Court delays order to close cubicle flats
Ada Lee, Jennifer Ngo and Joyce Ng
A court has put off issuing a closure order for a Tai Kok Tsui industrial block yesterday, stalling the government's first attempt to clamp down on cubicle flats in such buildings.
District Court Judge Stephen Chow Siu-hung decided to hear a tenant opposed to the shutdown before ruling on the closure application. The hearing will be held on Monday.
The Buildings Department applied to close a few levels of the Larch Street building to demolish illegal structures. Illegal additions to the roof and subdivided flats had been reported.
Wallace Kan, who has been renting the fourth and fifth floors and the rooftop since 2007 for 'a few thousand dollars', objected to the closure.
Kan told the court it would cost him financially and he needed time to move out.
He denied subletting illegal cubicles, saying the spaces were leased out for storing goods only. He admitted having illegal structures, but said some had existed before his tenancy.
'Some tenants stayed overnight and I had warned them against it,' Kan said outside the court.
Contrary to his claims, almost all the 62 cubicles within the three levels he rented were occupied when the South China Morning Post first visited the place in July last year. Subsequent visits found more than 10 tenants who said they had been renting from Kan for periods of less than a month to more than three years. Kan also recently advertised in the newspapers subdivided flats for rent in Tai Kok Tsui.
Government lawyer Kelvin Cheung told the court that officials posted warnings about the building's closure in December last year. Kan should have seen the notices and had had enough time to make the necessary arrangements, he said.
Cheung also showed a document, bearing what he said was Kan's signature, that stated his tenancy ended on February 8.
Kan said he was unsure whether the signature was his. He said lawyers had refused to represent him until he received more documents from the department.
Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told lawmakers the government did not know who now owned the space as the registered owner had died.
Lam said it was hard to prove the principal tenant had 'knowingly contravened' the law through illegally subletting.
At Larch Street yesterday, police and housing officers were on standby pending the closure order.
Raymond Ng, 48, had his bags packed and was waiting to be taken with three other tenants to a Tuen Mun homeless shelter.
'I have nowhere else to go,' Ng said. 'I also need to stay at the shelter for three months to prove I'm really homeless before I can get interim housing.' Ng moved into the premises just a month ago, not knowing that it would be shut down.
Ho Hei-wah, the director of the Society for Community Organisation, said: 'There's nothing more I can say [about Kan's behaviour]. He is definitely in the wrong, but legally, I'm not sure if there is anything that can pin him down.'
A department spokeswoman said tenants should move out as the illegal structures could be dangerous. She said the department would work with other government bodies to help those in need.