LCQ1: Sub-division of flat units

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Kwok-kin and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (June 1):


     Since the incident of the collapse of a building at Ma Tau Wai Road, building safety has remained an issue of great public concern.  Some members of the public have recently relayed to me that quite a number of flat units in old tenement buildings in Wong Tai Sin and Kwun Tong districts have been converted and divided into separate units (commonly known as "sub-divided units") for sale or letting purpose, posing a serious threat to the safety and management of the buildings concerned.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that in reply to a question of a Member of this Council on December 1 last year, the authorities indicated that they did not have statistical breakdown of cases of works concerning sub-division of flat units, whether they now have such information; if not, of the reasons for that; whether they know the respective numbers of legal and illegally converted sub-divided units in each of the 18 districts; if not, whether the authorities can expeditiously conduct a general survey in this respect, so as to obtain a full picture of the actual situation about sub-divided units in the buildings in Hong Kong;

(b) of the number of complaints received by the Buildings Department in the past three years involving sub-division of flat units, and among them, the number of cases confirmed to be in contravention of the Buildings Ordinance after investigation; and in respect of the problems of the buildings caused by sub-division of flat units, whether the Buildings Department carries out regular inspections and takes follow-up actions at present to combat such problems; if it has, of the effectiveness of such efforts; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) given that the authorities indicated at the meeting of the Subcommittee on Building Safety and Related Issues under the Panel on Development of this Council on July 27, 2010 that they were conducting a comprehensive review of the building safety policy in Hong Kong and considering whether to further regulate sub-division of flat units, of the current progress of the review, and when the outcome of the review will be available and a clear account on the introduction of legislation to comprehensively regulate sub-divided units be given?



     As I have pointed out in my written reply on December 1, 2010, "sub-division of flat units", i.e. commonly known as "sub-divided units", in general refers to the sub-division of a flat unit into two or more individual units.  The relevant works commonly involve knocking down of the original non-structural partition walls, construction of new non-structural partition walls, installation of new toilets, alteration or addition of internal water pipes and drainage systems for the additional toilets, as well as raising of floor screeding to accommodate new/diverted pipes and drains, etc.  Sub-divided units have also recently emerged in commercial/residential composite buildings and multi-storey industrial buildings.  The situation has aroused concern.

     Currently, our statutory control on such kind of sub-division of flat units is not entirely clear.  Under section 41(3) and 41(3A) of the Buildings Ordinance (Cap 123) (BO), certain building works and drainage works that do not involve the structure of a building can be carried out in existing buildings without prior application to the Building Authority (BA) and obtaining BA's approval.  The construction of non-structural partition wall is an example of such kind of exempted works.  However, the additional partition wall should still comply with the building standards stipulated in the building regulations, including not causing overloading to the building and not affecting the means of fire escape.

     The Minor Works Control System (MWCS) which was fully implemented on December 31, 2010 has enhanced the control on sub-divided units.  The new system has designated an item of works commonly found in sub-divided units, i.e. internal drainage works within building units, as minor works.  Although the MWCS provides owners with a set of simplified procedures under which there is no need to obtain the BA's prior approval, owners have to engage suitable professionals to carry out the relevant works according to the prescribed procedures and standards in order to ensure the safety as well as quality of the works.  The professionals also need to submit information of the works to the Buildings Department (BD).

     For the sake of more comprehensive control on works of sub-divided units, amid the package of measures we announced in October 2010 to enhance building safety in Hong Kong, we proposed to further include in the MWCS various types of works involved in sub-divided units other than internal drainage works which has already been covered by the MWCS.  Major items include erection or alteration of partition walls in buildings, addition or alteration of floor screeding in buildings, formation of openings to fire escape route, etc.

     The reply to the three-part question is as follows:

(a) The BD currently does not have specific statistical breakdown of applications for works of sub-divided units and hence could not provide information on legally or illegally altered sub-divided units in different districts in Hong Kong.  Indeed, the existing BO does not specifically categorise or regulate different types of works involved in sub-divided units.  Nevertheless, as I have explained just now, with the full implementation of the MWCS on December 31, 2010, internal drainage works commonly found in sub-divided units have already been covered by the MWCS.  Contractors who carry out such works have to submit relevant information of the works to the BD.  Up to May 25, 2011, 251 cases related to internal drainage works have been submitted.  However, not all the cases of internal drainage works involve sub-divided units.  Although the BD is currently arranging a stock-taking exercise for all the unauthorised building works at the exterior of private buildings in Hong Kong, it will be difficult to verify the situation of interior sub-divided units during the exercise.  As a result, this operation will not enable us to provide comprehensive information on sub-divided units.

     However, since April 1, 2011, the BD has launched a series of multi-pronged new measures to enhance building safety in Hong Kong through different means, including enforcement action specifically addressing the problem of sub-divided units.  In addition to the proactive handling of public's reports and complaints on sub-divided units, the BD will launch a special operation to inspect 150 target buildings each year to tackle potential irregularities of building works associated with sub-divided units.  It is estimated that over 1,300 sub-divided units will be inspected in the special operation each year.  The BD will establish a database upon gathering of inspection cases with a view to drawing an overall picture of sub-divided units in different districts in Hong Kong.  This will facilitate the BD to plan corresponding inspection and enforcement action.

(b) From January 1, 2008 to April 30, 2011, a period of more than three years, the BD received about 4,400 complaints against sub-divided units.  In the same period, the BD issued 73 removal orders on unauthorised sub-divided units pursuant to the BO.  Amongst which, most of the cases involved breach of the safety requirements on means of fire escape, while a small portion of them involved problems like water seepage and structural loading of buildings.

     As I have mentioned in part (a) of the reply, with the launch of a series of measures to enhance building safety in Hong Kong, the BD will launch a special operation on sub-divided units to inspect 150 target buildings each year and to tackle potential irregularities and safety problems of building works associated with sub-divided units.

(c) The comprehensive review of building safety policy raised by the Administration in July 2010 had largely been completed and was announced in the Chief Executive's Policy Address in October 2010.  The Development Bureau subsequently issued a Legislative Council brief and consulted the Subcommittee on Building Safety and Related Issues (the Subcommittee) under the Panel on Development on the related matters in January 2011.  We obtained general support from the members attended.  In May 2011, we also consulted the Subcommittee on the proposal of re-organisation of the BD in order to implement the measures and obtained the support of the members attended.  We will later submit the proposals on the establishment of directorate staff to the Establishment Subcommittee of the Finance Committee for consideration.  Regarding the regulation of sub-divided units under review, as mentioned above, we propose to further include other works involved in sub-divided units in the MWCS.  The BD is consulting the industry on the proposed technical specifications.  We will amend the Building (Minor Works) Regulation (Cap 123N) as soon as the details are finalised.

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Issued at HKT 15:26