Public consultation on proposed amendments to the Fire Safety (Buildings) Ordinance (Cap. 572) to enhance fire safety standards of old buildings
Prioritization of default works and potential disputes
Mr CHAN Chun-ying enquired about the mechanism to prioritize default works. Given that fire safety improvement works would involve various feasible proposals and works arrangements, there were concerns over potential disputes arising from default works, such as the selection of final works proposals and works quality. The Administration advised that the best way to conduct the required improvement works was that owners and occupiers carried out such works on their own initiative. Regarding default works, it planned to expand the terms of reference of the two existing statutory advisory committees established under FS(B)O, which comprised experts in building management and fire safety, to give technical advice to EAs on the proposals of default works in more controversial cases. To prioritize default works, the terms of reference of the above committees would be further expanded so that they could give advice on the criteria for prioritization of default works. Apart from making reference to the above advice, relevant EAs would consider a basket of factors, such as the duration of non-compliance, the progress of establishing OCs, owners’ willingness to undertake outstanding works and other factors such as whether the building was of single-staircase, and the presence of non-emergency services within the exit staircase. Regarding works quality, the public may make reference to the information on the Fire Services Department’s website on disciplinary actions against registered fire service installation contractors and payments for default works would be settled by instalments.
Financial burden and support to owners
Noting that subsidy granted under FSWS could not be used to pay any surcharge, Mr CHAN Chun-ying considered that the proposed surcharge for default works, which amounted up to a maximum of 20% of the cost due, was on the high side. They enquired about the mechanisms for ensuring settlement and managing bad debts arising from default works. The Administration said that the rate of the surcharge proposed for default works was the same as that of the similar mechanism under BO. It maintained that it was the responsibility of owners to timely repair and properly maintain private buildings and surcharges were imposed to prevent potential abuse of the default works mechanism. With reference to the existing mechanism under BO, it might reduce or waive surcharges for special cases, such as genuine difficulties encountered by owners who were old, infirm or with disability. On outstanding payments, while legal actions might be taken through the Small Claims Tribunal as a last resort, it would register the first charge against the title of the property concerned in the Land Registry in view of the arrears, as provided for in the proposal to the effect that the costs due could be recovered from the new owner in case the property was sold. This arrangement could alleviate the immediate financial burden on owners with genuine financial difficulty.
Public consultation and publicity
Members in general were supportive to the proposed amendments to FS(B)O. Mr CHAN Chun-ying suggested that the Home Affairs Department be engaged in relevant publicity and owners and occupiers who might be directly affected by the proposal be consulted, on top of professional bodies.