James Ng Ka-lai was looking forward to a quiet retirement in Hong Kong. Waiting for him in Sai Kung was a rustic one-storey house overlooking the picturesque Lap Sap Chau bay.
But his plans were dashed when he returned to the city last month after six years in Canada to find himself locked out of the house by a group of unfriendly new occupants.
The gate had been padlocked, the front door and windows removed, and almost all the trees and shrubs surrounding the house dug out. The new occupants had been living there for the past 12 years, he was told.
Ng was dealt a double whammy when police said they had no power to help regain possession of the house he claimed to have "owned" for two decades as they could not verify it was his.
The plot of land in question is a 334 square metre lot just off Tai Mong Tsai Road. As recently as 2008, Ng had stayed in the house while holidaying in Hong Kong, he said. Neighbours also reported seeing no one but Ng on the premises until about December last year.
"From my perspective, it just seems like blatant breaking in and entering by invading criminals," said Ng, who laments losing access to priceless belongings including children's pictures and wedding gifts.
He suspects elements of organised crime are at play, aiming to gain adverse possession of the lot and rent it out for profit. When the South China Morning Post visited the house with Ng last month, police had urged him to take his case to the courts.
In the meantime, however, he has no choice but to stay at a hotel in the city he once called home. "I don't understand why nothing can be done when unknown intruders take over your property," he said.
Alas, the lot on which Ng's house sits is one of 15,000 under a government land licence. Before the 1970s, the government issued such leases to regularise agricultural and domestic squatter structures in rural areas.
Ng said he had been paying the annual HK$100 land dues since 1994, after the original licensee - a friend's uncle who died that year - appointed him as the estate's personal representative.
The District Lands Office in Sai Kung said it was following up on the case according to "applicable procedures", but said the licence was not transferable. Upon the death of a licensee, only immediate family members can apply for a licence transfer.
Herein lies the problem for Ng. Not being related to the licensee, his claim to rightful leasing of the site appears as murky as the system that has let him occupy it for years.