Hong Kong to speed up on tougher laws to punish those who flout fire safety orders after fatal blaze in Kowloon

Authorities have also said five prosecutions were filed against owners in the past decade, with the charges related to obstruction of escape routes, failure to maintain fire fighting equipment and a lack of annual gear inspections.

“The fire at Jordan, I think it is a tragic incident that everybody tried to prevent it from further happening,” Lee told reporters before meeting with his top Executive Council advisers.

“We will be making our enforcement action procedure more efficient. We [will try] to shorten the duration of time that [is needed] for actual action to be taken against those who have not complied.”

New Lucky House was one of 9,578 buildings in Hong Kong that had failed to comply with fire safety notices as of last December.

The Buildings Department said more than 60 per cent of the orders it and the Fire Services Department had issued had not been observed.

Lee said authorities would also set priorities for prosecution, adding that buildings posing “quite immediate” fire or structural hazards would be marked as a top priority.

High priority would also be given to locations with “undesirable” conditions, he said.

Authorities would require “responsible” residents or owners to shoulder the cost of government efforts through the stricter penalties.

Damage to New Lucky House in Jordan. Photo: Jelly Tse

The government tabled amendments to the Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance last December, asking for the penalty for non-compliance with orders to be increased from a maximum of HK$50,000 (US$6,382) to HK$200,000. The amendments also sought further fines for every day the offences continued, ranging from HK$5,000 to HK$20,000.

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Under the proposals, the Fire Services Department and the Buildings Department will be allowed to carry out improvement works at locations where owners had failed to comply with orders, and recover the costs from them, with a surcharge of no more than 20 per cent when completed.

Lee said such measures would have the right deterrent effect to ensure that residents complied without delay.

“But it is important for all to note that ensuring buildings are maintained in a satisfactory condition, both in terms of reducing fire hazard or ensuring building safety, is the responsibility of the owner of the units,” he said.

Lee called on owners and corporations to seek help from the government if they encountered any difficulties in getting their buildings up to standard.

9,578 buildings have not complied with Hong Kong fire safety orders

New Lucky House is also home to about 100 subdivided flats and 35 registered guest houses. Lee was asked whether authorities planned to adjust policies for the latter.

He said current regulations sufficiently outlined safety considerations for guest houses, such as the number of exits required and how many people could stay at the premises before licences were issued to applicants.

“How can this be improved? Of course, the responsible authorities can listen to views,” he said.

The Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance, which came into force in 2007, mandates upgrades to about 13,500 buildings, including mixed-use and residential blocks built before 1987, to bring them into line with modern fire safety standards.

Lawmaker Edward Leung Hei of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said he believed the measures would be effective in deterring property owners from ignoring various government-issued orders, particularly those who could afford the repairs, but were unwilling to comply.

“We have seen previously that these property owners will be scared if they are given a penalty. If you do not penalise them, they would rather keep their money in their own pocket than pay for the necessary repairs,” he said.

Leung said authorities should also follow up on cases where owners’ associations were left with unfinished work or were scammed by unscrupulous fire safety engineering companies, noting he had received more than 10 such reports in the past three weeks.


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