More old residential buildings have to be checked for repairs.

Clean up buildings renovation sector, Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors says

Industry group calls for government authority be set up to combat increasing graft and malpractice in the renovation of old buildings

The government needs to address growing malpractice and corruption in the renovation of old buildings, according to a professional industry group.

A Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors member said it planned to suggest the government establish an authority to regulate renovation work to ensure fairness and efficiency.

Such supervision is needed because there are about 19,000 buildings aged more than 30 years in the city and many are in decay.

Currently, the Buildings Department selects 2,000 buildings of more than 30 years old for its Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme every year. Under the scheme, flat owners have to carry out inspection and repair works when needed.

The Housing Authority and the Urban Renewal Authority have introduced similar schemes over the past few years to encourage flat owners to repair their old buildings.

However, as the number of old buildings increases, industry observers say a revamp of current practices is required to maintain quality standards and minimise malpractice and corruption in renovation work.

"The government should review the regulations," said Vincent Ho Kui-yip, a senior vice-president of the surveyors' institute. "Currently, illegal cases of renovation work rely on criminal prosecution, but it is difficult to establish sufficient legal proof, so many cases fail in the end. The government should adopt other rules to regulate the market."

Ho said a key idea for the government would be the establishment of a separate authority to regulate the renovation market.

It would be similar to the Sales of First-hand Residential Properties Authority, which was set up last year to ensure that new regulations on new home sales were implemented effectively.

Separately, the ICAC, which has received complaints of corruption in renovation work, said it had engaged an independent organisation to conduct a study into the feasibility of developing cost reference information for building owners.

The study will be based on cost data obtained from about 400 building maintenance projects subsidised under Operation Building Bright, launched in 2009 to encourage private owners to carry out building repair and maintenance work.

The study is continuing and the findings are expected to be released by the third quarter.

Surveyors believe the study could help avoid overcharging by providing more reference data about maintenance costs.

The institute and the ICAC had taken these steps because the problem of malpractice and corruption in repair work had worsened, sources said.

There have been reports that triad members were involved in tenders for building repair works. They allegedly threatened competing bids to withdraw so they could raise their charges.

Cheung Tat-tong, a former president of the institute, said: "Some firms monopolised the tender for repair works and then charged double the construction cost. The problem of repair contracts is getting serious."

A spokeswoman for URA said it found more than 80 "unusual" cases out of 1,500 renovation works carried out under Operation Building Bright from 2009 to August last year. These cases were referred to the authorities, primarily the ICAC.

The increasing trend is for flat owners to repair their own buildings.

"The housing market boom started 30 years ago so we have seen more buildings aged 30 years or more that have the problem of decay in recent years," Ho said.

He advised flat owners to be careful in choosing consultants before engaging construction firms. "The role of consultant is to suggest what kind of repair work is needed and to monitor the work of the builder," he said. "They should be independent. Flat owners should not choose the consultant simply based on the fee."

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Stop rot in repairs trade, say surveyors