Legislators passed a bill yesterday that enables property owners to end leases when they expire, depriving tenants of the right of renewal they have enjoyed for more than 20 years. Residential and commercial owners will have the right to take back the premises - even if the tenants are willing to pay market rents - under the Landlord and Tenant (Consolidation) (Amendment) Bill. The change, which the government says will boost the market by making rented properties more attractive, was condemned by critics as protecting landlords at the expense of tenants. The Alliance of Tenants of Older Districts staged a noisy protest outside the Legislative Council chambers while the vote was being held. 'The purpose is to repeal the rental control of the residential market, removing the government's interference over the market, restoring it to a free-market operation,' Secretary for Housing, Planning and Lands Michael Suen Ming-yeung told legislators. Of 49 legislators present, 37 supported the bill, 11 abstained and one voted against it. A government amendment granting a one-year grace period with rent unchanged before tenants have to move out was passed by 31 to 19 votes. Another allowing tenancy to be passed on to deceased tenants' parents, children and spouses was passed 25-21. But an amendment by Democrat Albert Ho Chun-yan to exempt property with an annual rateable value below $60,000 or a monthly rental value of $5,000, failed to attract enough support. Outside the building, protesting tenants from older districts, such as Kwun Tong, Shamshuipo and Sai Ying Pun said they feared that they would be hit hard by the new law, which owners could use to raise rents more often. Alliance spokeswoman Cynthia Lau criticised the government for putting owners before tenants. 'The elderly, single-parent families, new migrants and people with chronic illnesses could be put into an unfavourable position,' she said. Wong Leung-shing, senior research and marketing manager of Centaline Property Agency, said the new law would be favourable for the property market. 'Owners' rights are now protected. So more people are expected to purchase flats to earn rents,' he said. The law giving right of renewal was passed in 1981.