of the 326 days they ignored the order to remove the structure between December 2010 and October last year. The fine must be paid by next Monday.

Outside court, Hau, 59, said: "I think the punishment is a bit harsh. The great and the good, including our chief executive, have done the same thing."

He refused to say if he would demolish the additional floor.

A spokeswoman for the Buildings Department said it would follow up on the case. If they failed to tear down the illegal structures, the department might take legal action against them again, she said.

Earlier yesterday, the magistrate rejected the pair's claim that they were exempted from the building regulations because they had implied permission from the government. Under a small-house policy introduced in 1972, indigenous residents are allowed to build houses of no more than three storeys, with each floor not exceeding 700 sq ft.

But the two had said their 300 sq ft fourth floor was exempted based on historical precedent dating back to the Qing dynasty. The magistrate dismissed those claims as no more than "hearsay".

The two also argued that they had a reasonable expectation that their house would be exempted because of a Development Bureau reporting scheme launched in April. The scheme allowed villagers to report unauthorised structures that posed little risk to the public and were built before June 28 of last year.

But the scheme covered only minor violations. The magistrate said the two defendants could not reasonably expect that it would excuse their illegal addition, because so far it had involved discussion only about whether owners of village houses would be excused for certain illegal structures, without coming to a definite conclusion.

The pair also tried to invoke reasonable excuse in their defence, based on an argument that they did not know the structure was a violation. But the magistrate said they could read and understood the removal notices they had been sent, and that they failed to ask an expert, such as a surveyor, for advice.