Squatters bring misery to owners of old Hong Kong flats holding out against developers

Residents suspect harassment campaign to force them out of gentrifying area

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 12:15am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 12:15am

Squatters are making life hell for residents of a 59-year-old tenement in Tak Kok Tsui by breaking into flats, making noise late into the night, and leaving faeces and vomit in hallways.

A number of owners said they lived in constant fear because of intrusions into flats left empty by developers moving into the rapidly gentrifying area.

“I feel scared every time I go out or come back to my own place,” said one, who has lived in the Pok Man Street building for 20 years and refused to give her full name.

The case, involving a redevelopment led by Henderson Land, sheds light on the grim situation shared by many who live in old tong lau buildings, which have poor facilities and little security, as major companies try to buy their properties for redevelopment.

Hong Kong has about 9,000 buildings over 50 years old. Developers have to obtain at least 80 per cent ownership of such buildings before applying to the Land Tribunal for a compulsory auction of the entire property, a requirement that often takes years to fulfil.

During the lengthy bargaining process, flats that have already been acquired are often left empty, so anyone can get in to spend the night.

Owners complain of living in “haunted houses”, with strangers coming and going every day.

“We feared some of the suspicious-looking people were selling drugs in those flats,” one woman resident told the Post. “About six flat owners sold their units in our building because they could not stand the harassment any more.”

Property prices soar in recently gentrified Tai Kok Tsui in Kowloon West, and more homes are on the way

The residents suspected some of the new occupants were sent by property companies that wanted to press them to sell their flats in Tak Kok Tsui, an old district west of bustling Mong Kok.

In December, Henderson Land applied for compulsory sales of four residential blocks in the district, which had a total market value of more than HK$500 million.

In response to residents’ accusations, a spokeswoman from Henderson Land Development said the company would not comment on individual cases but promised to step up security measures at the flats it owned.

Here in the tong lau, I don’t need to pay cleaning and maintenance fees
One resident who’s refusing to move out

In a meeting with residents in May, Henderson Land said it was not aware of squatters occupying the company’s flats, according to district councillor Chung Chak-fai, who attended the meeting. The firm declined to reveal its redevelopment plan or how many property interests were involved.

Chung said residents at other old buildings nearby had also complained about thefts and empty flats being occupied by strangers.

The residents of a building in Pok Man Street called police after spotting strangers sleeping in flats.

One said she was recently approached by a company that wanted to acquire her place, but the price offered was too low.

“With the same amount of money, I cannot find a place as big as this one,” she said. “Here in the tong lau, I don’t need to pay cleaning and maintenance fees.”