Give rebates to rate-paying tenants, not their landlords

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 December, 2008, 12:00am

I wrote to these columns last December about a rebate of government rates ('Rates waiver is for tenants').

Lawmaker David Li Kwok-po referred to this topic in a Legislative Council meeting, but there was no further debate on the matter in the chamber.

I was calling for any government rate rebates that were decided upon to go to the occupier of a property, but not to the landlord.

Perhaps some legislators come from the wealthier classes, so it is not an issue that concerns them. Or it may be they are landlords. If so, do they keep any rates rebates?

Government rates are defined as occupier's rates. They are a tax to be paid by the occupier of a property.

It is not uncommon in Hong Kong for landlords to lease their residential properties on a gross or inclusive basis (that is, gross rent equals net rent plus government rates and outgoings).

However, the tenant is still paying these rates, but is doing so in advance.

A substantial number of leased residential properties are occupied by people who do not own or cannot afford to own a flat.

Most of the smaller residential flats, in particular, in Hong Kong are leased to households on low incomes.

During an economic downturn they are likely to be the group in greatest need in society.

If they received any rate rebate directly, it would make a real difference to them during this chilly economic winter.

There can be no doubt that in the coming months, the effects of the financial tsunami will be more deeply felt in Hong Kong than they have so far.

The government may come up with measures to alleviate the effects of the slump on Hong Kong people. If one of those is a rate rebate, officials must think seriously about how that rebate can reach those people who actually paid for it as part of the gross rate.

The administration must ensure that, as in the past, future rebates are not pocketed by landlords who are better off than their tenants.

Ng Sai-hee, Central