Tony Tse’s impractical solution to problem of illegal structures
A more realistic option is to create a system whereby such structures would be submitted for formal certification if they are deemed safe, along with a fee or penalty payment
Sometimes, it’s better for everyone if a politician forgets about his campaign promise. Lawmaker Tony Tse Wai-chuen wants all homes in the secondary market to be independently inspected before sale to tackle the city’s rampant problem with illegal structures.
I see no real advantages in his proposal, made ahead of the chief executive’s second policy address in October, other than to create more bureaucracy. It would, however, create more jobs for surveyors and architects; and Tse, after all, represents the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape sector in the legislature.
It’s true that illegal structures are everywhere in Hong Kong. It’s estimated that one in four properties has at least one illegal structure, while many have more. But except for those that pose a danger to residents and the public, they are not a priority given our myriad housing woes.
To be fair to Tse, his other idea about providing families living in unsafe subdivided flats with priority public housing, is of far greater urgency. This would also mean identifying and rectifying dangerous and illegally modified subdivided homes. Housing and Buildings department resources should be devoted to them first.
The problem of citywide illegal structures is the unavoidable outcome of the premium we put on living space in the world’s most unaffordable property market. Given how widespread it is, it’s just not practical to tear them all down. Instead, officials have only one realistic option, which is to create a system whereby such structures would be submitted for formal certification if they are deemed safe, along with a fee or penalty payment.
Arguably, the current official “hands-off” approach when it comes to selling flats with illegal structures has worked well. Most buyers know about the need to inspect for illegal structures. If they don’t do it, their lawyers would insist, and banks offering the mortgage would do likewise. The seller or buyer will end up being responsible for the structures, and it is usually resolved in the final sale. Oftentimes, the seller just offers a discount on the flat price for the illegal structures.
It’s possible a lawyer may be negligent, and the buyer is ignorant but cash-rich enough he doesn’t need a bank loan. In that case, he is left holding the bag when government inspectors come knocking on his door. But such cases are not serious enough to require an overhaul suggested by Tse.