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Only one-third of Hong Kong’s 18,066 old properties have been checked. Photo: Sam Tsang

Audit Commission slams Buildings Department for slow progress in inspecting old properties across Hong Kong

  • Only one-third of city’s 18,066 old properties have been checked and another 20 years will be needed to complete inspection
  • Buildings Department also failed to follow up on owners who did not comply with statutory notices

Hong Kong’s public spending watchdog on Wednesday slammed the buildings authorities for their slow progress in inspecting 18,066 old properties across the city, with just one-third of them checked and another 20 years needed to complete the task.

The Buildings Department also failed to follow up on owners who did not comply with statutory notices. The watchdog found that close to 28 per cent of non-compliant statutory notices were overlooked with long-outstanding cases elapsing due dates by up to 6½ years.

The Audit Commission’s criticism followed a blaze in a Yau Ma Tei tenement building on November 15 which left eight people dead. The owner of the 69-year-old building was issued with an order to undergo mandatory building and windows inspections in September 2018 but has yet to comply.

The department is set to issue another order to the owner as fire doors on the first three floors were found to have been removed after officers inspected the building following the fire.

The Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme was implemented on June 30, 2012 following amendments to the Buildings Ordinance and the subsidiary Building (Inspection and Repair) Regulation.

Inspections on 2,500 old Hong Kong buildings to launch Monday, after tragic Yau Ma Tei fire

The department is empowered to inspect and issue statutory notices to owners of 18,066 private buildings aged 30 years or above, requiring them to carry out the prescribed inspection and repairs in respect of the common parts, external walls, projections and signboards of their property every 10 years. Domestic buildings not exceeding three storeys were excluded.

According to an audit report released on Wednesday, the department issued 82,177 statutory notices involving 5,308 buildings as of this April. The target number of buildings to be selected for issuance of notices also fell from 2,000 in 2014 to 650 in 2015, and 400 annually in 2017 to 2019.

As of December last year, an estimated 12,000 buildings had not been served the notice.

A blaze in a Yau Ma Tei tenement building on November 15 left eight people dead. Photo: Felix Wong

“Based on the 2020 target of selecting 600 buildings each year, it will take about 20 years to cover these some 12,000 buildings, let alone the new buildings which will be covered by the scheme coming up after 2019,” the report said.

“The Buildings Department needs to keep under review the target number of buildings for issuance of

statutory notices … further streamline the scheme and formulate a long-term strategy with a view to achieving the objective of tackling the problem of building neglect.”

According to the department, the owners or owners’ corporation of the building should appoint registered inspectors within three months of receipt of the statutory notice to carry out the prescribed inspection, complete the examination within six months and finish any repairs within 12 months. If the owners do not comply with the notice, the department needs to further issue a warning letter within one month of the dates specified in the statutory notices for each stage.

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Records showed that of 24,639 non-compliant statutory notices, no warning letters were issued to owners for 6,941 or 28 per cent of these, while almost all of these cases had elapsed by more than one month after completion due dates.

“In fact, some of them were very long outstanding cases, i.e., time elapsed for 621 notices was more than five years and up to 6½ years,” the watchdog said.

The report also found that of 1,071 non-compliant statutory notices that had been referred to prosecution teams last year for instigating prosecution, 696, or 65 per cent, were referred more than two years and up to six years after the completion due dates of the notices, urging the department to step up the referral of cases.

In response, the director of buildings agreed with the audit recommendations, saying the department

would continue to regularly review the implementation of the scheme including the number of target buildings, and streamline procedures.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Watchdog attacks slow pace of checking old buildings