Unlicensed guest houses are touting for business on popular travel websites - but dig a little deeper and their proprietors put up the "no vacancies" sign.
A South China Morning Post reporter booked a room in a "guest house" on TripAdvisor, but was then refused the room after asking the proprietor where the property was located.
Listed as "Harbourview Delight - getaway in the heart of HK", the guest house was supposed to be located on the junction of Gloucester Road and Percival Street in Causeway Bay. A map on the website does not indicate which building it is in.
After making a reservation request, the reporter received an e-mail from a David, saying the guest house was full but a room was available in another place, also in Causeway Bay. A map was attached, showing the location on Sharp Street East.
In a telephone call to David, the Post reporter asked for the address of the flat before any payment was made. He said he would advise of the address. But in an e-mail received later he said the room was no longer available. A second Post reporter trying to book a room there received an e-mail shortly afterwards saying the same room was available.
David's e-mail address identified him as part of the "9 Studios" business, which according to its website has 15 styles of serviced apartments available in Causeway Bay. It describes them as a 30-second walk from Times Square, but does not give a location. But 9 Studios does not appear on the government's licensed guest house list. And there are no legal guest houses listed on Sharp Street East.
Trying to confirm the legality of a guest house can be difficult if it is located on a street with many others. The Post tried to verify another guest house listed on the Hong Kong Lodge website as located in Tower D of Causeway Bay's Peterson Building. The website does not give a room number, and when the Post called the Home Affairs Department's hotline, an officer said: "We cannot tell you whether it is licensed or not [without the exact address] because many hotels in the Peterson Building Tower D are licensed."
TripAdvisor did not respond to an enquiry about whether it verifies the legality of guest houses on its website.