Owners may be required to keep their homes in a condition deemed satisfactory by a powerful agency designed to handle demolition of urban slums. The Urban Renewal Authority, expected to be set up next year, could be able to order owners to repair blocks it believes are not rundown enough to be demolished. A mandatory preventive maintenance scheme has been proposed. Owners in blocks with potential defects could be asked to repair their properties although they pose no immediate danger. Those who failed to comply with the maintenance orders could face fines or a ban on selling the premises, according to initial proposals. Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands Stephen Fisher said the scheme was aimed at encouraging maintenance. It evolved from a controversial mandatory building safety inspection programme, which was scrapped after fierce opposition from legislators. Under the proposed maintenance scheme, government building inspectors would screen the blocks and issue repair orders to owners if they consider there might be potential defects. Mr Fisher said the authority would be in charge of blocks in nine old districts, including Yau Ma Tei, Kwun Tong, Wan Chai and Tsuen Wan, where 200 clearance projects had been identified. The Buildings Department will be responsible for managing blocks outside those areas. At a Legislative Council subcommittee meeting yesterday, Ronald Arculli of the Liberal Party said the scheme could go too far and might infringe private property rights. Mr Arculli said: 'I can understand the need for compulsory maintenance if it has something to do with structural safety. But now we are talking about preventive maintenance.' Democrat James To Kun-sun echoed Mr Arculli's views, adding: 'It is unfair for owners. And some owners might not be able to afford the costs.' Mr Fisher promised to consider offering loans to needy owners. 'The Government believes property owners have an obligation to keep their premises in good shape,' he said. About 8,500 urban blocks are more than 30 years old. Mr Fisher said about 1,000 blocks would require urgent redevelopment, while the rest could survive with regular maintenance. A provisional authority is expected to be set up in the middle of next year to prepare for the transfer of assets and staff from the Land Development Corporation, after the legislature endorses a bill on the matter. The bill is aimed at rejuvenating slum areas in 20 years, instead of 30 years under existing procedures.