Sweating in a cage in the dark
Martin Cheung and Joyce Ng
They were already living in unimaginable conditions, yet for the residents of five cubicles in a Sham Shui Po tenement flat, life has gotten considerably worse.
'I want to kill myself,' Ko Mei-ling said from her 100 sq ft cubicle. The 38 year-old saleswoman and four other families in the apartment's other cubicles have been living in complete darkness and stifling heat for the past eight days.
Their electricity was cut off last Monday - plus, they say, their new landlord wants them out because they object to a HK$1,000 rent rise. At present Ko pays HK$1,600 a month.
'I've put up with a cold, brought on by the heat, for the past eight days. And I've lost nearly seven kilos,' Ko, who has asthma, said. With no power to operate a fan or air conditioner, Ko's asthma has worsened.
Leung Lai, of the Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People's Livelihoods, is helping the tenants. He said he spoke to electricity provider CLP Power, which said the electricity bill had not been paid since the beginning of May so the power was cut.
But Ko and her boyfriend, and the other residents of the five cubicles in the flat on Fuk Wing Street, say they gave the money for all utilities to their previous landlord to pay the bills.
A new landlord took over the flat late last month and told them the rent would go up by HK$1,000 per month from July. They say the rent rise is unreasonable - and that the new landlord is determined to evict them.
'I had to call the Samaritans a few days ago because it's been so hard for me [to make ends meet],' Ko said, adding that the new landlord had brought three tattooed men with him the day after he announced the rent rise to 'communicate' with her.
'It's outrageous that the power has been cut off - it will be the landlord's fault if someone dies,' said Ko, who believes the new landlord is behind the power cut.
Rents for subdivided apartments like Ko's have been rising in the past year. An agent with Luen Pong Real Estate Company, based in Sham Shui Po, said rents for cubicles in the area had risen by 10 to 20 per cent this year. It was almost impossible to find a rental cubicle for less than HK$2,000 a month, the agent said.
Retiree Lee Chun-tat lives next door to Ko. At present, he pays HK$1,500 a month. He said he would not be able to afford the new rent of HK$2,500 on his monthly welfare payment of HK$1,250.
'The landlord ignored our pleas and just walked out - leaving no contact details - after he told us the rent was going up. If he had wanted us to let him know if we agreed to the new rent, wouldn't he leave a phone number?' Lee said.
The new landlord could not be reached for comment. The man who collected rent on behalf of the previous landlord would not comment on the power being cut off.