Cage home operators have been granted a reprieve from legislation that threatened to close them, just 12 days before it was due to take effect. Director of Home Affairs Shelley Lau Lee Lai-kuen yesterday met about 40 operators who explained their difficulties improving fire safety to meet the new Bedspace Apartment Ordinance. Mrs Lau said she had to consider humanitarian grounds. 'These operators helped the Government solve the housing problem in the 1970s when there was a mainland influx,' she said. 'The operators had an historical mission and the ordinance is not intended to push them into a dead end.' The law specifies $100,000 fines and six months' imprisonment for operators failing to upgrade to the licensing standard before July 1. The Bedspace Apartment Ordinance was introduced in 1994 forcing owners to upgrade fire facilities for the safety of tenants. 'We have to balance safety and practicability. If the operators still have problems, we will allow them to solve them in a reasonable time, say one year,' said Mrs Lau. 'I don't want to panic the operators.' Lau Ming, aged more than 70, and dubbed the King of Cage Homes because of his eight centres with 300 tenants, had a change of heart over his future after hearing the director's pledge. 'I was thinking of closing the business down once the new law comes into effect. The renovation is so costly and I've hardly done any of it yet,' said Mr Lau. 'But think of the poor people in my place. I really don't want to see them going nowhere. If the department is willing to help, I'd like to see whether I could co-operate.'