Supplementary questions raised by the Hon Chan Yuen-han on enforcement action against unauthorised installation of air conditioners in public rental housing estates

Q.1 Which types of public rental housing buildings are not suitable for installing air-conditioners as far as their architectural designs are concerned? Please provide information on the year(s) of completion, distribution and district locations of such public rental housing buildings.

A.1 In general, all existing old and new public housing estates have proper locations for installing window-type air conditioners.

Q.2 How can the danger of gas explosion be avoided if air-conditioners are installed in PRH buildings mentioned in Question 1?

A.2 It should be safe if tenants install their air conditioners according to the Housing Department's specifications. Recently, there was some media coverage about the possibility of explosions caused by relocation of the compressor unit of the air conditioner close to the gas meter of the balcony in New Slab blocks. The Housing Department has therefore consulted the Gas Company which has confirmed that the emission from the compressor of the air conditioner would not affect the performance and safety of the gas meter provided that adequate ventilation is maintained by keeping the balcony open to fresh air. Tenants should keep a distance of least 150mm (6 inches), or place a fire-resisting partition between the compressor unit and the gas meter and avoid placing the exhaust outlet of the compressor unit directly in front of the gas meter. The Housing Department has already issued the aforesaid information and guidelines to the concerned tenants and tenant groups to strengthen their awareness of home safety.

Q.3 What are the reasons for the unavailability of space for the installation of air-conditioners in new public rental housing block types (such as the Harmony blocks), whereas space for the installation of air-conditioners was provided in the earlier generations of public rental housing estates (such as the Trident blocks)?

A.3 Please refer to the answer to question 1 above. All public rental housing blocks, including the Harmony blocks, have proper locations for installing window-type air conditioners.

Q.4 How will the Government ensure the safety of the installation of air-conditioners in public rental housing blocks mentioned in Question 1? Are there any concrete plans in place?

A.4 The Housing Department has all along been very concerned with the safety problem in the installation of air conditioners. Therefore, right from the time of signing up tenancy agreements, estate staff would explain in detail to tenants the need to seek information and prior approval from the estate office before installing any fixtures in their flats, including air conditioners. Such requirement is also clearly stipulated in the tenancy agreement. At present about 70% of the air conditioners in public housing estates are properly installed.

With the increasing popularity in the use of air-conditioners among tenants and upgrading of electricity loading in public housing estates in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of air conditioners installed. Correspondingly, the number of unauthorized air conditioners are also on the rise. These unauthorized air conditioners have posed potential hazards to passers-by (including the residents themselves). Moreover, a tenant is legally held liable for negligence in case his unauthorized air conditioner falls down and injures a third party. In view of the above, the Housing Authority, being a responsible landlord, considers that stringent enforcement action against persistent cases should be taken when the previous persuasion approach did not bring about the desired effect. A working group on enforcement action against unauthorized air conditioners was set up in 1996 to co-ordinate the enforcement action. A territory-wide publicity campaign was launched to inculcate a sense of public safety among tenants. The Housing Department plans to tackle the problem of unauthorized air-conditioners in three years' time. Please refer to Annex I for the implementation programme.

Q.5 The designs of Harmony blocks which are either under construction or newly completed have been altered to provide space for installing air-conditioners. What are the reasons for such an action? Does this indicate that there are potential defects in the design of the previous generation of the Harmony blocks?

A.5 The Housing Department has all along been striving to make continuous improvements to the quality of public housing. The different appearance of the Harmony block series due to differences in design does not mean that there are design defects in the earlier generation of Harmony blocks. The addition of air-conditioner hood in newly completed Harmony blocks and those under construction is only a design improvement to better meet tenants' needs. Nevertheless, tenants can install window-type air-conditioners in the approved window positions or air-conditioner hoods in all Harmony blocks, irrespective of their designs.

Q.6 Concerning the PRH blocks which are under construction or newly completed as mentioned in Question (5), please provide their respective numbers.

A.6 There are 182 completed Harmony blocks with provision of air-conditioner hoods and 70 blocks with such provisions are under construction.

Q.7 What are the contents of the guidelines for the installation of air-conditioners provided by the HD? How can tenants find out whether their air-conditioners are properly and safely installed?

A.7 The guidelines issued to tenants for the installation of air-conditioners include guidance pamphlets, application cum information form and approved drawings/installation methods. They are attached at Annex II to IV for reference.

To ensure that air-conditioners are properly and safely installed, tenants should formally apply through the estate office and obtain the relevant drawings and installation guidelines. They should also employ registered technicians to install and properly maintain their air-conditioners.

Annex I

A warning system has been adopted. Defaulting tenants will be asked to rectify the situation within a specified grace period. If the situation persists despite all warnings, Notice-to-quit (NTQ) will be issued to terminate the tenancy. The longest period for rectification would be five months after which NTQ will be issued terminating the tenancy by the end of the sixth month.

There was territory-wide publicity on this exercise prior to the implementation in April 1997. Given the smaller number of STAC cases and the greater danger posed by the condenser units which protrude outside the buildings, all STACs will be tackled in the first year. For those 101,000 WTAC cases, enforcement action will be phased over three years. Priority of action is broadly determined according to the block types, starting from the latest Harmony blocks and ending with the oldest Slab blocks. The three stages of implementation are broadly outlined as follows -

Timing Scope
(a) First Stage
(April 97 - March 98)
(a) All STAC cases irrespective of block types (14,693 cases)
(b)All WTAC cases in Harmony and Trident blocks, which involve less rectification works as many of these blocks are built with AC hoods (36,153 cases).
(b) Second Stage
(April 98 - April 99)
All block types built between 1974 - 1994 (35,347 cases)
(c) Final Stage
(May 99 - February 2000)
All block types built between 1957 -1988 (28,986 cases)

Based on the above broad principles, a detailed implementation programme has been worked out. A lower priority will be accorded to those cases in blocks to be redeveloped within three years, unless the installations pose immediate danger. Notwithstanding the above, IMMEDIATE action will be taken against any unauthorised installation which poses imminent danger to passers-by.