Hong Kong may lower prosecution threshold for illegal structures, raise fines

Hong Kong authorities will explore lowering the threshold for prosecuting homeowners found to have illegal structures on their properties and stiffening the penalty for the offence, the development minister has said.

Secretary for Development Bernadette Linn Hon-ho revealed on Thursday more details of the plan to tighten building laws next year as announced by Chief Executive John Lee ka-chiu in his policy address a day earlier.

Under the Building Ordinance, property owners found to have unauthorised structures at their homes are only prosecuted when they fail to comply with the removal order issued by the government.

“We don’t hope to see it happening again,” Linn said. “We hope to study whether the law can grant the Buildings Department more power. As long as it discovers unauthorised structures, it can launch prosecution action.”

Secretary for Development Bernadette Linn says the government will consider raising the maximum fine for breaches of the Building Ordinance. Photo: Edmond So

Linn added that the government would also explore increasing the maximum penalty for breaches of the law.

Owners who fail to comply with the removal order face a maximum fine of HK$200,000 (US$25,575) and one year behind bars. They can also be fined HK$20,000 for each day they do not adhere to the order.

The secretary said the government would also try to stop owners from using excuses to dodge their responsibilities, such as claiming to not know which former owner built the unauthorised structures.

The problem of illegal structures fell under the spotlight in September when a landslide caused by a record rainfall led to the discovery that four seaside luxury homes at Redhill Peninsula in Tai Tam had unauthorised structures or encroached on government land.

The government inspected other 85 seaside properties at the estate, of which 70 had suspected illegal structures, while 40 homes were also suspected of using government land without permission.

Asked whether the government would proactively check low-density residential estates for violations, Linn said authorities had been taking the initiative to conduct inspections, as well as looking into properties related to complaints.

The policy address tasked the Development Bureau with launching at least 3,600 prosecution cases over non-compliance with removal orders.

Completing the building laws review within 2024 is one of the government’s key performance indicators as listed out in the policy address.

Arthur Cheung Man-to, chairman of the building surveying division of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, said the government could consider setting different tiers of penalties according to the scale, safety risk and property value of the illegal structures.

“Having a flower rack and an additional floor space are very different in scale and the rental return,” Cheung said.

He added that the government could also consider imposing heavier fines on repeat offenders.

Hong Kong officials to seek warrants for entry to 3 homes at Redhill Peninsula

Apart from pinpointing the illegal structures, the review would also cover non-compliance with mandatory building and window inspections. The amendment would focus on streamlining prosecution procedures, lowering the prosecution threshold and raising penalties.

City leader Lee also expected the bureau to instigate no less than 2,500 prosecution cases related to buildings failing to comply with the statutory inspection order.

A string of cases concerning falling concrete in recent months also raised public concerns about the structural safety of old buildings in urban districts, with some failing to carry out compulsory building inspections and repairs before an issued deadline and delaying work for years.

Hong Kong ‘serious’ about tackling illegal structures but pragmatism needed: John Lee

Under the current arrangement, buildings 30 years or older assessed to be at high risk will receive the statutory order. Those with an owners’ corporation have a year to complete the process, while those without one are given three more months.

If they fail to comply with the order, they can be fined up to HK$50,000 (US$6,400) and jailed for a year. Offenders may also be ordered to pay HK$5,000 for every day that the order is not carried out.

As of May, the government had issued 7,000 inspection notices over the decade, in which 2,700 buildings failed to complete mandatory inspections before the deadline.

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button