Hong Kong recently experienced bad weather, being hit by a powerful typhoon and experiencing a record rainstorm. But for some, it never rains, it pours.

The owners of three luxury clifftop homes in the exclusive Redhill Peninsula area of ​​Tai Tam suffered damage to their properties when the deluge caused a landslide. Villas were left perched on the edge of the abyss.

But this was just the beginning of their problems. The landslide revealed that the three properties housed illegal buildings and illegally occupied government land. Now, they face legal action and potentially a huge bill to repair the slope.

This case has sparked a different kind of storm. These three homes are not isolated cases. The Liber Research Community group says it has identified 173 luxury properties in the city that have encroached on government land without permission.

CEO Jun Lee Ka-chiu has promised to take the issue seriously. Development Minister Bernadette Lin Hun Ho said yesterday that detached sea-view homes on the slopes would be targeted. Other homes on the Redhill Peninsula are under scrutiny as well as those in other parts of the city.

Many will gloat over the predicament of these wealthy people with multi-million dollar mansions. One minute they’re swimming in an illegal infinity pool, the next the ground is literally falling out from under their feet. But government pledges to crack down on illegal structures will raise eyebrows among long-term residents. They’ve heard it all before.

What illegal buildings were found in Hong Kong’s posh Redhill Peninsula area?

The discovery in 2012 of an unlicensed 2,300-square-foot “underground palace” in the home of then-CEO candidate Henry Tang Ying-yen sparked public outrage. Illegal structures were subsequently found in the homes of lawmakers, businessmen and celebrities. Promises were made to fix the problem. But in 2018, unauthorized works were found at the home of then Justice Minister Theresa Cheng Yuk Wah.

Illegal buildings are a feature of many homes in Hong Kong, from luxury villas to humble village homes. A subsequent study of Building Department records in 2018 indicated that at least one in four properties had unapproved features. No wonder he emphasizes the practical approach to me.

Over the years, some progress has been made. But there is much more to be done. Addressing this problem will require a more proactive approach and political will.

It’s not hard to understand why homeowners would risk enhancing their homes with illegal features ranging from enclosing porches to adding stairs, deck structures, gardens, and swimming pools.

Real estate in Hong Kong is extraordinarily expensive. Upgrading your home is much cheaper than purchasing a larger home. Non-statutory features, rather than detracting from a property’s appeal, increase its value. The responsibility can be passed on to the buyers, who often don’t mind.

Part of the problem is that playing by the rules takes a long time. Many homeowners can’t be bothered. Improvements to the planning permission process are needed to better define the rules and make them more efficient.

A concerned group in Hong Kong finds 173 luxury homes occupying government land

Implementation is weak. Conducting inspections and collecting evidence requires entering people’s homes and thus adhering to legal procedures. Prosecutions are limited and penalties are too low to serve as a deterrent. Tang’s wife, Lisa Kuo Yu Chen, was fined HK$110,000, and Cheng’s husband, Otto Boon Lok, was fined HK$20,000.

But the problem must be solved. As the recent landslide showed, the construction of unlicensed buildings and illegal occupation of government land can endanger public safety.

The apparent contempt for the law shown by some luxury homeowners in making their luxury properties grander is unacceptable at a time when Hong Kong faces a shortage of land for affordable housing, with many living in small sub-divided apartments.

The government reclaims part of the Hong Kong Golf Club for public houses. If only she could, instead, build in the vast illegal gardens and basements of wayward villa owners! Now that would be a deterrent.

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