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Following is a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, to a question by the Dr Hon Priscilla Leung in the Legislative Council on March 19:
The Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance stipulates that the fire safety of composite and domestic buildings constructed on or before March 1, 1987 must be enhanced to better meet the requirements of the day. The Fire Services Department and the Buildings Department issue Fire Safety Directions (Directions) to owners and/or occupiers with regard to fire service installations and fire safety constructions in those buildings, with a view to enhancing the basic fire protection measures in those buildings. Quite a number of owners and residents of old buildings in Mong Kok (including Fa Yuen Street) have relayed to me that they have recently received one after another the Directions issued by the authorities. However, as the buildings in which they live do not have owners’ corporations (OCs) or any other residents’ organisations and are not managed by property management companies (i.e. the so-called “three-nil buildings”), and coupled with most of the residents being the indigent elderly, they have the will but lack the ability to co-ordinate the improvement works required for complying with the Directions. Some owners and residents have been fined $700 per household for failing to comply with the Directions. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) given that as they are unable to form OCs despite the co-ordination efforts of the authorities, the owners of some three-nil buildings have all along not complied with the Directions, and they have been fined repeatedly for this, whether the authorities will consider exercising discretion in handling such cases, including suspending the Directions concerned as well as allowing them more time and providing them with appropriate assistance to facilitate their compliance with the Directions; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) as the authorities have indicated that they will consider accepting alternative proposals made by owners when there are technical difficulties for individual buildings to comply with the Directions, whether such a flexible approach is applicable to three-nil buildings; if it is, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) whether the authorities will consider assisting, through other means, the owners of three-nil buildings, who have all along been unable to form their OCs, in complying with the Directions, e.g. by the authorities co-ordinating the required improvement works and afterwards recovering the advanced payments for such works from the owners concerned; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
The Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance (Cap. 572) (the Ordinance) came into operation on July 1, 2007. The Ordinance stipulates that the fire safety of composite and domestic buildings constructed on or before March 1, 1987 should be enhanced to better meet the requirements of today. There are notable differences between the fire safety requirements at the time of the construction of those old buildings and the standards nowadays. For instance, the commercial portions of the composite buildings were not required by law at that time to install automatic sprinkler systems. Enhancements are therefore necessary.
The Fire Services Department (FSD) and the Buildings Department (BD) will issue Fire Safety Directions (FS Directions) to owners and/or occupiers with regard to fire service installations and fire safety constructions in those buildings, with a view to enhancing their basic fire protection measures. BD is the enforcement department for fire safety measures on the planning, design and construction of buildings, while the regulation of fire service installations and equipment falls under the purview of FSD.
The Administration’s reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:
(1) FSD and BD normally give building owners one year to comply with the FS Directions. The departments will, without compromising basic fire safety, adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach in handling individual cases. If the owners need more time to prepare for and carry out the improvement works for reasons that involve the formation of an owners’ corporation (OC), etc., the departments will consider their applications for extending the compliance period of FS Directions in a reasonable manner in the light of the justifications provided in their applications and/or the scale of works involved. As at end-January 2014, among some 130 000 FS Directions issued by the two departments, about 25% had been complied with. Of some 98 000 FS Directions that have not been complied with, about 80% had been given an extension of one to five years, and about 20% had not reached their deadlines.
The enforcement departments are prepared to meet with the owners or the authorised persons whom they have engaged to explain the requirements of fire safety improvement works in the FS Directions and to assist them in solving potential problems associated with the works. The departments will also refer those buildings without OCs to the respective District Offices, which will assist them in establishing OCs so that the co-ordination of improvement works would be carried out more smoothly.
According to our understanding from the Home Affairs Department (HAD), they have strengthened efforts to provide assistance to old buildings, particularly those known as “three-nil” buildings. HAD launched the Building Management Professional Advisory Service Scheme (Service Scheme) in 2011, under which professional property management companies were commissioned to provide free professional advisory services on building management and safety to owners of 1 200 “three-nil” buildings. Those services included household visits as well as assistance in liaising with and organising owners for the setting up of OCs and in applying for various building maintenance financial assistance and loan schemes to help them commence the building maintenance works. As the Service Scheme has been well received, HAD will launch a new round of the Service Scheme in April this year to support and assist another 1 200 “three-nil” buildings.
For those “three-nil buildings” where OCs are yet to be formed due to various reasons, HAD has also launched the Resident Liaison Ambassador (RLA) Scheme to recruit owners or residents of those buildings as ambassadors. In addition to lining up the owners and residents to handle daily building management work, the ambassadors also act as the point of contact between the Government and the owners/residents. So far, nearly 900 ambassadors have been recruited from some 500 “three-nil buildings”. In the long run, HAD will continue to promote the establishment of OCs in such buildings through the RLA network.
If owners fail to comply with the FS Directions within a reasonable period or provide sufficient justifications to support the application for a time extension, the departments do have the responsibility to take enforcement actions under the Ordinance to ensure the fire safety of old buildings. The circumstances of each case, including follow-up actions taken by individual owners on the FS Directions, will be considered before prosecution action is initiated.
(2) The enforcement departments are aware that individual buildings might not be able to fully comply with the requirements due to structural or spatial constraints. Under such special circumstances, the departments will, taking into account circumstances of individual cases and the information submitted by authorised persons, deal with some of the requirements in a reasonable and flexible manner or consider accepting the alternatives put forward by the building owners in relation to the execution of the FS Directions. For example, if there are spatial constraints in the installation of a hose reel system and/or a water tank, the departments will consider allowing the installation of an improvised hose reel system (Note) in the concerned buildings. If owners of “three-nil” buildings and those of other buildings come across the above situations, they may consider providing justifications to the departments concerned for applying for such exemptions or putting forward alternative proposals.
(3) As mentioned above, FSD and BD are prepared to meet with owners or the authorised persons engaged to explain the requirements of the FS Directions and assist them in solving potential problems associated with the works. HAD will also continue to implement the afore-mentioned measures targeting at “three-nil buildings”. BD, the Hong Kong Housing Society and the Urban Renewal Authority have been running financial assistance schemes to assist owners of private buildings to maintain and repair their buildings, including the Building Safety Loan Scheme, Integrated Building Maintenance Assistance Scheme and Building Maintenance Grant Scheme for Elderly Owners. Fire safety improvement works pertaining to the Ordinance have been incorporated into the list of works eligible for subsidies or loans under these schemes.
There is no provision in the Ordinance empowering the enforcement authorities to carry out upgrading works on fire service installations and equipment of the target buildings and then to recover costs from the parties concerned upon completion of works. The aim of carrying out such works is to enhance the fire safety of target buildings to modern standards, but it does not mean that those buildings have imminent or obvious fire hazards. In fact, owners/occupiers of the buildings should deliberate on feasible proposals and work arrangements and reach consensus on implementing such fire safety works, e.g. locations where the facilities should be installed. It is not appropriate for the enforcement authorities to make unilateral decisions for them. FSD and BD will, from time to time, review their flexible and pragmatic measures and the circumstances under which flexible handling of the requirements can be considered, with a view to assisting those buildings in genuine need to comply with the requirements set out in the FS Directions without compromising basic fire safety.
Note: An improvised hose reel system includes a hose reel water tank with less than 2 000 litre capacity, a hose reel drum installed at a higher position and a hose reel of reduced length.