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Hong Kong property

Hong Kong dog rescuer hit by unjust stance on unauthorised structures

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2018, 10:31am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2018, 11:13pm

When does an outdated law that no longer applies in most situations become unjust and an abuse of power? When it is enforced mindlessly and heartlessly by a government department.

In many cases, the existing short-term waiver is in the name of the original owners of the property who are either deceased or have left Hong Kong many years ago. Often, this waiver was granted for the construction of a bare dwelling by the owner of a farm.

The buyers of such properties are often unaware that they are not allowed any other structures than those stipulated in the granted waiver. This includes sunshades and even small structures to shelter animals.

Unfortunately, and often for understandable reasons, sellers and their agents do not inform buyers of these restrictions. Otherwise, who would buy a property?

Such is the case of a friend of mine who has been working tirelessly for the rescue and adoption of stray or unwanted dogs for the past 20 years. She bought a property with the intention of sheltering a large number of dogs. In the process, she set up a number of pre-fab structures to house the 15 dogs at that time.

She was confronted with a letter from the Lands Department saying that there were “unauthorised” structures on her property that had to be removed.

She applied for the short-term waiver to be changed to her name and yearly visits to the department resulted in tolerance for six years.

Late last year, however, my friend was informed that a change of name, if granted, would still require all her “unauthorised” structures to be removed. She withdrew her application and was immediately advised that the original waiver would now be cancelled and she would have to remove the structures immediately, thereby putting her dogs out into the weather. Worse, there is no mechanism by which she can appeal to have the conditions of the waiver changed, even after a change to her name, a process which takes years and a fee of HK$20,000.

This is unjust in the extreme. Even if these laws remain on the books, there is no need to enforce them so blindly.

John Gerlach, Tai Po