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Price of Private Columbarium Niches Could Vary by Almost 12 Times Pay Heed to the Legality and Self-arranged Procedures of Columbarium Niches Outside Hong Kong

  • 2022.03.15

Land in Hong Kong is scarce and expensive, not only for the living, but also for the deceased. While property prices in Hong Kong are the highest in the world, demand for columbarium facilities has also outstripped supply, with private columbarium niches selling for several hundred thousand dollars, and in some cases even up to several million dollars. The Consumer Council surveyed the service and fees of several licensed private columbaria in Hong Kong, and found the interment rights fees to vary considerably. Single niches of different grades within the same columbarium could vary up to almost 12 times, while the most expensive double niche cost close to $5.2 million. Besides, after purchasing the columbarium niche, aside from various costs such as the handling charge, solicitor’s fee, management fee or administrative charges, consumers should also bear in mind that any changes, such as addition or change of the name, may incur handling surcharges of over $10,000. Some may consider interring ancestors’ cremains in columbaria outside Hong Kong which are relatively more affordable. However, consumers should pay heed to the statutory regulations of different regions as well as the interment arrangements, and ensure that they fully understand the content of the contract and detailed charges before making a decision. The Council stresses that not only does the purchase of columbarium niches involve a high lump-sum cost, the interment period could also be as long as over 25 years. Should there be any changes during this period, such as a name change or reselling of the niche, consumers might be faced with different conditions and limitations that would deter the change. With this in mind, consumers should contemplate carefully and plan well in advance.

To curb unauthorised columbaria that do not meet land use planning, land lease or other relevant regulations, the Government implemented a licensing system in mid-2017. As of now, 7 private columbaria have been granted a licence with a validity period of 10 years in accordance with the “Private Columbaria Ordinance”. Between November to December 2021, the Council made telephone enquiries with the 7 licensed columbarium operators, and paid mystery visits to 5 of the columbaria enquiring about the fees, interment rights, as well as other rules and limitations.

Among the 5 columbaria that currently offer niches for public purchase or rental, 1 let out the interment rights of niches for a uniform annual rental fee of $5,000, while the remaining 4 leased or sold the interment rights for a lump sum, yet the costs were substantial and vastly varied. The cost for single or double niches generally ranged from around $200,000 to $600,000; yet for 1 columbarium, the cost of a single niche ranged from the lowest of $200,000 to the highest of $2.49 million, a stark difference of almost 12 times. For this same columbarium, the interment rights fee for a double niche cost as much as almost $5.2 million, 25 times more than the lowest priced double niche ($200,000) in the survey from another columbarium. Consumers should bear in mind that the price discrepancy depends on the zone, level, location or grade of the niche. For example, niches that are more centrally located, positioned at eye level, enjoying a more panoramic view or better environment would be relatively more expensive. On the other hand, those located at the loftiest, bottommost or on the sides would be relatively cheaper. Despite all 7 columbaria offering a 14-day cooling-off period after signing the contract, which allowed consumers to cancel the contract and get a refund within the cooling-off period, it would generally only apply to unused niches.

Consumers who might need to change the name on the niche should beware of the arrangements, as all surveyed columbaria required customers to provide the name of the niche user at the time of signing the contract. Limitations or surcharges would apply for any changes or additions to the name thereafter. 4 private columbaria did not allow a name change after signing the contract, while another 3 allowed a name change at an extra administrative charge or handling fee, amongst which only 1 columbarium stated a handling fee of $6,000, whereas the other 2 did not clearly declare whether a surcharge was needed or the amount itself. As for the 2 columbaria offering double niches, if the customer was unable to provide the information of the second niche user when the contract was signed, an additional fee would be required for adding the name afterwards. 1 even stipulated an administrative charge of $10,000 if the name is added within 3 years, with a $10,000 increment for every 3 years subsequently.

Apart from the charges for adding or changing names, consumers also have to bear miscellaneous fees under various pretexts. For example, 1 columbarium would charge a one-off management fee of over $30,000 for each double niche, while another requested a lump-sum charge of $16,500 to $27,000 per niche user for the stone slate, cremation urn, interment ceremony, and ritual and cleaning. 2 columbaria charged a solicitor’s fee of $300 and around $6,000 respectively for signing the contract, a difference of 19 times.

Besides, all 7 columbaria had a set duration for the interment rights of niches. After the cremains have been interred for a designated period, other surcharges will be incurred if the consumer wishes to renew the lease. Apart from 1 columbarium that had a niche interment period until end of October 2056, that for the other 6 would expire at the end of May or end of June 2047. If counted from January this year, the interment period of the columbarium niches ranged from around 25 years and 5 months to 34 years and 10 months. If the Government agrees to renew the land lease, which the columbaria can pay a land premium to continue the service, 6 columbaria stated that individuals who already had the interment rights of niches would have to bear or share the land premium in order to continue using the facilities. They would also need to pay renewal fees, management fees, administrative charges, or maintenance fees, etc. If the consumer wished to remove the cremains before the end of the niche interment period, 5 columbaria expressed that the niche needed to be returned to the operator and the costs of the remaining interment period would not be refunded, while 1 allowed consumers to resell the niche themselves.

