Group urges tighter laws to protect tenants in subdivded units

August 29, 2019 17:01
A file picture shows subdivided residential units lining a corridor inside a building in Hong Kong. People staying in such units often face exploitation by the landlords, a study has found. Photo: Bloomberg

A group representing the interests of subdivided flat tenants has called on authorities to tighten regulations to prevent exploitation of the tenants by greedy landlords.

Citing a study conducted by it, the Kwai Chung Subdivided Flat Residents Alliance said it has found that several landlords were squeezing their tenants by putting in unfair terms in the rental contracts or overcharging for utilities such as electricity and water. 

For the study aimed at determining the kinds of exploitation that grassroots people were facing, the concern group began collecting lease documents pertaining to sub-divided units from the beginning of the year.

After gathering more than 50 leases, it singled out 12 leases, and invited 100 people living in unfit dwellings including sub-divided flats to provide feedback on their rental conditions.

Most people complained about unfair contracts, but said they had no choice but to put up with the conditions given the circumstances, RTHK quoted the group as saying.

The people surveyed included those living in sub-divided flats, cage homes, bedspace apartments, partitioned cubicles and rooftop units in Kwai Chung and Tsing Yi.

According to the findings unveiled on Wednesday, tenants identified overcharging by landlords for water and electricity bills as "the most ridiculous" part of their contracts.

Landlords were setting their own rates arbitrarily, rather than levying a fee based on what the utility companies were actually charging, the tenants complained. 

Among the other issues were unequal terms for termination of leases, cancelation of lease should tenants fall behind on rent payments, various kinds of arbitrary charges and avoiding responsibility for repairing broken facilities or in reimbursing for costs of repair.

Citing an example, Hung Yat-lan, a spokeswoman for the concern group, revealed that a family of four living on a rooftop saw their unit getting wrecked by super typhoon Mangkhut in September last year with serious property loss.

Following the damage, the landlord refused to offer compensation and also told the tenants to move out in two days. And the landlord also confiscated a HK$4,000 deposit that had been paid by the tenants.

The concern group noted that the lease documents currently sold at stationery stores have become meaningless, as landlords tend to add whatever unfair terms they want, leaving the tenants unprotected.

As such, it urged the government to regulate lease terms by putting in place a new law, and also called for a standardized lease form to balance the rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants.

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