Almost nine in 10 aged buildings in old districts in the West Kowloon region have the so-called subdivided units (SDUs), extremely small living spaces that were created by partitioning regular flats, with many of the cubicle homes posing potential fire risks and other hazards, a study showed.
According to a report released on Sunday, a survey 324 residential buildings revealed that as many as 285 of the properties, or 88 percent, had SDUs in them.
On average, 3.4 SDUs were found in every 10 flats in the buildings, as per the survey conducted jointly by the Ronald Coase Centre for Property Rights Research at the University of Hong Kong and an NGO named Concerning Grassroots’ Housing Rights Alliance.
For the survey, researchers looked into buildings aged above 25 years in the districts that included Yau Tsing Mong, Sham Shui Po and Kowloon City. Of the buildings, 68 percent were aged 55.4 years on average.
Aiming to examine the extent to which the occupant capacity of the SDUs in the region exceeds the current legal limits and their physical conditions, the study group undertook their exercise between November 2017 and May 2018.
Inspection of the buildings revealed that several apartments were partitioned into smaller units, with one flat even split into as many as 10 SDUs.
The residents living in the 30 buildings with the highest density of SDUs were found to have been about 39 percent higher in number than what the buildings had originally been designed for.
The overcrowding in the old buildings is a matter of serious concern, researchers said, pointing to potential safety hazards.
Cracks in the walls and water seepage were a big worry. Moreover, 82 percent of the buildings lacked fire alarm systems and 78 percent were not equipped with fire extinguishers, according to the study.
HKU professor Daniel Ho Chi-wing, who was involved in the study, pointed out that addition of partitions, toilets and other structural alterations means increased load on the buildings, RTHK reports.
Another researcher, Prof. Choy Hung-tat, said SDUs in a building would inevitably increase the pressure on the structures, posing potential risks that can definitely not be ignored.
In January 2010, a five-storey old tenement building on Ma Tau Wai Road in Hung Hom collapsed, killing four of its residents.
Ensuing inspections revealed that the deadly accident was mainly caused by overloading.
At a press conference on Sunday, Concerning Grassroots’ Housing Rights Alliance urged the government to build more public housing or transitional housing to address the plight of subdivided flat tenants.
The NGO also called on the government to strictly enforce current regulations regarding building safety.
It asked the Fire Services Department and the Buildings Department to unveil the conditions and the related results of inspections on buildings.
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