Walls removed, electric sockets altered and bathtubs ripped out: Crackdown on DIY flat tenants failing, says Hong Kong watchdog

One person whose home alterations put the whole building at risk had still not put things right after three years

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 May, 2017, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 May, 2017, 1:40pm

Hong Kong’s watchdog has attacked the government for its laxity in tackling public housing tenants who carry out unauthorised alterations, causing misery to neighbours.

In one case, the Ombudsman said in her latest report published on Thursday, a tenant whose alterations could have seriously undermined the building’s structure had still not put things right after three years.

Some tenants had removed walls separating rooms, altered sockets and electricity cables, ripped out bathtubs and toilets, and installed extra drainpipes and wash basins.

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Tenants were also allowed to restore flats to their original condition when the Housing Department was required to do the work to ensure quality.

“Public housing estates have a highly dense population,” Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing said. “Unauthorised alterations can easily disturb neighbours. The Housing Department has been inactive in handling [the alterations]. Such an attitude is not only unfair to other public housing tenants, but will also encourage the growth of unauthorised alterations.”

According to the report, among 65 reinstated flats in the past four years, 10 had taken at least six months to complete, with seven of these taking at least nine months and one more than two years to complete.

Such practice could be a potential danger to building safety
Connie Lau Yin-hing, Ombudsman

As of June 30 last year, 27 cases were still not closed, with one dragging on for almost three years.

Among the 65 completed cases, 61 had involved seriously hazardous alterations which, according to internal guidelines, should have been reinstated by the department to ensure the materials used and work met established standards.

But in 28 of the 61 cases, the department allowed the tenants to carry out the work.

“Such practice violated established guidelines and could be a potential danger to building safety,” Lau said.

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She added that the actual situation could be far worse given that there were 700,000 public housing flats in the city. She urged the department to conduct more inspections of estates and follow up cases actively.

In August last year the department renewed its guidelines for inspectors who issue deadlines to tenants. Under the new system, officers are required to issue a reinstatement notice within 60 days of the discovery of illegal alterations.

The Housing Department said it would strengthen its monitoring of unauthorised alterations and improve training for frontline officers.