The government is looking into new measures to crack down on illegal residential units in industrial buildings, such as making the operation of such units a criminal offence, Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po has said.

Another proposed measure involves increasing the powers of Buildings Department officers to speed up the process for them to enter units suspected to be in illegal use in order to gather evidence.

Chan said in a blog post published on Sunday that the officers often encountered difficulties during such checks, as the property owners or tenants refused to cooperate.

fire industrial building
A third-alarm fire in an industrial building that injured two teenage siblings.

Chan’s blog post followed a decision last Friday to introduce new measures targeting cases of land lease violations at six industrial buildings, after a deadly fire in a Ngau Tau Kok industrial building took the lives of two firefighters and another recent fire in a Cheung Sha Wan industrial building injuring two teenage siblings.

Large scale operation

According to Chan, the Buildings Department has been carrying out large scale law enforcement action since 2012, and has examined 99 targeted industrial buildings and has issued 131 removal orders and discontinuance orders as of May.

He said that, in light of fire safety risks, operators of illegal units must change their attitude.

“They should not find excuses in cutting costs, and try to whitewash their way of operation that ignores the safety of other citizens – especially children,” Chan wrote. “The residents in the industrial buildings face extremely high fire safety risks – it is a matter of life and death, we cannot compromise, it must be strictly banned.”

paul chan
Paul Chan Mo-po. File

Industrial building leases specify that the space can only be used for industrial or warehouse purposes.

Some operated the units using companies. Chan said the government is studying how to make the directors of such companies bear criminal responsibility.

The Lands Department is looking into stricter action on land lease breaches, Chan added, including the taking back of units.

The development minister said the government’s plan was to propose relevant changes to law during the next legislative session – between October and next July. Chan also said the phenomenon of people living in industrial buildings was ultimately caused by the lack of housing supply, and the government will work hard to increase the supply.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.