Minister vows tighter checks on subdivided flats
The government has admitted doing an inadequate job of inspecting subdivided flats across the city, but vowed to improve building safety following last week's fire in Ma Tau Wai, which claimed four lives.
Lawmaker Starry Lee Wai-king told the legislature yesterday it was shameful that the city not only has subdivided flats, but also some 'coffin-sized units' in tenements in Sham Shui Po.
'These 'coffin-sized units' are stacked on three levels and the occupants of the uppermost level have to climb up and down ladders,' said Lee, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.
'The conditions are appalling, and the occupants can neither stand up nor sit inside the units, but have to crawl like animals when going into or out of them,' she said.
'And the monthly rent for such units can be as high as HK$300 per square foot, which is more expensive than that of the International Finance Centre in Central,' Lee said.
Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing said the government did pay attention to safety in subdivided flats, and promised to further improve the situation.
Regarding 'coffin-sized' units, Tsang said investigators had been sent to inspect flats in Fuk Wa Street three times over the past three weeks. But they were unable to gather enough evidence for prosecution 'because most of the places were locked up and there were fewer than 12 visible bedspaces', he said.
The government can regulate subdivided flats only if there is a buildings safety violation and if there are more than 12 bedspaces inside a flat, he said.
The law states that a licence must be obtained from the Home Affairs Department if a flat contains 12 or more bedspaces.
The government has received 16 complaints about illegal bedspace accommodation over the past three years, but nobody was prosecuted.
Tsang said those flats were not covered under the Hotel and Guesthouse Accommodation Ordinance. It only regulates premises that provide accommodation for a fee with a tenancy term of less than 28 consecutive days, but subdivided flats are rented out on a monthly basis.
Many lawmakers voiced concern yesterday over the safety of tenement buildings, following the deaths of the four during the blaze in a Ma Tau Wai tenement block, which housed many subdivided flats. Tsang did not respond to lawmakers' questions as to whether the laws were outdated and needed a review.