The number of public flat tenants caught flouting rules has soared in the past four years, and housing policy observers say it may still be just the tip of the iceberg.
The number of tenants penalised for illegal use of flats has more than quadrupled since 2009, while the number caught throwing objects from high-rise buildings has doubled, official figures released yesterday show.
The figures were contained in a paper presented to the Legislative Council tracking progress in a scheme introduced in 2003, under which tenants accumulate points for each breach and face eviction if the total reaches 16 within two years. The number of points varies from three for minor offences such as drying clothes in a public area to 15 for dangerous throwing of objects.
"The figures reflect, to a certain extent, the impact of the enhanced enforcement actions taken by the Housing Department," the Transport and Housing Bureau said in the report to Legco's housing panel. "It is also attributed to the tenants' readiness to lodge reports of misdeeds following our extensive publicity and education programmes."
Cases in which tenants had points deducted for illegal use of flats surged from 20 in 2009 to 90 last year, while cases of throwing objects from a height doubled from 80 to 160.
In contrast, the number of public hygiene offences decreased. Cases of smoking in common areas, littering and spitting dropped from 1,300, 400 and 80, respectively, in 2009, to 990, 130 and nine last year.
Housing Authority member Nelson Wong Sing-chi said he believed the rise in illegal-use cases was due to increased inspections as the government sought to curb abuse and free up misused flats for people on the lengthy waiting list. But he said it was still not enough.
"The 90 cases found in a year may not reflect the full picture … I suggest that more manpower should be given to the Housing Department to inspect the uses of flats and to investigate suspicious cases," he said.
Federation of Public Housing Estates president Wong Kwun, a former member of the authority, agreed tighter enforcement was the reason for the increases.
"The number of cases found in earlier years was just incredibly low," he said. "There must be many more offences not found."
While the points system had been effective in improving hygiene, the punishment was not always fair.
"Under the present rules, one person committing offences can lead to eviction of the whole family," he said. "For example, in a case where one person is convicted of possessing illegal drugs in his flat, the whole family will have to leave. This is unfair."
Examples of abuse include tenants leaving their flat vacant or renting it out, or using a flat for commercial purposes.
A total of 900 tenants had points deducted between 2009 and last year.