Seeking fair and just treatment

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 September, 1997, 12:00am

I would like to call into question the grossly unfair local practice of tenants having to cough up 50 per cent of one month's rent when taking over the lease on a new flat.

Just over 18 months ago I paid HK$17,000 to a property company for its 'help' in locating me a new flat. The landlord, in fact, received a 20 per cent discount from the property company as he was what they described as 'a regular customer'.

Although recently released government figures indicate that the monthly rent for properties on Hong Kong Island has in fact gone down over the past two years, I find that my landlord is demanding a 41 per cent increase. When enlightened with the recently released government figures, my landlord said it was the same property company which had acted on 'our mutual' behalf that had supplied him with the newly inflated figure. This makes me very angry. No one from this company has set foot in my flat in almost two years, but still they feel suitably qualified to assess the new rent. I have paint peeling off the walls, electrical wiring that is dangerous and bath water that takes an hour to drain because the gravity pipe goes uphill.

What qualifies this property company to come up with such a figure? Just because one flat in an adjacent block may have been so lavishly appointed as to command a slightly higher rent than those around it, doesn't mean this should be used as the benchmark for all of the flats in the area.

It is important to ask if the staff of the thousands of property companies springing up on just about every street corner have any professional training. Are they all chartered surveyors or structural engineers? I doubt it.

For the $17,000 I paid to the property company I made two accompanied site visits and received about three phone calls. It takes me a lot longer to earn that kind of money and for a lot more effort. But why did I have to pay anything at all when the property company is clearly working on behalf of the landlord? Having pocketed my $17,000, the property company is now effectively trying to evict me so that it can find another tenant on the landlord's behalf. Once again it will command this ridiculously high fee for making yet another two site visits and three phone calls.

What (if any) government-appointed body is charged with regulating the way in which the Hong Kong property companies operate? Surely someone, somewhere has the responsibility to ensure that those of us who depend on the rental market are treated in a fair and just manner.

If (as I suspect) there is not a government-appointed regulating body, then it is high time there was one.