Hong Kong property

Next on Hong Kong’s property market: flats with one fireproof shelter per floor 

Spaces will protect elderly and disabled residents who can’t escape burning building in time, but feature will mean higher management fees for owners

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 9:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 March, 2018, 10:13am

The first private housing estates featuring fireproof shelters on each floor, which will give elderly or disabled people a place to hide if a blaze breaks out, are expected to go on sale in the second half of this year, the Post has learned.

But having this protective feature will mean higher building management fees, with one property expert estimating that the owner of a 500 sq ft flat could pay HK$1,200 (US$153) more each year. 

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The estates are the first residential developments subject to a new policy requiring all buildings taller than 13 metres – in most cases, about four storeys – with more than two flats per storey to have at least one fire-resistant space on every floor. The rule was introduced in October 2014. 

The space must have a CCTV camera and intercom linked directly to the building’s management office, to help emergency rescuers locate those who are trapped.

Each year, Hong Kong has several cases of residential fires involving elderly residents. 

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Architect Joseph Kwan Kwok-lok, an advocate of increasing accessibility for the elderly and disabled, described the new policy as a “breakthrough in barrier-free design”.

“If the disabled and elderly don’t have a safe place to avoid fire and smoke, where else can they go?” Kwan asked. “Lifts cannot be used in a fire either.”

The city is not known for catering to the needs of disabled people, with residents complaining of a lack of ramps, passenger and stair lifts, and wheelchair aids in public places such as MTR stations.

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Ellis Ip Chi-ming, ex-president of the Institute of Housing and a property management expert, said homeowners should be prepared to stump up higher management fees, as there would be a cost to maintaining the shelter. 

“It’s not like a light bulb that you change only when it’s broken,” Ip said. 

“Like lifts and other firefighting equipment, you need regular maintenance to make sure it works fine all the time, or else what if it [doesn’t work] when there is a fire?”

Daniel Hui Wah-lun, chairman of the property and facility management division of the Institute of Surveyors, said the management fee increase could amount to roughly 20 cents per square foot, on top of the existing monthly management charge. 

This means that for a 500 sq ft flat, the owner would have to pay an extra HK$1,200 every year. 

But Hui said an increase of less than 7 per cent in annual fees would not be significant to buyers of flats in new housing estates. 

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The Post checked with five of the city’s developers asking if they were launching any flats this year with the new fireproof shelters. Most did not reply. Of the two who did, Hang Lung Properties said its projects were approved before the code was introduced, and CK Assets said it always “followed the government’s building regulations”.

The Buildings Department did not respond to a request for comment. 

Kwan said the next step Hong Kong should take in terms of universal design for fire safety would be to install lifts able to tap on an emergency electricity source, so they could operate even if in case of fire and smoke.

He said existing modern high-rises in the city usually had a fireproof lift for firefighters only, but there should be at least one more for people in need.