The need for rent controls to protect the poorest of poor tenants reflects failed housing and land-supply policies. It is only right that the government should step in to protect some of the most vulnerable – the tenants of the city’s subdivided flats. A government-appointed task force has recommended rent controls linked to an index based on the general market, with increases capped at 15 per cent. The aim is to prevent exorbitant rent rises and keep prices in line with the general trend in the residential market. Tenant activists believe 15 per cent is too high and rises should be fixed by a formula linked to the consumer price index. Agents and landlords are concerned about the violation of free-market principles and property rights. In the context of inflated rents and low earnings, 15 per cent does seem too high – except to landlords who face cost pressures from management and maintenance fees. That said, it is good the task force recommends doing something by indexing rises. But a problem remains concerning enforcement. A case in point can be utility bills, which unscrupulous landlords are known to inflate to recover discounts and other costs. In the absence of individual power or water meters, the task force recommends that landlords would have to provide a copy of a utility bill and a breakdown of the division of costs between tenants of the flat. Tenants are often at a disadvantage owing to a lack of access to information, and there is no guarantee a landlord would comply. There is room for better protection when regulating the landlord-tenant relationship and enforcement. Shoebox-size homes are mostly in privately owned older buildings and are commonly found to present health, fire and structural risks. The occupants are often poor families whose income growth has lagged rent rises over the years. Many are in the long queue for public housing. Subdivided housing may cost up to half of their salaries, in return for a cubicle-size partition with communal cooking and toilet facilities inside run-down tenement blocks. Under the task force’s proposals, a lease would be fixed for two years subject to rent control; the tenant would then have priority to renegotiate under the cap and after four years the landlord and tenant could strike a new agreement without a cap on a rent increase. Hong Kong’s subdivided flat tenants welcome call to keep rents under control Public sympathy may be with the tenants of subdivided flats, but the government should strive for a good balance with the interests of landlords, who have their own commitments to meet. Ultimately the solution is a much greater supply of affordable, decent housing for poor people. Meanwhile, after two years, the government should review the effectiveness of any rent controls over dwellings that hold about 99,000 households.