Hong Kong housing

Hold landlords of illegal cubicle flats criminally accountable, exiting Hong Kong development minister says

Such residences in some 1,900 industrial buildings citywide described as posing imminent fire threat

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 June, 2017, 8:44pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 June, 2017, 10:58pm

Hong Kong’s outgoing development minister said one of the most urgent tasks and significant challenges for his successor would be holding landlords criminally accountable for operating illegal cubicle flats in the city’s industrial buildings.

Eric Ma Siu-cheung said the flats posed an imminent fire threat and that the government intended to crack down on them as soon as possible.

Crackdown on Hong Kong illegal housing at Kwai Chung factory prompts protest from residents

Some of the industrial buildings might also be storing hazardous goods, which would make a potential fire even more worrying, he added.

“If a fire takes place in an industrial building with illegal subdivided flats, the situation may not be any better than the London building,” Ma said, referring to the Grenfell Tower fire that took place in the British capital on June 14, which engulfed an entire 24-storey residential block. The number of people dead or presumed dead in the fire was at last count 79.

The situation may not be any better than the London building
Eric Ma Siu-cheung, development minister

But Ma believed the government would encounter stiff opposition to the crackdown, as some concern groups had been urging officials to first rehouse tenants of such buildings.

The Society for Community Organisation estimated that there could be up to 10,000 residents living illegally in the city’s 1,900 industrial buildings.

Ma said the government would offer temporary accommodation for those who could not find any housing, but it could not give all affected tenants priority in public housing allocations. He said such preferential treatment might encourage more people to move into industrial buildings simply to get relocated.

The development minister further cautioned the public as it looked at buying property at the moment, saying the market had heated up.

“Hong Kong’s history tells us that it’s impossible for property prices to keep going up without dropping,” he said.

No way out: How Hong Kong’s subdivided flats are leaving some residents in fire traps

As for leaving his job, Ma said he decided not to stay because he wanted more personal space after keeping a busy daily schedule in government.

He also denied rumours that he would next join the Airport Authority, claiming he had not received any job offers so far.

Hong Kong subdivided flat tenants facing eviction slam government for not rehousing them

Michael Wong Wai-lun succeeds Ma on July 1.

Ma said he would travel to Canada and the United States to visit his family, and then to Iceland and Denmark in August and September.