ACFEH Paper 59
For information on
23 March 2005
Advisory Council on Food and Environmental Hygiene
Joint Office on Water Seepage
This paper briefs Members on the establishment of a joint office (JO) on a pilot basis by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and the Buildings Department (BD), for handling public complaints on water seepage in private property.
2. Team Clean published its Report on Measures to Improve Environmental Hygiene in Hong Kong in August 2003. In the report, BD and FEHD have been tasked to examine the feasibility of setting up a JO to improve inter-departmental coordination in response to public complaints about water seepage1.
Water Seepage Problem
3. Water seepage is commonly caused by building defects such as damaged waterproofing membranes, leaking water pipes and defective drainage works. Moreover, the improper installation or use of sanitary fitments especially the shower tray would likely lead to intermittent seepage. Where water seepage occurs and seeps through a floor slab, it will often cause a nuisance to the flat below.
4. Building owners are responsible for maintaining their properties in good repair and should remedy any building defects causing water seepage while occupiers should discharge waste water in a proper manner. However, some flat owners and occupiers are unwilling or even uncooperative to take up their responsibilities; hence many aggrieved parties turn to the Government for assistance.
5. In attending to water seepage complaints, the Government��s role is to fulfill its statutory duties so as to safeguard the public interest. Under the current arrangement, FEHD, BD and the Water Supplies Department (WSD) may, under their respective jurisdiction, carry out water seepage investigation in stages. FEHD acts as the first contact point to receive and investigate all water seepage complaints from the public by conducting the ��colour dye test�� where applicable. If FEHD fails to identify the source of seepage, it will refer the case to BD and/or WSD as appropriate for further investigation. If BD and WSD could not identify any building defect or water wastage ��within their means�� - by visual examination and/or water flow test, the Government��s intervention will cease.
6. We consider that there is room for improvement in the existing arrangement, for example, the low success rate at FEHD��s application of ��colour dye test�� to detect the source of seepage, given that FEHD has no building maintenance expertise. Out of some 9,000 complaints received per year, FEHD could only identify the seepage source in around 2% to 3% of the cases investigated. Under the Inter-departmental Pilot Scheme implemented in 2001, BD, FEHD and WSD conducted joint site investigations in some selected 337 water seepage complaints with the cooperation of upper floor occupiers, and the scheme had achieved 21% success rate. However, such joint investigation by staff from three different departments entailed a lot of coordination work.
7. To improve inter-departmental co-ordination in response to water seepage complaints, Team Clean has proposed that BD and FEHD should examine the feasibility of setting up a JO. Team Clean has recommended that the JO should -
(a) have both the legal authority of FEHD and the building survey expertise of BD working in one team;
(b) outsource the water seepage investigation work to private sector surveying firms to relieve BD to focus on its other priority tasks;
(c) co-ordinate enforcement actions when the source of water seepage is identified by the surveying firm; and
(d) publish a set of comprehensive guidelines to assist the public in dealing with water seepage problems. The guidelines should cover the roles and responsibilities of flat owners, developers, building managers, relevant Government departments, and professionals who may be engaged to help. On the technical side, the guidelines will explain various paths of water seepage and the possible causes; possible detection or preventive measures; and common repair methods.
8. BD and FEHD have carefully considered Team Clean��s proposal and agreed to establish a small office on a trial basis in Shamshuipo, an old urban district with a large number of complaints. A review of the pilot scheme will be made 6 months after implementation. The review would shed light on how a more extensive JO could be operated. The pilot office is set up in Shamshuipo and has been operative since 31 December 2004 headed by a senior professional officer from BD. All inspecting staff are deployed from FEHD and BD respectively. Apart from handling water seepage complaints, the pilot office will also publish the guidelines as proposed by Team Clean. On the basis of Team Clean��s proposal, the pilot scheme is operated along the model described below:
(a) FEHD provides logistic support on the ground, including receiving complaints and providing assistance in gaining entry into premises for investigation where required. FEHD conducts initial vetting of complaints to screen out unjustified or non-actionable complaints and apply the ��colour dye test�� to identify the possible source of water seepage where applicable;
(b) if the result of colour dye test is negative, BD will make reference to FEHD��s report and conduct further investigation by using other testing methods as necessary to identify the source of seepage and determine the repair responsibility. The JO may consider outsourcing to private sector surveying firms to undertake the investigation work on a need basis (see also para. 9 below); and
(c) professional staff from BD including the Head of JO have delegated powers under sections 126 and 127 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (PH&MSO) and sections 24, 26 and 28 of the Buildings Ordinance (BO) to discharge their duties. For cases with building safety concern or drainage defects seriously affecting the overall drainage system of a building, BD will institute enforcement under the BO. If the seepage is considered not actionable under the BO, FEHD will exercise its power under the PH&MSO where applicable. The JO may refer cases to relevant Government departments or non-governmental organisations for assistance, and co-ordinate their efforts to deal with such complaints.
9. As mentioned in para. 4 above, it should be the owners�� responsibility to maintain their buildings in a good condition, and to remedy any defects arising from the water seepage problem. Hence, it would be reasonable to expect that the costs incurred for necessary investigation and rectification works in relation to water seepage should be borne by the building owners. Under the proposed pilot scheme, professional staff from BD will undertake the further investigation as required when the result of the colour dye test by FEHD is negative in an endeavour to enhance the success rate in identifying the source of seepage. Engagement of private surveying firms for detailed investigations using sophisticated methods/instruments will be on a case by case basis rather than a standard practice. The review on the pilot project will evaluate the practicality and the effectiveness of the JO model including whether and if so, the extent to which the Government should bear the cost of more in-depth investigations to detect the source of water seepage.
10. The pilot project represents a pragmatic approach to start addressing this long standing problem. We will build on the experience gained in the pilot district with a view to examining the feasibility to extend the service of the JO to all districts. At the same time, the Government will explore other long-term measures. As water seepage is basically a building management and maintenance issue, we will explore the feasibility of adopting a tribunal approach to adjudicate owner��s disputes arising from water seepage in private property. We will draw reference to the model adopted in Singapore, namely the Strata Titles Board (STB), which can effectively settle water seepage disputes among the flat owners in a speedy and affordable manner.
Food and Environmental Hygiene Department
1 Paras 4.82 to 4.91 of the Team Clean Report on Measures to Improve Environmental Hygiene in Hong Kong