Almost 4,000 potentially dangerous buildings have illegally ignored mandatory inspection notices for up to 10 years, with the majority of outstanding safety notices issued well before the pandemic and hundreds as long as 10 years ago, according to Buildings Department (BD) figures exclusively seen by Transit Jam today.
The figures come in response to questions over the government’s repeated excuses that building owners could not comply with Mandatory Building Inspection Scheme (MBIS) notices because of “pandemic” issues, a comment oft-made by officials this summer as Hong Kongers faced almost-weekly cases of falling concrete from aged buildings.
But actually only around 30% of the outstanding inspection notices were issued in or after 2020, the year the pandemic broke out, and only 40% in or after 2019. Some 2,370 buildings today have outstanding safety inspection notices issued in or before 2018.
420 notices still outstanding today were issued as far back as 2013, six months after the launch of MBIS on 30 June 2012, and have still not been prosecuted or otherwise pursued by BD. 620 notices were issued in 2014, including one to Mong Kok’s Po On Building, which saw two incidents of heavy concrete crashing onto the street last month.
At that time, FTU district councillor for Mong Kok West, Hui Tak-leung, echoed government excuses that building owners had been affected by the pandemic, without mentioning that Po On Building’s ignored mandatory inspection notice had been issued over five years before the Covid virus ever left Wuhan, and should legally have been wrapped up by December 2015.
According to the BD website, buildings are required to appoint consultants and inspect buildings within six months of the date of a statutory notice. Any prescribed repairs are then to be carried out within 12 months of the original notice. Buildings without an owners’ corporation are given a three month extension on inspection and repair.
Lawbreaking owners have escaped $40 billion in fines
Those who ignore statutory inspection notices risk a $50,000 fine and one year in jail, plus a $5,000 fine for each day the offence has continued. For those outstanding notices issued in 2013, this could today equate to almost $20 million in fines for each of 420 buildings issued with mandatory notices that year.
In fact, the 3,800 property owners with outstanding inspection notices have, collectively, escaped approximately $40 billion in fines through BD’s lack of enforcement, to date, assuming a mid-year issue for those notices.
In emails sent to Transit Jam today, BD continued to excuse building owners, claiming that some need “more time” to arrange mandatory inspections and repair work “due to their lack of financial means, technical knowledge and/or organisation ability.”
But these reasons do not fully add up. Documents seen at Po On Building in Mong Kok, for example, show the owners’ corporation holding over $780,000 in cash at the end of June 2023. As for technical expertise, the government offers buildings such as Po On Building around $60,000 in subsidies to help them hire qualified Registered Inspectors.
BD also continued to point at Covid as a major delaying issue, even while providing figures showing the long-toothed nature of many of the outstanding inspection orders. “[T]he epidemic situation had affected the progress of inspection and repair works, including lack of building materials, shortage of labour and refused or delayed entry by building owners,” said BD’s Information Unit.
“In some cases, some owners had notified BD that they were unable to organise owners meetings during the pandemic,” said BD.
BD says it will now “proactively provide support to building owners who are determined to comply with the MBIS notices early,” while threatening enforcement action and prosecutions “in a resolute manner” for those who still refuse to comply.
The government recently said it might step in and carry out urgent inspection and repairs on thousands of the most critical buildings, billing building owners later: that now appears to be a firm policy, at least for emergency cases, with BD announcing on its website that “[in] emergency or blatant cases, the Department will carry out any necessary repair works in the first instance and recover the costs from the owners concerned afterwards.”
But some have raised concerns that owners might not be able to pay the money back, while others, including the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, have said the government will need help for the momentous task of assessing and repairing thousands of old buildings.
BD did not answer questions on whether the Director of Buildings, Clarice Yu Po-mei, would resign over the concrete rain fiasco.
Yu has worked in Buildings Department since 1996, becoming Chief Building Surveyor in 2011, the year before MBIS was launched. She was promoted to Government Building Surveyor in 2017, Deputy Director of Buildings in August 2020 and Director of Buildings in November 2021.
*This article was written and published from the UK and as such does not fall under Hong Kong’s Newspaper Registration Ordinance*