Public Eye

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 January, 2011, 12:00am

An ingenious way for developers to rip you off

Public Eye must confess we never knew what a 'non-consent scheme' was regarding flat sales in our lunatic property market. But now we do. It's quite simple. It's an ingenious government rule that allows developers to rip you off. They can sell you a dumpy flat for big bucks without any legal consequences. The government has a 'non-consent scheme' and a 'consent scheme'. Yes, it's gibberish but what else do you expect from our bureaucrats? The consent scheme protects you somewhat. But if you buy a flat under the non-consent scheme you can do nothing if you get a dump instead of the dream house you paid for. Buildings redeveloped under old lease conditions fall into this scheme. Why does the government allow developers to dupe innocent buyers by not regulating flat sales in these redeveloped buildings? That's a silly question. It's like asking why the people believe our government colludes with the property tycoons to rip off the people. One unfortunate buyer paid HK$9.7 million to Winfoong International for a 691 sq ft Mid-Levels flat. That's a preposterous price to start with. What she got was, in her words, a 'rubbish dump'. Winfoong ducked for cover. And the government? Has it at least sympathised with her? No. Transport and Housing Secretary Eva Cheng fled to cloud cuckoo land, leaving a spokesman to say regulations could be changed in a few years. A few years? Why not now?

Will they still profit from 'public open space'

Here's a really tough question: what does 'public open space' mean? Does it mean open space for the public to use? Or does it mean open space belonging to the public that developers can rent out for big bucks which they then pocket themselves? Told you it was a tough one. You must all remember the outrage at Causeway Bay's Times Square where the owner wouldn't even allow people to sit in the 'public open space' which it rented out for big bucks. Now the government says developers must seek permission and pay a fee to the government before renting out public open space. So here's the question: will the fee be as exorbitant as what developers charge to rent out the public open space? Times Square charged HK$124,000 rent a day. Or will the developer still be allowed to make a profit from public open space? The government won't say. All it would say is fees will be decided on a case-by-case basis. You know what that means. It means you, the public, lose.

A threat that sounds like blackmail

So, developers say if they no longer get free floor area from the government they won't include swimming pools, clubhouses and other things in future projects. That sounds like blackmail. The developers want existing rules to stay: the government gives them free floor space for 'green features' which they then charge you for. Nice little scam. Public Eye's message to the government is this: don't you dare give in. We'll be watching. And our message to the developers is this: go ahead, don't build swimming pools, clubhouses, car parks. Build shoddy flats instead. See if the people will still buy them for the preposterous prices you demand. Two can play at the game, and you, the homebuyer, should remember that.

If you love your dogs, use a leash

What is it about dogs? Every time Public Eye writes about them we get flack. We wrote about lawyer Jonathan Midgley who walked his two dogs unleashed. One nearly died from poisoned meat. We said as a lawyer he should have known about the leash law. Midgley called to say the law did not require him to leash his dogs. He's right. There is this silly thing about the law applying only to large or nuisance dogs. How do you measure nuisance? We do feel for Midgley's dog. It went through agony. But here's our advice to all pet owners: forget the law. If you really love your dogs leash them anyway. There's a dog poisoner on the loose.