Hong Kong subdivided flat tenants are being crushed by speculative water resale bills from landlords
Surging utility prices in subdivided flats are tearing tenants’ lives apart, even as rents keep rising. The latest statistics show that there are 92,700 subdivided units in Hong Kong. Not only did the median monthly rent for these rise by about 10 per cent from 2016, owner-imposed utility charges added to the hardship of tenants.
Striving to correct this situation, Federation of Trade Union representatives in the Legislative Council introduced two private members’ bills against owners of subdivided flats profiteering from utility resale, on top of our call for the resumption of tenancy control.
The Waterworks Ordinance (Cap 102) prohibits the sale of water without the prior written approval of the “Water Authority”. However, a loophole allows internal water supply system users to recover the cost of usage from end users. The government indicated that such “cost of usage” may include other “relevant fees”.
This mechanism enables unscrupulous subdivided flat owners to draw up bills as they wish, subjecting grass-roots tenants to further hardship. Our bill aims to close the loophole by amending the Waterworks Ordinance. At FTU, we endeavour to abolish these exemptions, which are open to abuse, by banning the resale of water.
Excessive rent, water and electricity bills are hurting people. Last year, the Environment Bureau rejected our proposed bill aimed at halting overcharging for electricity. The bureau’s expansive seven-page report achieved little other than to intimidate us with exaggerated and weak arguments for a tariff hike.
Most regrettably, the government has failed to offer any counter-proposal to deal with excessive electricity tariffs imposed by subdivided flat owners. Apparently, we need a government that is ready to do more than just offer lip service.
Water resources are a natural right, something all of us should enjoy. It is the government’s responsibility to take charge of water treatment and provide affordable water supply. We call for the Development Bureau’s proper and prompt response, with due consideration to our proposed bill against speculative water resale. It is only when the government manages to properly address the problem of overcharging for utilities that the tenants of subdivided flats will see light at the end of the tunnel.
Alice Mak, chair, Legislative Council Housing Panel