Safety an issue with thousands of shacks on old buildings The earthquake in Sichuan province has raised awareness about building safety in Macau and drawn attention to the many rooftop shacks in the city. Property agents say thousands of illegal homes stand on numerous buildings in old neighbourhoods. 'These structures are everywhere,' Raymond Chan, a manager of Ou Ka Properties, said. 'Nearly 80 per cent of the five- and six-storey old buildings carry them.' The illegal structures are commonly seen on 40- to 50-year-old residential buildings where top-floor owners have the right to the rooftop directly above them, although they are not allowed to build on the site. Rico Kwok, executive director of Centaline property, said the risk of rooftop homes damaging the main building or even falling off must not be overlooked. 'They weigh on the buildings which are already ageing. There's barely any oversight of the repair and maintenance of these structures.' He said the quake had highlighted the importance of building safety. The cost of building a rooftop home ranges from 20,000 to 100,000 patacas, depending on how well they are finished. Some appear to be ramshackle huts while others may pass for normal floors. People have built them to boost their floor space in property sales or lease them out, especially to immigrant labourers. But home buyers in Macau are increasingly shunning properties with rooftop shacks, especially after the quake erased poorly built houses in Sichuan. A manager of Iok Fat Properties said more buyers wanted to make sure there were no illegal structures. 'Illegally built units have become a turn-off for buyers and we are careful to alert potential buyers to such structures,' he said. In an effort to reduce the number of rooftop shacks, the government has been considering a bill of encumbrance, which would make it difficult or unlawful to sell flats with illegal structures. The bill might require that information about illegal structures be written into an owner's proprietary paper, so buyers are aware of them. It might even forbid the sale of flats with illegal structures. The government has been collecting public views on the possible bill without setting a timetable. Mr Kwok said such legislation would ensure healthy development of the property sector. 'It'll certainly enhance transparency and boost buyers' confidence in the market,' he said But top lawyer Paulino Comandante said such a law would be difficult to enforce because there were too many shanties. 'If we outlawed all the illegal structures, how to dismantle them would pose a huge task involving many government departments,' said Dr Comandante, a director of the Macau Bar Association. 'If the law only targeted newly built structures, it might spur a rush to build them before it took effect.' In fact, there were signs that people were already doing this ahead of possible tightening by the government, according to property agents. Dr Comandante recommended a rule banning firms from building rooftop structures without government approval.