header banner

Hong Kong considers granting some leniency to homeowners who have small illegal structures

Hong Kong authorities to look at giving some leniency to owners with small illegal structures on homes in urban areas

Authorities will explore whether to exempt property owners in urban areas from having to immediately remove small illegal structures from their homes as part of a review of Hong Kong’s building laws, the development chief has revealed.

The proposed mechanism raised by Secretary for Development Bernadette Linn Hon-ho on Wednesday was previously adopted in 2011 in the New Territories amid rampant abuse of the Buildings Ordinance, with authorities regulating rather than ordering the immediate removal of small unauthorised structures on village houses.

Hong Kong may lower prosecution threshold for illegal structures, raise fines

Under the arrangement, homeowners had to declare any illegal small-scale additions, such as enclosed balconies and rooftop structures, to the government before the end of 2012. They also had to hire registered professionals to check the structures every five years until the authorities demanded their removal.


Secretary for Development Bernadette Linn disclosed the proposal on Wednesday. Photo: Edmond So

Linn said the government’s current priority was to rectify cases involving serious structural safety risks and nuisance.

“We have already classified some cases as not to be banned [in urban areas]. It doesn’t mean they are legal, we are just not taking immediate action because their scale is small,” Linn said.

She said that while the authorities would still send out advice or warning letters and deploy workers to follow up on them, they would explore if they could be more transparent by adopting the system that applied in the New Territories.

The issue came back into focus in September when a landslide exposed unauthorised structures at four seaside homes at the luxury Redhill Peninsula in Tai Tam.

The government inspected 85 other homes on the estate, with 70 suspected to have illegal structures and 40 of using government land without permission.

Hong Kong officials to seek warrants for entry to 3 homes at Redhill Peninsula

Following the Redhill saga, it was announced in the policy address last Wednesday that the government would review the Buildings Ordinance, including looking at lowering the prosecution threshold and increasing the maximum penalty.

Homeowners found to have unauthorised structures are currently only prosecuted if they fail to comply with removal orders issued by the government.

They face a maximum fine of HK$200,000 (US$25,575) and one year behind bars. They can also be fined HK$20,000 for each day they do not adhere to the order.


A mechanism was adopted in 2011 to deal with illegal structures on village houses. Photo: Sam Tsang

Veteran surveyor Vincent Ho Kui-yip said the government had to define “small-scale” unauthorised structures carefully.

“If the structures generate additional living space, it will not be appropriate to include them [in the proposed mechanism],” said Ho, chairman of the building policy panel at the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors. “The basic principle is to have no obvious safety risks.”

Ho cited an illegal canopy as an example, which could fall under the category if it did not pose any safety risks, but he stressed the government should aim to rectify all illegal structures in the city in the long run.

Suspected illegal structures found at 70 homes out of 85 at Hong Kong’s Redhill

Chan Kim-ching, founder of the Liber Research Community, an NGO focusing on land and development policy, said the government should demand a declaration for all illegal structures, regardless of their size.

“The government cannot solely focus on the small-scale ones and ignore basements,” Chan said.

“These basements and rooftop structures can increase the floor area and generate value for luxury houses.”


Rampant abuse of planning rules was recently uncovered at the luxury Redhill Peninsula. Photo: May Tse

Following a declaration, Chan said, authorities had to order owners to remove their illegal structures and take enforcement action against those who failed to notify the government before any deadline.

“The government should build a systematic mechanism and provide a timeline on its enforcement action.”

A decade ago, then development secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor sparked outrage among New Territories villagers with plans for a crackdown on illegal structures at their homes, in particular, those with extra floors above the three permitted.

After rounds of negotiations with rural chiefs, the administration focused on rectifying serious cases and homes with newly added unauthorised structures, while showing leniency over houses with small illegal structures by introducing the declaration system, with 18,000 applications recorded.

The ombudsman in February slammed the government’s progress as it could not stop homeowners from building illegal structures at village houses.

As of 2021, the Buildings Department had issued more than 5,300 removal orders over the past decade, with almost half directed at newly built structures and those under construction.



Article information

Author: Brandi White

Last Updated: 1700083922

Views: 622

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (99 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Brandi White

Birthday: 2020-09-03

Address: 4553 Velazquez Cliff, Ellisville, SC 17173

Phone: +4598704215146929

Job: Carpenter

Hobby: Beer Brewing, Rock Climbing, Reading, Gardening, Camping, Yoga, Raspberry Pi

Introduction: My name is Brandi White, I am a persistent, talented, fearless, frank, proficient, honest, rare person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.