Taipei and New Taipei plan to demolish 290,000 illegal structures

After recent fire deaths in rooftop apartments, Mayor Ko announces 290,000 illegal structures are to be torn down

Countless illegal additions on the roofs of buildings in Taipei. (By Central News Agency)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- In the wake of 10 deaths from fires in illegal rooftop dwellings within two weeks in New Taipei and Taipei, and the death of 19 from a fire in a ramshackle apartment in Beijing on Nov. 19, governments of the two Taiwanese cities are pledging to tear down 290,000 illegal structures, reported China Times

Similar to a decision by Beijing to demolish illegal construction throughout the city after the apartment fire, Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) announced yesterday that after a fire in New Taipei's Zhonghe District killed nine and a fire on Taipei's Bade Road killed one person, he is planning to rescind an order issued by former Taipei Mayor Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in the 1990s that halted government demolition of illegal structures.

On Dec. 31, 1994, then Taipei Mayor Chen Shui-bian issued the "amnesty order on illegal construction"  (違建特赦令) halting demolition of 70,000 illegal structures in the city. Current Taipei Mayor Ko yesterday announced he will rescind this nearly 23-year-old order, thereby enabling authorities to dismantle both existing and new illegal structures in Taipei. 

According to data provided by the Ministry of the Interior's Construction and Planning Agency, as of October of this year, Taiwan has a total of 667,000 illegal structures, with New Taipei City having the largest number at 192,000. Combined with Taipei's 98,000 illegal additions, the total for the two northern Taiwanese metropolises adds up to 290,000.


Rooftop additions. (CNA Image)

Much of this illegal construction in Taiwan takes the form of illegal rooftop additions Jerry-rigged from scrap materials placed precariously on top of a four story building to make a flimsy "fifth floor." These rooftops are often rented out by the owners of the floor below, but despite their cheap price, they are considered undesirable as they are sweltering in the summer, drafty in the winter, and are replete with fire hazards. 

Rooftop additions can take many forms, in some cases with multiple illegal floors pancaked one on top of another like a giant jenga tower. For example, a building discovered in New Taipei's Shulin District dubbed the "Super Crazy Building" was originally two floors, but four more floors were later added illegally, which were then carved into a honeycomb of 158 tiny rental suites.  

Once Chen's order is rescinded, owners who do not voluntarily take down their illegal additions, could see them forcibly removed by the government. 

After news broke of the plans by both cities to tear down illegal additions, many netizens expressed support for the move as a way to increase safety. However, many also were skeptical about the actual implementation of the plan on such a large scale:

"Do you believe the Taiwanese government can pull it off? I'm guessing after 3 days they'll just forget about it."

"As a result, not less than two weeks later, township representatives say: tear down slowly; county and city councilors cut the budget: tear down slowly."