A landlord is still leasing out illegally subdivided flats at an industrial building in Tai Kok Tsui, little more than a week before the premises are due to be closed down and the cubicles demolished by order of the government.
Number 78-78A Larch Street was issued with a closure notice on December 29, with the Buildings Department sticking up notices inside to notify tenants. But while most residents are worrying about where to go, new tenants have been streaming in - even though all the illegal walls and floors inside are slated to be demolished on March 7.
At least three new tenants moved in last week, and none of them knew the building was to close, tenants and social workers told the South China Morning Post. One only stayed a day, after receiving a full refund from the landlord. The Post also found an advertisement for the flats in Friday's Oriental Daily at rents of HK$960 to HK$1,600 a month, with the landlord's contact numbers on it.
'I saw the landlord taking a few potential tenants up here to see the place a few days ago,' tenant Jacky Lee said when the Post visited the premises.
Lee herself moved in on January 8 with her boyfriend, Bosco Ng. She did not know about the government order and found out from Buildings Department social workers a few days after she moved in. 'I called up the landlord and his wife said she forgot to tell me when she took me up to see the place. These people are heartless. They just trick people so they can make more money,' Lee said.
Raymond Ng, who moved in at the end of January, said he was also tricked into renting a room. 'When I moved in, the landlord told me that the building wouldn't change for at least another six months, so I thought that was enough time,' he said. 'Two days after I moved in I found out that I have to be gone by March.' He added that he would probably see if there were any spaces at temporary government shelters.
Most of the 60-odd flats - which range in size from 40 to 80 sq ft - appear to still be occupied.
The building was in the news last year for its 'creatively' partitioned subdivided flats - which are split horizontally into three levels - and threw the spotlight on factories that are illegally turned into homes for the poor.
New tenants could pursue legal action against the landlord for breach of contract but were unlikely to do so, said Angela Lui Yi-shan of the Society for Community Organisation.
Lui has been working with social workers from the Buildings Department to help find residents new homes and apply for moving assistance grants from the Community Care Fund. So far, 35 out of 39 applications have been granted.
Legislator Alan Leong Kah-kit said: 'This is certainly a very outrageous and unsatisfactory situation. Innocent tenants are being taken advantage of.'
He suggested the government run its own newspaper advertisements listing illegally subdivided premises. The government could also put up more obvious and permanent signs near the buildings to warn people.
Legislator Lee Wing-tat said it was outrageous that the landlord was continuing to rent out flats to new tenants but noted there was no way to stop him since the building was a private property.