Hong Kong housing

Independent inspections of Hong Kong homes needed to tackle illegal structures, lawmaker says

Used properties should undergo checks before sale to help city get to grips with the problem, legislator argues

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 7:04am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 July, 2018, 11:12am

Hong Kong’s second-hand homes should be independently inspected before sale to tackle the city’s rampant problem with illegal structures, a pro-establishment lawmaker says.

Tony Tse Wai-chuen, who represents the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape sector, said the aim was not to hinder sales but to ensure both parties in a deal were aware of any illegal modifications and took action.

Independent reports on the inspections should be submitted to any banks financing the purchases, Tse added.

“Some people have raised concerns over such proposals in the past, fearing it could drive up costs,” Tse said on Monday. “But since property prices remain high, it would be worthwhile pushing ahead with this measure.”

The lawmaker, who was re-elected to the Legislative Council in March, campaigned on a pledge to follow up on an illegal structure scandal that embroiled Hong Kong justice minister Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah soon after she was appointed earlier this year.

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Cheng, a barrister and chartered engineer, claimed she had overlooked illegal extensions when she bought a three-storey house in Tuen Mun in 2008. She was later accused of covering up the issue after a copy surfaced of her mortgage deed, which showed no mention of the additions.

Buildings Department figures indicate at least one in four properties in Hong Kong, one of the world’s most densely populated places, had unsanctioned features in the past 18 years.

But Tse said the government had been trying to sweep the problem under the carpet.

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“[Inspections] might encourage property owners to deal with these illegal structures,” he said.

They would also help the government build a database of affected properties to get to grips with the scale of the problem.

The idea was among 33 suggestions to be submitted by Tse to Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday for the chief executive’s second policy address, to be delivered in October.

On land supply, Tse called on officials to provide a clear estimate of how much public rental and subsidised housing could be built through the different options recently laid out in a public consultation exercise, including by reclamation and brownfield sites.

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The consultation, organised by the Task Force on Land Supply, is looking to gauge public opinion on 18 options to ease the city’s crunch on space.

The estimates, Tse said, would allow residents to better understand how each option would affect their chances of securing a public sector flat.

A long queue is in place for rental housing, but no such system is up and running for the purchase of subsidised flats. Tse said a system was needed to give priority to those who had repeatedly failed to secure one.