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Following is a question by the Ir Dr Hon Lo Wai-kwok and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, in the Legislative Council on December 18:
Currently, the Joint Office (JO) set up by the Buildings Department and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department is responsible for handling cases of inter-floor water seepage in buildings as well as coordinating investigations into and law enforcement actions about the relevant complaints. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the number of water seepage complaints received by JO this year to date, and how this figure compares with those of the past three years; of the respective numbers of cases concluded and those with the sources of water seepage established by JO, as well as the respective numbers of cases in which JO applied to the court for warrants for entry into premises and issued Nuisance Notices, in each of the past three years;
(b) given that the processing of water seepage complaints entails the use of public resources, whether the authorities have any specific measure to prevent abuse of the complaint mechanism and eradicate false reports; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(c) as some professionals have pointed out to me that under certain circumstances, wrong conclusions on the sources of water seepage would be derived from the colour water tests currently adopted by JO, and that JO is exploring more effective methods for water seepage investigations and has recently commissioned a consultancy to pilot other testing equipment, of the preliminary outcome of such efforts; whether the Government has drawn up any timetable for the introduction of other testing methods or equipment to investigate the sources of water seepage; if no timetable is available, of the reasons for that?
While the management, maintenance and repair of buildings are the responsibilities of property owners, they are also responsible for resolving any inter-floor water seepage problems. Hence, if water seepage is found inside a private property, the owner should first investigate the cause and, as appropriate, co-ordinate with the occupants and other owners concerned for repairs.
However, where the water seepage poses a health nuisance, a risk to the structural safety of a building or wastage of water, the Government would intervene and handle the case in accordance with the powers conferred by the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (PHMSO) (Cap 132), Buildings Ordinance (BO) (Cap 123) or Waterworks Ordinance (WO) (Cap 102) respectively. The Joint Office (JO), currently set up with staff of the Buildings Department (BD) and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, is tasked to tackle reports on water seepage through a “one-stop shop” approach. Where it is established that the water seepage constitutes a health nuisance, the JO will issue a Nuisance Notice under the relevant provisions of the PHMSO, directing the party concerned to abate the seepage nuisance. If necessary, the case will be referred to the BD or the Water Supplies Department (WSD) for appropriate follow-up action, including the handling of dangerous buildings by the BD in accordance with the BO, and the handling of wastage of water by the WSD in accordance with the relevant provisions of the WO requiring the occupant concerned to carry out repairs.
My reply to the three-part question is as follows:
(a) Between January 1 and September 30, 2013, the JO received a total
of 22 802 reports on water seepage. As for the past three years (i.e. 2010, 2011 and 2012), the JO received 25 717, 23 660 and 27 353 reports on water seepage respectively. The statistics for the past three years as requested in the question is tabulated in the Annex.
(b) Upon receipt of reports on water seepage in buildings, JO staff will first ascertain the seepage condition and screen out those cases not involving health nuisance and hence do not fall within the scope of follow-up action under the statutory authority of the JO, as well as the unjustified cases or cases with water seepage ceased or cases withdrawn by the informants during the course of investigation. For cases categorised to be non-actionable, the JO will not conduct further investigation. Given that the screened out cases amount to about 50% of the number of water seepage reports received in each year, we consider that the current measures have been effective in eradicating false reports or preventing abuse of the complaint mechanism.
As I pointed out earlier, owners are responsible for handling building management and maintenance issues, including, as appropriate, co-ordination with other occupants and owners concerned for resolving problems of water seepage in buildings. Government could intervene in water seepage cases only if statutory authority may be exercised under the relevant legislation. Since its establishment, the number of reports on water seepage received by the JO has continually been on the rise. The number of reports received each year rose from 17 405 in 2007 (the first full year of the JO’s establishment) to 27 353 in 2012, representing an increase of 57% over six years. This phenomenon not only indicates more water seepage cases reported to the JO by the public, but also reflects that water seepage problems are getting more common as existing buildings age in the course of time. In light of this, the JO would strive to enhance the effectiveness of water seepage investigations on the one hand, and to foster owners’ awareness of building maintenance, repair and management through publicity and public education on the other with a view to handling water seepage problems more effectively through different approaches.
(c) There are many different reasons causing water seepage in buildings. Having regard to the circumstances of individual cases, the JO will adopt appropriate non-destructive tests to ascertain the source of water seepage, including moisture content monitoring, colour water test, ponding test for floor slabs, water spray test for walls and reversible pressure test for water supply pipes, etc., which are effective testing methods widely adopted by the industry. Apart from visual inspection, JO staff will, as appropriate, conduct various kinds of investigations and tests with the aid of different equipment, such as moisture meter, ultraviolet torch and fluorescence-enhancing glasses. If necessary, JO staff will collect plaster or seepage samples of the seepage spots for analysis by the Government Laboratory.
To further enhance the effectiveness of the JO’s investigations, identification of other suitable methods and equipment for investigation of source of seepage is one of the on-going measures of the JO. The JO, with the assistance of the Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute, is exploring the feasibility of tracing the source of water seepage through real-time monitoring of the water consumption and variation in the moisture content of the seepage spot in the premises suspected to be the source of water seepage. The JO is aware that there is a number of testing equipment available at the market, such as infrared camera and microwave tomography scanning device, which can ascertain the variation in the moisture content of seepage spot. The JO has recently tried to apply the said equipment for infrared imaging and microwave 3-D moisture modeling in an attempt to facilitate identification of seepage source in more complicated water seepage cases.