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Legal Living: How to Identify Unauthorized Building Works

Posted: Jun 7 2016Last Updated: Jun 7 2016
Picture finding the house of your dreams after an intense home search, centrally located with a patio on a private, charming rooftop. An idyllic place to enjoy a BBQ and drinks with friends, high above Hong Kong’s noisy streets.
Out of the blue, you get a letter from the Hong Kong Government stating that the patio on the roof is considered to be an unauthorized building work and a building order has been issued with the instruction to reinstate it to its original condition or a modified acceptable state.  
To prevent situations like these alongside any associated stress and displeasure, it is worth questioning if there are any illegal structures in any apartments you are viewing. For a case such as the above, there may be hints pointing at potential building works. One should be wary if access to the private rooftop is through a staircase within the apartment, or if an apartment is on the podium level, whether an extra room or extension of the living area is found facing the terrace that does not appear as part of the property’s official saleable area.
These works can then be assessed thoroughly by studying an important document from Hong Kong’s Land Registry, the so called Land Search. This document contains the entire history of a property and also serves as proof of ownership. It should be presented and explained to you by your real estate agent before entering into a sales and purchase or tenancy agreement. If there are concerns, this should be further reviewed with your legal respresentative.
In case the land search shows a building order, the real estate agent can obtain the relevant document detailing all plans and circumstances. Modifications such as an enlarged window front, additions to a roof or flat roof, internal staircases, extensions of a room e.g. through an enclosed balcony, canopies, cocklofts, and even the construction of a pool inside a garden could be problematic if not authorized by the Building Authority.
There are fines applicable to the landlord/owner if the orders of the Building Authority are ignored. In some cases, the Building Authority will ask for the dismantling of a construction within a certain time frame. In other cases, they may ask for a modification and belatedly authorize the addition/construction/renovation.
A real estate agent can obtain the relevant documents and orders from the Building Authority and in many cases, the addition/modification to a property will be legal, with official documents on hand confirming approval. One does not need to be too alarmed about every unique construction as a result.
Should a tenant or purchaser knowingly enter into an agreement with an existing building order that has not been cleared or complied with, these circumstances should be included within the sales and purchase agreement or tenancy agreement, alongside any potential remedies and/or consequences.

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