Hong Kong housing

Tenants fear eviction from tiny flats

Tiny flats in industrial buildings are illegal, but those who live in them have nowhere else to go

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 September, 2015, 4:52pm

A tenant living in a 30 sq ft subdivided flat in an industrial building sees no hope of moving to a bigger home unless the city's severe housing shortage can be eased.

Casual worker Yu Wai-chan, 50, can barely afford the tiny flat, which has no windows and is barely big enough to fit a single bed, for a monthly rent of HK$1,300. It is so small he keeps his belongings in makeshift racks and cabinets on the wall.

His is among the 29 households sharing a 2,000 sq ft unit at an industrial building in Tai Kok Tsui.

Yu is one of about 20,000 tenants in subdivided flats in industrial buildings in Hong Kong, according to the Society for Community Organisation.

When the society interviewed 100 such tenants between August 2011 and March this year, it found that 90 per cent were living in spaces of less than 70 sq ft each, the minimum recommended by the Housing Authority.

Subdivided flats in industrial buildings are rented on average for HK$1,400 a month, with a HK$300 deposit. Yu said he could not afford space in a subdivided flat in a residential building as they cost HK$2,000 to HK$3,000. He earns about HK$10,000 a month for his family of three; his wife and daughter now live in Shenzhen.

On September 18, the Buildings Department served eviction notices to tenants in Yu's building, which is supposed to be for industrial use. The tenants were given a month to move out.

Yu and his fellow tenants are waiting for authorities to make the next move.

He said he would just find another cubicle in an industrial building if he were evicted.

"We are not committing any crime by living in these cubicles," he said. "If the government says this is against the law, then why doesn't it think about how to resettle us first?"

Sze Lai-shan, the society's community organiser, said the cheap rents and small deposits of such spaces appealed to workers on low pay and little in the way of savings. She said the removal subsidy of HK$2,100 from the Community Care Fund was barely enough for tenants to find a better place to live.

Sze suggests the government let tenants stay for the time being because of limited housing supply and the lack of rent controls.

If an assessment found that the buildings were not unsafe, but the evictions were solely because of land-use violations, the evictions should be suspended, she said.

The survey also found that 80 per cent of those interviewed did not know that it is illegal to live in industrial buildings, as they can find public advertisements for these subdivided flats.