Tenants on the bottom rung at the mercy of landlords

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 June, 2012, 12:00am


A two-year-old picks up a toy, as his mother stops him from wandering out their door-less subdivided Sham Shui Po flat. The door was removed on Wednesday after she received two weeks' notice to vacate.

'The [flat] owner took down the door and metal gate in the afternoon [on Wednesday],' said the mother, Lily Lee Lai-mui, who has rented her 100 sq ft home for two years. 'There's no water or electricity here now. They cut the supply as well.'

The family of three, along with her two-year-old son Hui Hong-ying and the father, only knew of the owner's decision to repossess the Sham Shui Po flat on May 15, two weeks before the deadline for the landlord to surrender the premises yesterday. With few choices, the family rented another room from the same landlord in a building across the street, but it isn't ready for them to move in yet.

This family's plight reveals the situation facing many low-income people who have limited rights and options.

In the Nam Cheong Street building that the family called home, the original 1,000 sq ft flat was divided into five rooms, ranging from 100 sq ft to 200 sq ft. The landlord, surnamed Pang, was renting the flat from the owner for HK$5,500, while she leased each room for HK$2,000 to HK$2,500.

Even though Pang has a contract with the flat owner, the tenants only have verbal agreements with her.

Pang's contract with the owner ended at the end of last year, but she continued to lease the rooms to the tenants, who only knew they had to move out last month.

The tenants had not signed a contract with Pang, who could tell them to vacate without notice, said Lee and another tenant Tsang Hak-kim, who is in a room next door. They only received a rent receipt every month.

The Society for Community Organisation said this situation was common in subdivided housing.

Angela Lui Yi-shan, a community organiser with the church-backed group that helps the underprivileged, said the practice of verbal agreements was widespread between tenants and landlords of subdivided flats, but even if there was a contract, present laws offered little protection for low-income people. The society urged the government to tighten laws on landlords to better protect low-income tenants, who have little bargaining power.

Although Lee realised the family had little protection without a contract, she said she would not seek one with Pang for the new room. 'She has the final say anyway,' Lee said. 'She won't sign one with us if she doesn't want to. It's not up to us.'

The family received the keys for the new room on Wednesday night, but it had yet to be furnished and painted. 'We don't know when everything will be fixed. Again, we have little say.'