Since licensing was required for local private columbaria, the supply of niches has further diminished. Some service providers took this opportunity to promote columbarium niches situated outside Hong Kong, claiming that they were legal, renewal of licence was not required, or that the cremains could be interred permanently. Posing as mystery shoppers, Council staff enquired with 3 service providers for columbarium niches in Macau, Guangzhou and Foshan about the pricing and purchasing procedures. It was found that general consumers would have difficulty verifying the local legality of columbarium niches outside Hong Kong, as well as confirming the accuracy of the information provided by the service provider. If there is no effective means to find accurate information, interested consumers should think twice before buying.

Some columbarium niches outside Hong Kong boast attractive prices that are lower than private columbaria in Hong Kong, both for the niche itself and related miscellaneous fees. For example, the agent of a private columbaria in Macau said that a single, double niche and clan niche for up to 18 family members would cost $160,000 to around $3 million. Another service provider claimed to offer “2 for the price of 1” bundles — upon purchase of a local tablet for couples priced at close to $90,000 to over $280,000, the customer could receive a complimentary single niche at a designated columbarium in Guangzhou. However, consumers should not make hasty decisions because of these seemingly affordable deals. It should be noted, all 3 service providers stated that the full payment was required upfront when purchasing the niche and no cooling-off period would be provided. No refunds would be offered in the event of contract cancellation.

Besides, the 3 columbarium operators declared that consumers need to make their own arrangements for transporting the cremains to the location of the niche for interment, as well as handling related procedures. The Council reminds consumers that although the HKSAR Government does not require any application for transporting cremated remains into and out of Hong Kong, some countries or regions may request applicants to present a “Certificate of Cremation” or “Authorisation to Remove Cremated Ashes” and handle relevant burial or interment procedures with the local jurisdiction before they can transport the cremains from Hong Kong to the location of the columbarium. Therefore, consumers who wish to inter their ancestor’s cremains outside Hong Kong should firstly understand the local regulations, application procedures and required documents to prevent mishaps.

As for whether the columbaria comply with local statutory regulations, the agent of the Macau columbarium claimed that they had been granted a land lease for private columbaria from the local government, permitting land use until 2049, and they will apply to the local government for lease renewal so that the interment of cremains would be permanent. The service provider for the Guangzhou columbarium claimed that the columbarium has been issued a license and the niches could be used on a permanent basis. The agent of the Foshan columbarium claimed to have the approval of the relevant management committee for interment of cremains, but did not provide the interment period and possibility of renewal, etc.

The Council then enquired with counterpart consumer protection organisations in Macau, Guangzhou and Foshan about the local regulation situation of the 3 columbaria. The Macao SAR Government Consumer Council expressed that the columbarium site was approved for change of land use by local authorities, to build an ancestral memorial hall, and renewal application in accordance with statutory regulations was required when the land lease period was due. The Guangzhou Consumers’ Commission replied that the columbarium was classified as a religious institution in the local area, allowing ancestral worship for religious followers only, while public sales, advertising, speculation and price-raising were not allowed. If the content of the columbarium’s promotional materials in Hong Kong had already exceeded these principles, Hong Kong citizens should be extra cautious when buying. The Mainland’s burial/interment facilities available for Hong Kong residents are limited to commercial cemeteries. The Guangzhou Consumers’ Commission reminds Hong Kong citizens to scrutinise the permit documents and business licence of the commercial cemetery facilities before buying columbarium niches in the Mainland. As Hong Kong residents are not allowed to prepurchase niches in the Mainland for future use, consumers should not easily believe promotional claims of transfer of ownership or reselling. The Foshan Consumers’ Commission was unable to provide relevant information for the Council’s enquiry as they did not partake in relevant affairs. However, they provided the relevant regulations of the Guangdong province for reference.           

Purchase of columbarium niches both within and outside Hong Kong involves high costs. Consumers should pay heed to the following:

  • There is still a number of unlicensed private columbaria in Hong Kong, whereas some intermediary companies are commissioned to resell second hand private niches. Consumers should buy directly from licensed columbarium operators to safeguard their own rights;
  • Even for licensed private columbaria, it is possible that not all their niches comply with the regulatory requirements of the Private Columbaria Licensing Board. Before buying or renting, consumers should confirm with the columbarium operator whether the niche is approved for sale or lease;
  • Enquire with the columbarium regarding the details of the contract, such as the payment arrangements, how the cooling-off period is counted, etc. If needed, request a sample of the contract from the columbarium operator for reference, and ensure all payment items have been clearly stipulated in the contract;
  • It may be difficult for the general consumer to verify the local legality of columbarium niches outside the city. As there is no specific legislation regulating the sales of columbarium niches outside Hong Kong, consumers should check with relatives and friends residing in the locale or local authorities before making a decision.


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