Larvotto, The Arch residents unhappy with response to window falls

This article was published in the South China Morning Post on October 24, 2012.

Residents living in fear of breaking windows in two luxury high-rise apartment complexes say the Buildings Department and developers have ignored their concerns about safety and depreciating property values.

In Ap Lei Chau’s Larvotto complex – where 34 glass planes have cracked and, say residents, three have fallen out since last year – frustrated residents have formed a committee to put pressure on the developer to take action.

Those in The Arch, a luxury estate above Kowloon Station, say they asked the Buildings Department to inspect the windows.

“The government has been slow to respond, so several of us have been trying to speak to experts and lawyers to try to find out which party is liable for the problem,” said a member of the committee formed at Larvotto.

Residents have been provided with little information by the Buildings Department on the action it proposed to take, while the project’s developer, a company called Cheerjoy Development, had not been helpful, either.

Cheerjoy Development is a joint venture of Sun Hung Kai Properties, Kerry Properties and Paliburg Holdings. Kerry Properties is part of the Kerry Group, the controlling shareholder of the SCMP Group, which publishes the South China Morning Post. Sun Hung Kai Properties is the project manager of the Larvotto.

“Another window shattered today, but didn’t fall out,” a Larvotto resident told the South China Morning Post last week, adding: “We do feel that it’s being swept under the carpet.”

Committee members had been e-mailing each other to discuss concerns since the first glass pane fell from a 31st floor window on October 3. Many residents said they had yet to be officially contacted, although last week the management put up notices in all the towers. Residents complained the management company’s response was “slow and evasive” and that several tenants had refused to pay rent.

“The very least they could do is speed up the inspection process. Another window just fell [last Thursday]. Are they waiting until someone gets killed?” said a resident.

The project manager says only one window pane has fallen out.

At The Arch, developed by Sun Hung Kai Properties, owners are worried about their criminal liability if the falling glass causes injuries. They are also concerned about the impact on the resale value of their apartments.

“It is unacceptable that the replacement of all tempered glass will take more than five years. It’s almost a time span to redevelop a building. We could be put in jail if there are casualties,” a resident said.

The installation of safety nets to protect pedestrians has also upset some residents, who say the measure is an eyesore that depreciates their property.

A high-floor flat at the Larvotto can sell for over HK$17,000 per square foot, while prices at The Arch can top HK$30,000 per square foot.

David Runciman, the chairman of a committee representing The Arch’s flat owners, said he would do his best to convince owners that “safety should be paramount in this case”.

Runciman also criticised the Buildings Department for its “absolutely pathetic” response after his committee requested an inspection five months ago.

In a letter, the department said there was “no imminent danger” posed by The Arch’s windows and that “authorised persons” had certified in 2005 that the building had been erected in accordance with the plans approved by the department.

“They just washed their hands and left the responsibility to authorised persons … They should examine the whole issue thoroughly,” Runciman said.

A spokeswoman for Cheerjoy Development said it was negotiating with Larvotto’s residents for an extension of warranty of the building’s windows. She said 34 breakages was not serious given there were 40,000 tempered glass panes in the complex.

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