23 February 2019
Mai Sik Industrial Building in Kwai Chung where a fire occurred at a subdivided flat in a 6,000 sq. ft. unit converted from a factory. Photo: HKEJ
Mai Sik Industrial Building in Kwai Chung where a fire occurred at a subdivided flat in a 6,000 sq. ft. unit converted from a factory. Photo: HKEJ

Fatal Kwai Chung blaze highlights dangers of subdivided flats

A fire broke out at an industrial building in Kwai Chung, killing three people and highlighting the problem of subdivided flats again.

The fire occurred on the 10th floor of Mai Sik Industrial Building on Kwai Ting Road on Saturday evening, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

It was put out in about half an hour but two men and a woman, aged 18 to 25, were found unconscious in a small windowless toilet. They were later confirmed dead.

One of them rented a 300 square foot subdivided flat on the 10th floor and was hosting a drinks party when the fire broke out, investigators said.

The 45-year-old building has no sprinklers or fire extinguishers. A unit of about 6,000 sq. ft of factory space has been turned into 17 subdivided flats.

Hong Kong people who cannot afford sky-high rent are forced to live in illegal structures such as subdivided flats and industrial buildings where safety and hygiene are often compromised.

The Buildings Department said it has not received any application to subdivide the Mai Sik unit and that the alteration work failed to meet safety standards including fire escape and fire-resistant construction.

It said it will issue an order to the unit’s owner to undertake remedial work while considering to press charges.

The government has noted the trend that more and more units in industrial buildings have been illegally turned into subdivided flats for rent.

A proposal to amend the Buildings Ordinance and hold owners and tenants liable was submitted to the Legislative Council in June.

It will authorize the Buildings Department to conduct in-house investigations if necessary.

However, many of those who live in subdivided flats in industrial buildings are vowing to stay even if the amendment is passed because the living conditions in similar flats in private buildings are too unbearable and the rent too unaffordable for them.

A man in his seventies, who has been living in a subdivided flat in an industrial building in Tsuen Wan, said most residents there are single people or new immigrants and they are all waiting for their turn to move into public housing like him.

He said he believes the government will not chase them out even after the new law is enforced because doing so will only leave many homeless.

Lau Chun-kong, who chairs the land policy panel of the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors, said resuming rent control, which was cancelled in 2004, is not the right solution, adding the government should allow more new private buildings to be built for rental purposes.

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