Intellasia East Asia News – HK subdivided flat tenants urged to complain against landlords who overcharge for utilities

The head of a government-appointed study group looking to limit rents in Hong Kong’s subdivided flats has urged residents to lodge complaints against landlords who are overcharging for water and electricity.

Rents for the city’s subdivided flats have not dropped, even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to drag the economy deep into recession, said Dr William Leung Wing-cheung, chair of the task force for the study on tenancy control of subdivided units. But he said the task force had no enforcement powers and encouraged residents to use existing legislation to clamp down on landlords overcharging for utilities.

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“Such overcharging is one of the most common problems we hear from concern groups… This is not only exploitation, but is also illegal,” he told a press conference on Wednesday.

“People who are affected will need to stand up and make the complaints. And if the electricity company or the water authority receives [the] complaints, I think they will do the proper thing.”

Leung’s task force is studying the feasibility and options for tenancy control of subdivided units often found in run-down buildings, a harsh living environment for those who are often waiting for public housing. The group will produce a report early next year.

The chair added that most renters of subdivided flats do not sign a lease, which is also problematic: “[This] results in an unequal bargaining position between the renter and the landlord. Some landlords are also suspected of exploiting tenants with the rent they charge.”

Anyone who sells water without permission in writing from the Water Authority is subject to a fine of up to HK$10,000 (US$1,290) under the Waterworks Regulations.

For electricity, Supply Rules stipulate that customers cannot supply or share with any third party electricity obtained from Hong Kong’s two power companies without their prior written consent.

But concern groups said subdivided flat renters might suffer negative consequences if they lodged a complaint.

“The tenants are scared that their landlords will not continue renting the unit to them if they complain,” said Sze Lai-shan, a community organiser at Society for Community Organisation (SoCO). “They may need the landlords to provide information to file a complaint.”

Fan Kai-in, community organiser at Hong Kong Subdivided Flats Concerning Platform, said the complaint process could take at least six months.

“[The] rents for subdivided units are expensive, so it’s already difficult for people to find one that’s suitable for them. It also costs a lot of money to move… if renters are going to be evicted for complaining, most won’t take the risk,” she said.

Fan hoped authorities would transparently lay out the complaint process as well as the documents required to help NGOs assist residents overcharged for utilities.

The Water Supplies Department said it has launched 16 inspections for subdivided flats in the past year, but tenants did not lodge complaints about overcharging of water fees.

The department was also following up on five complaints over the issue received from the beginning of the year until June.

It has also sent letters to owners of buildings with suspected subdivided units, reminding them that profiting from water costs is illegal, and encouraged residents of subdivided units to apply for an independent water metre account.

The average waiting time for a flat in public housing in Hong Kong is 51/2 years, according to the latest figures from the Housing Authority.

The rent for a 100 sq ft subdivided unit can be around HK$4,000 (US$516) per month, Sze said.

In Kwun Tong district, monthly rents can range between HK$5,000 and HK$8,000. In extreme cases, a 30 to 40 sq ft unit costs about HK$2,000 per month, according to Fan.

Around 96,000 Hong Kong households live in subdivided units, according to the Long Term Housing Strategy Annual Progress Report 2019.


Category: Hong Kong

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