Families facing eviction from their homes on the rooftop of a Sham Shui Po building received a temporary reprieve yesterday because one among them is pregnant.
The 17 families have written proof that they own their homes at 280 Tung Chau Street, where some of them have lived since the 1970s. But they do not hold title deeds to the property.
And Hanter Limited - which bought the top floor of the block in 2006 that included the title deed for the rooftop - wants them out.
It filed a writ in 2011 and got approval to resume the rooftop. The residents did not know about the legal action because the letter notifying them was in English, which they did not understand, so they did not appear in court to defend themselves.
They were reprimanded for not attending to the matter sooner when they appeared in court last year to contest an eviction notice.
Yesterday, the bailiff turned up with more than a dozen officials to force out the residents after they were sent a third eviction notice last week.
The bailiff granted a temporary reprieve for all because a pregnant woman was living there and he did not want to put her in danger, he said. It was not clear how long the reprieve would last.
The woman's husband, who did not give his name, said they would end up on the streets if the government did not step in. His wife is six months' pregnant. They paid HK$110,000 for their home in 2003.
Mak Kin-wing, a truck driver in his fifties whose mother in 1972 built the home he shared with his son, said: "I had planned to spend my life here … We don't qualify for government compassionate rehousing as this is private property and a private case."
None of the residents were on government welfare of any kind and only one family was in line for public housing before the legal troubles began, said Sze Lai-shan, of the non-profit Society for Community Organisation.
Most of the families added their names to the public housing queue when the legal row began.
Rooftop homes - tin or concrete huts built atop tenements - have been common since the 50s. Those built after 1982 are illegal, but many live in them as they cannot afford any other place.
"I'm not on welfare … and only recently applied for public housing because of this," said Lo Kam-yung, 59, who bought her home for HK$130,000 in 1997 and only finished paying it off in 2009.
She makes HK$7,000 a month as a dishwasher. "It would have been the streets for me tonight - I have no other place to go."