Hong Kong is a concrete jungle made up of tens of thousands of multistorey buildings, and making one's way through the forest of high-rises can be risky. Hazards include falling pieces of outer walls, windows and even whole balconies. Over the years, they have killed and injured scores of people. Every time a mishap occurred, the public outcry drove the authorities to do a bit more to foster building care. In the latest move, the government is introducing a mandatory building inspection scheme after toying with the idea for years. Under the scheme, buildings aged 30 years and above will be required to engage professionals every seven years to certify they are safe. It is intended to force owners to rectify faults and repair dilapidations that may pose a threat to public safety. In the wake of increasing numbers of falling windows - 75 cases in the first nine months of this year compared with 46 in the whole of 2004 - a mandatory window inspection is also mooted. As measures to force building owners to keep their properties in good condition, the two schemes are overdue. But it will take a long time before the problem of building decay can be contained. At present, of 39,000 private buildings in Hong Kong, 13,000 are aged 30 years or more. The figure will grow to about 22,000 in 10 years. The government has to bear the major responsibility for building decay. Unlike many other jurisdictions where strata-title ownership of properties is common, Hong Kong does not impose legal obligations on unit owners to band together to manage communal facilities. Nor does it require owners to hire qualified professionals to maintain them. As a result, many buildings, particularly those completed before the 1980s, are now in a serious state of disrepair. The costs of past neglect are huge. As these buildings grow old, the repair bills keep escalating, putting a heavy burden on owners. Rather than paying the bills, many owners who are well-off often opt to move out, leaving behind those who can ill afford to pay. The government has had to offer loans to help these poor owners, and ask the Housing Society and Urban Renewal Authority to provide assistance. The government has no option but to step in because building decay has become a serious threat to public safety. Unfortunately, its direct involvement has also created confusion about who should be responsible for the upkeep of private properties. Even though officials keep stressing that owners should be responsible for ensuring their buildings are in good repair, more and more people feel that they can expect the government to give them a hand. In the long run, the government aims to extend the scope of the inspection schemes to buildings as young as 10 years. This is the right direction. Unless property owners are compelled to maintain their buildings before they age, the number of sick buildings in need of major repairs will only increase. At previous consultations, mandating the formation of owners' corporations and engagement of management companies were also mooted to address building decay at its root. But the government said the public favoured only mandatory inspection. Officials feel that the problem should ease over time, as most buildings completed in recent years have put in proper governance structures and are managed by qualified building managers. They also believe that a voluntary building classification scheme will encourage owners to maintain good standards of management and maintenance. The scheme envisions that buildings rated as well maintained will fetch higher prices in the market and attract lower transaction fees charged by banks and insurance companies. Let us hope that our officials are right. If they are wrong, our 'welfare scheme' for buildings can only become a black hole, sucking in more and more public money to address what is essentially a private problem.