Redhill Peninsula exposed: Century’s worst rainstorm reveals widespread illegal constructions and land encroachments in 85 coastal villas

2618

22nd September 2023 – (Hong Kong) The recent torrential rainstorm has unveiled a hidden truth about the luxurious Redhill Peninsula, now dubbed the “enclave of illegal constructions.” Today (22nd), the Buildings Department and Lands Department launched a large-scale joint operation, focusing on addressing the issue of 85 coastal villas in the area. Preliminary investigations indicate that around 70 of these villas are suspected of illegal constructions, with approximately 40 of them also suspected of encroaching upon government land, accounting for alarming rates of 82% and 47% respectively.

It is worth noting that the aforementioned 85 coastal villas do not include four independent houses within the scope of the recent landslides. House numbers 70, 72, 74, and 76 all face severe cases of illegal construction, with three of them unlawfully occupying government land. The Buildings Department and Lands Department have issued demolition orders, requiring the completion of dismantling works within 150 days. Failure to comply with the orders could result in a maximum sentence of one-year imprisonment for the owners.

A government spokesperson stated that the Buildings Department and Lands Department simultaneously launched a large-scale joint operation today, aiming to crackdown on illegal constructions and encroachments upon government land in the coastal villas of Redhill Peninsula.

Regarding the earlier landslides on government slopes in the coastal direction of Redhill Peninsula, emergency slope repair works by government contractors are nearing completion. The spokesperson revealed that the four independent houses affected by the incident (house numbers 70, 72, 74, and 76) all have serious cases of illegal construction. Following investigations, the Buildings Department has issued demolition orders to the respective property owners under the Buildings Ordinance. These orders demand the removal of unauthorized buildings on private premises and land. Owners are required to appoint registered architects to submit repair proposals, including assessments of the impact of the illegal construction works on the overall slope and building structures. They must also obtain approval from the Buildings Department and carry out repairs based on the approved plans for the affected areas of the buildings.

The repair works must commence within 90 days from the date of the order (today) and be completed within 150 days. The Buildings Department will also serve the orders to the Land Registry for registration in the property ownership records.

According to the spokesperson, among the four standalone houses, three of them are suspected of illegally occupying government land, namely House No. 70, House No. 72, and House No. 74. The Lands Department has issued notices to the relevant property owners today under the Land (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance, ordering the occupants to dismantle the structures on government land and cease the occupation. As the occupied area involves government slopes, the Lands Department has requested the parties involved to submit a dismantling plan for government approval within 30 days of the notice’s issuance, ensuring that the works do not compromise the safety and stability of the slopes. The dismantling works must be completed within 150 days of the notice’s issuance.

The spokesperson emphasised that the issuance of the demolition orders and the notices to cease occupation on government land are current actions. The government is still gathering and organizing evidence and does not rule out further investigative actions, including prosecution of the individuals involved in the aforementioned cases, such as property owners, professionals involved in illegal construction works, and contractors, after seeking legal advice.

With regards to the standalone houses located on slopes and near the coastline, recent incidents have clearly demonstrated that illegal basement construction, damaged retaining walls, or unauthorized additional floors can jeopardise slope stability and pose significant risks to building structures. Therefore, following a risk-based approach, the two departments will focus on prioritizing the handling of the 85 standalone houses in that area, excluding the four standalone houses mentioned earlier.

Among the approximately 70 houses, there are preliminary suspicions of illegal construction, accounting for an 82% rate of illegal construction. Additionally, around 40 houses are preliminarily suspected of illegal occupation of government land, resulting in a rate of 47%. If we include the four standalone houses affected by mudslides, there would be a total of 74 confirmed or suspected cases of illegal construction and approximately 43 confirmed or suspected cases of illegal occupation of government land, bringing the rates to 83% and 48%, respectively.

Owners who refuse to comply with the demolition orders can face prosecution. The Buildings Department can initiate prosecutions, and upon conviction, the maximum penalties include a fine of up to HK$200,000 and imprisonment for one year. For each day the offence persists, an additional fine of HK$20,000 can be imposed. Individuals who fail to dismantle the government land structures or continue to occupy government land without reasonable justification, as specified in the Lands Department’s notice, can face prosecution. For a first conviction, the maximum fine is HK$500,000 and imprisonment for six months, with an additional fine of HK$50,000 for each day the offence persists. Subsequent convictions can result in a maximum fine of HK$1 million and imprisonment for six months, with an additional fine of HK$100,000 for each day the offence persists.

The spokesperson stated that property owners are responsible for bearing the costs of demolishing illegal structures and other structures occupying government land. If investigations confirm that the illegal construction works are related to the damage of government slopes, the government will seek to recover the expenses for slope repairs from the individuals involved.

The Buildings Department and Lands Department have launched a large-scale joint operation, conducting phased inspections of suspected non-compliant standalone houses and cracking down on cases of illegal construction or unauthorised occupation of government land. If necessary, the government will apply for court orders and exercise its powers under the law to allow the two departments to enter premises to conduct inspections and gather evidence. The spokesperson mentioned that, to avoid any impact on the subsequent prosecution work, the government will not disclose detailed information or investigation details of individual cases at this stage.

The Development Bureau has also sent a letter today to industry organisations involved in property transactions, including the Estate Agents Authority, the Hong Kong Association of Banks, and the Law Society of Hong Kong. The letter reminds these professionals to remain vigilant and provide accurate information to clients regarding compliance with regulations. If there are any suspicions, clients should be advised to seek advice from professionals to avoid unnecessary risks and legal responsibilities. Additionally, the government reminds citizens to exercise caution and clarify the status of properties when making purchases to avoid legal liabilities and potential losses.