The revised law on the compulsory sale of old flats was supposed to help speed up urban renewal. Instead, it has become a rallying point for activists and disgruntled flat owners against big developers and their agents. Critics cite the law as proof of collusion between developers and the government. Whether or not that's true, the law is a difficult one to defend.
For years, a developer needed to acquire more than 90 per cent of flats in a residential building to force the rest of the owners to sell. But the law was changed last year to lower that threshold to 80 per cent.
The latest dispute involves an ageing building in Hung Hom of which Richfield Realty, an agent for property giant Henderson Land Development, has acquired 85 per cent. Most of the building's residents have moved out, but the few who remain were terrified to find large holes drilled into the walls of common areas without warning. They suspect the work is meant to intimidate them.
Henderson denies the charge, saying samples were needed to test the concrete in the 50-year-old building. A Henderson spokeswoman said the work was necessary for the company to decide whether it was worth preserving the building or redeveloping it.
Given Richfield's records of using unorthodox methods to pressure owners to sell flats, in buildings in various districts, the Hung Hom residents' complaints are not implausible. The work may or may not be necessary. But since there are still people living in the building, Richfield has a responsibility to ensure their safety and comfort.
It's time government officials rein in overzealous developers and their agents. And they need seriously to rethink the forced sales law.