Roof squatters claim rights to ownership

Families living on top of block of flats counter clearance order by telling judge they have lived there long enough to qualify as the legal owners

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 4:53am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 5:19pm

Owners of a building in Sham Shui Po may lose possession of their rooftop under a claim for squatters' rights, the District Court heard yesterday.

The squatters staked their claim after owners took them to court in an effort to enforce a removal order to clear the roof that was issued by the Buildings Department.

Of the 10 families living on the rooftop, four have been there for more than two decades and argue that gives them the legal rights to possession.

Choi Ngai-chun, representing owner-occupants of the 50-year-old building on the junction of Tai Nan Street and Kweilin Street, said the removal order was issued under the Buildings Ordinance in September last year. They are trying to enforce the removal through the civil courts.

Judge Lawrence Yip Sue-pui yesterday extended the deadline to leave from the end of this year to February 11 next year in the case of 10 squatters, in view of their financial hardship.

For the four households now claiming squatters' rights, he asked them to provide evidence in the next two months to prove how long they had been living on the rooftop.

Ting Shek-kuen, 56, has lived in a space of about 150 square foot for more than two decades, in which time he started a family and now has two daughters aged 10 and six. "It was originally a verbal agreement from a friend of mine who agreed to let me have the space for a [one-off payment] of HK$40,000," he told the court.

"I have fitted all the furnishings, water and electricity supplies on my own," he added.

Ting, a labourer on construction sites, said he did not earn much and he has never paid rent. "No one likes living in such a poor environment; I will move if I am given a public housing flat," he said, adding that he was offered a public housing flat in Fu Shan Estate, Ngau Chi Wan, earlier this year but, at 200 sq ft, he rejected it as too small.

"I would prefer living in a larger space for my two daughters to study. A 200 sq ft apartment is far too small," he said. The case was adjourned to next year.

In the case of private land, squatters must claim to have effectively possessed the land for at least 12 years to claim ownership if they moved in after July 1, 1991. Squatters who moved in before that date must claim 20 years' possession. For government land, squatters must have been resident for at least 60 years.

The 2006 census recorded 3,982 rooftop dwellers in the city.