AN appeals tribunal should be set up for public housing tenants forced to pay punitive rents, watchdog groups said yesterday. Grassroots groups and tenants' organisations have threatened more protests if the Housing Authority proceeds with charging tenants who own private flats up to five times the normal rent for their public flats. The strategy, due to be released next month for consultation, requires tenants to pay market rates if they own assets 110 times their income limit. Hong Kong People's Council on Public Housing Policy chairman Lo Chau said: 'The policy is unfair. People have savings because they have been working hard to earn money. 'Why should the Government punish them? Is the Government encouraging people to be lazy? 'The authority has been talking about punishment. But what will be done to protect tenants from mis-administration?' said Mr Lo, who called for the setting up of a tribunal to hear complaints. District board member Ngan Chun-lim, who represents North Point Estate where some tenants own five private flats, said: 'When tenants were rehoused into public housing, there was no such law against property ownership. 'And even the existing tenancy contract does not state such conditions. It is not a sin for a tenant to own private flats.' Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood vice-chairman Leung Kwong-cheong warned against double-counting tenants' incomes. 'For example, if a tenant owns a shop, the authority should not count the premises as his asset and at the same time include the earnings from the business as his income,' said Mr Leung. The move was ordered by authority chairman Rosanna Wong Yick-ming after findings showed that 13 per cent of public tenants owned private properties. In three cases, the households own nine flats each. Under the proposed crackdown, a typical family of four, whose income limit is $13,600 a month, may have to pay punitive rents if their assets exceed $1.5 million. The family would have to pay up to $10,000 a month for a flat in the urban area. The income limit is $5,500 for a one-person household and up to $23,900 for a family of 10 or more. Tenants are required to declare ownership of stocks, local and overseas properties and cars after living on public estates for 10 years. The authority is considering doubling the penalty for making a false declaration to six months' jail. Offenders may be fined three times the value of undeclared assets.