Thousands of public housing tenants may escape eviction if they live in buildings controlled by private owners' corporations Tens of thousands of public housing tenants may be exempt from eviction for breaking hygiene rules because of a loophole in the scheme to be introduced on Friday. The scheme, devised in the wake of the Sars outbreak, was intended to halt unhygienic practices on Hong Kong's 160 public estates. But the government yesterday admitted it was still in consultations with owners' corporations of blocks where some of the flats had been sold off, resulting in a mix of private and public ownership. Because the jurisdiction of the Housing Authority is restricted in such blocks, it is up to individual owners' corporations to decide whether public tenants sharing their buildings should be evicted for hygiene offences. It is estimated that there are about 39,000 public flats in mixed-ownership buildings. Deputy Director of Housing Lau Kai-hung acknowledged the existence of the 'one building, two systems' loophole. He said housing staff were still trying to obtain approval from owners' corporations to extend the hygiene rules to their buildings' public tenants. 'We are still in discussion with these owners. In fact, most of them support efforts for better hygiene. If they don't accept, we will try further to convince them about the benefits of the scheme,' he said. Under the hygiene scheme, public tenants who commit any of a range of 19 hygiene offences will have points deducted. If 16 points have been deducted in a space of two years, the tenants are supposedly liable for eviction. The offences include keeping a pet, accumulating rubbish at home, and littering, drying clothes and spitting in public areas. The scheme was devised by the so-called Team Clean, headed by Chief Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. The loophole relates to jurisdiction over the public areas of mixed-ownership blocks. In spite of the problem, some of the rules - such as those relating to piling up rubbish inside one's home - will leave private tenants liable to eviction, regardless of whether they live in a mixed-ownership block. The department will use 24 two-member teams to implement the demerit scheme. They will conduct random patrols and act on tip-offs. Some 580 temporary staff have also been recruited to help publicise the scheme and issue warnings to first-time offenders. For less serious offences, tenants will only have points deducted for repeat offences. For more serious offences - such as dropping objects from high-rises - marks will be immediately deducted. A two-month grace period has also been granted to tenants keeping pets illegally, amid fears of creating too many strays if their owners abandon them. The department will decide on how to proceed after the grace period ends. Visits to tenants will be made by housing staff when they accumulate 10 points. The department has already sent letters to tenants to inform them about the details of the scheme. It is also planning more training for staff to deal with offenders - including a self-defence course.