The government has inspected around a hundred industrial buildings that contained subdivided flats, issued over 160 removal orders and discontinuance orders and prosecuted 29 cases, said Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po.
Of the 29 cases, 26 were ruled as illegal by the courts. But fines issued to owners and operators of the flats are only in the tens of thousands of Hong Kong dollars, and none of the defendants were given jail sentences.
“We think the legal punishment can be increased,” Chan said on a DBC radio programme on Wednesday.
He said that people were not supposed to live in industrial buildings, and restated the government’s position that it is considering making the operation of such residential units a criminal offence.
Some operated the units through companies. Chan said the government is looking into how to make the directors of such companies bear criminal responsibility.
The government is also looking into taking back whole buildings if such activity is found.
Chan was also asked about reports that he and his relatives operated subdivided flats in the past.
“I have said many times in the past that such an accusation is very serious – I hope people will not make false accusations against me,” he said.
Investigation into subdivided flats in industrial buildings started after a deadly fire in a Ngau Tau Kok industrial building took the lives of two firefighters and after another fire in a Cheung Sha Wan industrial building injured two teenage siblings.
The new measures targeted land lease violations at six industrial buildings. The government ordered the units to be returned to their original industrial uses before August 27.