TIME appears to have run out for eight Shek O residents, ordered to leave an illegal, multi-million-dollar duplex by Friday so it can be torn down.
Landlord Daniel Yip Wai-lum said he had dodged previous eviction orders during his four-year feud with the Building Authority by launching every possible court action to stall or halt the demolition.
'But this time, from a legal point of view, it's really the end of the road,' Mr Yip said. 'I don't know what else we can do. We are trying to get in touch with legislators to see if they will help us.' The latest eviction threat came late last month after the High Court dismissed a tenant's bid for an injunction to keep the house intact.
The tenant has filed an appeal, but the authority has held firm on an eviction date of April 7. Mr Yip said he and his tenants were packing their belongings and searching for new homes.
A structural engineer, Mr Yip's headache began in 1987 when he returned to his ancestral village, bought an old home with his cousin and knocked it down.
Mr Yip then gave the authority a plan for a modern abode covering 100 per cent of his land. Shek O homes must not cover more than two thirds of their plots - a rule Mr Yip says many locals have ignored.
When his plan was rejected in October 1989, Mr Yip went ahead with the $2-million home anyway. The decision has cost him $1 million in legal fees alone.
On January 30, 1991, the authority ordered him to demolish the house - a three-storey duplex with four flats he now estimates to be worth $7 million - but Mr Yip failed to appeal within the allowed time.
He later commissioned an independent structural appraisal that found the house was well-built. Two attempts to convince an Appeal Tribunal to hear his case failed, although both panels expressed sympathy for the plight of Shek O residents.
The authority won its court battle for a closure order which would allow a government contractor to carry out the demolition. Mr Yip appealed but a request for the Privy Council to hear his case failed.
Two tenants then launched separate legal actions, but were unsuccessful. A third tenant, whose case was in court on March 24, asked for an injunction on the closure order.
Edward Lok Che-leung, the authority's assistant director of control and enforcement, said a compromise, such as fining Mr Yip or making him prove the home was safe, was impossible. Demolition was the only option.
The Shek O Indigenous Villagers' Association, chaired by Mr Yip, has asked Governor Chris Patten to change the planning rules.
The group wants Shek O homeowners to be allowed to rebuild on 100 per cent of their tiny plots instead of two-thirds. 'Without this there is no incentive to tear down unsafe and dilapidated buildings,' said the association's lawyer, William Clarke.
Similar indigenous villages in the New Territories are exempted from the two-thirds rule.
Mr Yip says he is still mulling over whether to rebuild on the land or sell it and start afresh elsewhere.