Holiday tenants from hell

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2007, 12:00am

By day, Wang Tong village, just outside Mui Wo, is one of the most beautiful communities on Lantau Island. By night, the atmosphere is hideous, with occupants of holiday homes partying until the early morning.

For at least six years, residents have protested to police, the departments of home affairs, lands, food and environmental hygiene, and other agencies. They have petitioned the Ombudsman. Every move has ended in failure.

Residents say Winner Holiday House, the operator, has multiple convictions for breaches of the Hotel and Guesthouse Accommodation Ordinance. There have been many complaints about illegal paving of government land, putting up illegal signs, dumping rubbish, noise violations, health hazards and obstruction.

Police are regular visitors in response to complaints. No permanent solution has been offered, although Home Affairs, the licensing authority, may revoke a guesthouse operator's licence for any reason. Wang Tong residents feel there are ample grounds for such action.

'The situation has become steadily worse,' said 16-year resident Larry Feign. 'It is unbearable.'

Residents have sent a detailed proposal to the government seeking sweeping changes to the ordinance. These would apply throughout Hong Kong. There are similar guesthouse operations on Cheung Chau and Lamma. The problem is the ease with which holiday homes can operate: anyone can apply for a licence anywhere in the New Territories, after meeting only basic fire and safety rules.

Wang Tong village representative Wong Fuk-kan said every holiday home was noisy. 'The issue with the holiday homes was already resolved by Home Affairs,' he said. 'The craze for holiday homes started in the 1980s. There are only a few in Mui Wo. If you buy a house in a village with holiday homes, you know what you are getting into.'

A spokesman for a holiday rental agency said prices ranged up to HK$1,200 per 700 sq ft flat at peak times, on Saturdays and public holidays. One two-room apartment can accommodate 12 to 16 people.

Wang Tong village has more than 25 holiday flats. This means up to 300 partygoers can throng the village, which has a permanent population of about 350.

It's not only a weekend phenomenon; even on the slowest day of the year, there are at least 20 holidaymakers in the village, with more than 200 on summer days.

A petition signed by 48 residents points to many issues. Bonnie Leung Siu-han says environmental challenges are rampant: 'The holiday homes are not managed at all. There are safety issues.'

Residents upset by constant noise and other violations say they have no choice but to sell out and leave. The law takes no account of the effects of guesthouses on surrounding communities.

If 60 young people cram into a village house for an all-night party, the operator leaves them alone. Neighbours phone police, who warn visitors to be quiet. The next day, another bunch arrives. The performance is repeated. This goes on day after day.

Under the existing law, all the operator has to say is that he didn't realise there was a disturbance. He doesn't care as long as he pockets the rent - which, for one house, can be HK$70,000 a month.

Kevin Sinclair is a Hong Kong reporter who lives in the New Territories