Economic and management perspectives on control of illegal land uses in the leasehold system

Terence Yat Ming Lam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Illegal changes of use in aged industrial and residential buildings is now a prevalent problem in Hong Kong. This research aims to develop a strategy for an effective and efficient control of illegal land use in a highly dense environment, with high rise buildings in multiple leasehold ownerships.

Multiple cases were qualitatively analyzed, based on documentary analysis of the court proceedings.

In Cases 1 and 2, lease conditions for restriction to industrial purposes on aged industrial buildings were found to be obsolete and not economically viable, thus resulting in illegal conversion of the premises for commercial use. Cases 2 and 3 showed that ambiguity in user clauses in land leases could lead to illegal changes of use from industrial or residential to commercial activities. Most importantly, Cases 1 and 3 demonstrated that limited resources for lease enforcement are the fundamental cause of the problem. Cases 4 and 5 proved that property managers could take effective legal action against changes of use in buildings with multiple ownerships.

Research limitations/implications
The results of this study are derived from five typical cases in Hong Kong, but they form a baseline upon which further research can build to test their significance in many other settings. Ultimately, a more robust strategy can be developed for ensuring an effective and efficient control of illegal land uses in the leasehold system for Hong Kong and for those countries with a similar tenure system.

Practical implications
A total economic and management strategy should be implemented by the government. The land management system should work in partnership with private property managers which are empowered under the Deed of Mutual Covenant (DMC) of multiple occupied buildings to take instant action against individual owners for breaches of lease conditions. The system should also be more flexible to expand the scope of new uses for aged industrial premises, allow affordable premium for lease modifications, as well as review and clarify any ambiguous user clauses in the related land ordinances.

Social implications
The public should be educated that it is important to seek approvals and consents from the government prior to making any changes of land use. The government should also establish a housing policy to provide sufficient affordable housing for the lower income group so that illegal sub‐divisions on buildings for residential purposes can be eliminated.

The improvement measures identified can effectively enforce compliance with lease conditions, which in turn can reduce the enforcement transaction costs, ensure efficient allocation and use of land in the leasehold system, and maintain building safety.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Pages (from-to)179-191
Number of pages13
JournalProperty Management
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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