HOUSING

Eviction looms at 56-year-old To Kwa Wan block

Balconies deemed dangerous in 56-year-old decrepit block must go, but first a court order is needed for residents to pack up and leave

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 August, 2013, 4:43am

Dozens of To Kwa Wan residents have been caught out by news of possible eviction from their homes in a 56-year-old tenement block where all the balconies are deemed structurally dangerous.

They learned of their impending fate yesterday, when the Buildings Department posted a notice informing residents for the first time that a closure order would be served on the six-storey block on 51 Kai Ming Street by August 30.

I haven't heard anything about our building being dangerous, but of course I'm scared. I don't want to move. I moved here just a month ago

The department plans to apply for the court order so it can knock down the balconies. All of them are enclosed, some of them for as long as 30 years. The occupants must move out after the court issues the order, so the urban time bomb can be removed and the structural safety of the block can be investigated further.

The tenement was in a very bad shape, the South China Morning Post observed in a visit.

In one flat, the floor was slightly tilting towards the balcony and cracks were visible in the walls.

All of the floors except for the fourth and the ground-level shops are believed to house subdivided flats.

"I haven't heard anything about our building being dangerous, but of course I'm scared," a woman who lives on the first floor said. "I don't want to move. I moved here just a month ago."

Some residents said they would defy the order if they had to be relocated to interim housing in Tuen Mun, as rumoured.

The block was among 4,500 aged over 50 that came under a citywide drive to check unsafe structures, following the collapse of a tenement on Ma Tau Wai Road that killed four people in 2010. After that accident, the government erected emergency support to shore up the first-floor balcony, while ordering the 14 property owners to investigate and report on structural integrity.

Because of financial and management difficulties, no one had complied with the order, the department said.

The balconies were built with a "cantilever slab" design that was very common among tenements of that time. A department consultant confirmed this month the structures were dangerous.

Raymond Chan Kin-sek, president of the Institution of Engineers, said the balconies posed a hazard to the public if they were not properly maintained.

Chan said the concrete and steel bars of the structures were prone to erosion by water. And if a balcony on an upper floor crumbled and collapsed, all those below would be smashed.

The government faced a dilemma in preventing such risks, he said. "A lack of incentives and consensus among the owners, as well as the absence of an owners' incorporation, has made urgent and timely repair impossible. But the government had been unable to step in until [the consultant] verified it was too dangerous."

Kowloon City district councillor Yang Wing-kit pointed out another obstacle to fixing the problems. "Since the Ma Tau Wai collapse, some contractors have been deterred by the risks in carrying out maintenance work in these old buildings," he said.

The department said the owners would bear the balcony removal costs. There was no timetable for the works yet, pending further checks, it said.