Hong Kong concern group calls on government to step up inspections of split units under ‘paper tiger’ rent control law

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An advocacy group has called on the government to strictly enforce a new rent control law covering Hong Kong’s notorious split flats, expressing concern that authorities have been lax in carrying out inspections and have not prosecuted any landlords.

The Alliance monitors the Government’s implementation of regulations on renting multi-apartment units. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

The alliance that oversees the government’s implementation of the multi-apartment rental regulations said at a press conference on the roof of an apartment building in Kwai Chung that apartment owners continue to overcharge tenants for water and electricity in split flats.

Many also refused to submit a written form to the Department of Assessment and Valuation (RVD) listing the lease agreement, a new requirement under the law, the group said Thursday.

“The department only carried out about 460 inspections [subdivided flats]. But in Hong Kong, there are about 120,000 households living in shared flats,” said Ms Yip, a member of the group.

An amended ordinance governing condominiums came into force in January to protect the rights of the city’s poorest. Waiting years for public housing and without the financial means to rent a decent home in one of the world’s most expensive housing markets, some 220,000 people live in split-level units notorious for cramped conditions and fire hazards.

Ms. Yip, a member of a Hong Kong-based concern group that raises awareness of the plight of residents in shared flats. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Under the new law, landlords cannot raise the rent for two years. After two years, they can increase the rent by a maximum of 10 percent.

The new law also makes it illegal for apartment owners to overcharge for water and electricity, an issue that advocacy groups have long raised concerns about.

Offenders face a fine of HK$10,000 on a first conviction.

“We hope that RVD will be able to write a specific schedule for carrying out inspections and set a target for how many inspections will be carried out,” Ms Yip said.

Shared flat in To Kwa Wan. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

According to the advocacy group, there have been no prosecutions under the revised law, which the group likened to a “paper tiger.” HKFP has reached out to RVD for comment.

Exhibition on the roof

Along with the press conference, the group also held a mini-exhibition for the press with information about 10 residential buildings in Hong Kong.

The group said it identified the 10 districts in Hong Kong with the highest number of sub-divided residents and selected the buildings – one in each district – because of their high concentration of cramped homes.

All but one of the buildings were older than 50 years. They covered districts including Kowloon City, To Kwa Wan, Kwun Tong and Sham Shui Po.

A Hong Kong concern group has staged a mini-exhibition showing ten apartment buildings it said were “most worthy” of government review. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Among the buildings was a 54-year-old block of flats on Wan Hon Street in Kwun Tong.

“Ninety percent of the units in this building are split apartments,” said Ms. Chan, a member of the concern. “The residents have wanted for a long time [for new laws regulating subdivided units]. But now that there is one, their lives are still so difficult.”

She said that instead of being proactive, the government has shifted the responsibility for regulating condominiums to tenants by encouraging them to complain if they are mistreated by their landlords.

“But residents are very afraid of their landlords because they might evict them [if they complain]” said Ms. Chan.

Ms. Chan, a member of a Hong Kong-based concern group that raises awareness of the plight of residents in shared flats. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Members of the group said they hoped authorities would begin their inspections with these 10 buildings and step up checks across the city. They also suggested authorities could carry out inspections at night when residents are more likely to be at home, rather than during the day, when the few checks that have been carried out.

Mr Ng, also a member of the advocacy group, told HKFP that while the exhibition is currently not open to the public, there are plans to work with organizations to display the exhibition.

“We hope to send a message to the RVD that there are many buildings in Hong Kong awaiting inspection,” he said.

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