Relax rules on illegal structures for older buildings, surveyors say
Experts suggest minor alterations that are deemed safe by inspectors be declared legal
The rules on illegal structures should be relaxed for old buildings, say surveyors who expect to find many such structures in these buildings when mandatory inspections are carried out.
The Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors said it was "impractical" to apply existing rules to buildings built decades ago, suggesting instead that minor unauthorised structures which are deemed safe be legalised after an official inspection.
About half of the 800,000 illegal structures found by the government in the late 1990s have already been removed, the institute estimated. It expects more to be discovered in the Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme, in which buildings more than 30 years old must be inspected.
Institute vice-president Vincent Ho Kui-yip said the lowered standard for old buildings would apply only to minor works.
The institute's spokesman on building surveying, David Chan Wah-wai, said: "Sometimes owners find themselves in difficult situations." For example, if an owner replaces his balcony's iron railings with stainless steel ones without first obtaining the authorities' approval for the material change, he would have flouted the law.
Ho said flat owners in existing buildings should be allowed to follow another set of rules, provided the safety standard was not lower than it was at the time the building was constructed.
"New buildings have more complicated structures, so it makes sense for them to follow tighter rules," he said. "But for old buildings, their designs are simpler. So a lower standard should be enough to ensure their safety."
As for how the new set of standards should be drawn up, the institute said it would leave this to the government to decide.
The institute also suggested existing structures be certified by surveyors and then allowed to remain permanently in place. It said if the measures are put into practice, the number of illegal structures in the city could be reduced by 60 per cent.
A current government scheme allows residents with certain types of unauthorised structures to retain them after validation. The Buildings Department said it would increase the scope of the scheme to cover more types of structures.
The Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme was passed by the legislature in 2011 and launched in June last year.
Owners of buildings more than 30 years old are required to hire professionals to carry out safety inspections every 10 years.