Residents of Wong Tai Sing’s Tin Ma Court staged a 12-hour sit-in on Monday against managerial neglect of public facilities, rent hikes and the unilateral termination of leases at the beleaguered housing estate.

Last year, the estate’s shopping mall and other facilities were sold to property investor Vantage, while Guardian – part of London-based Savills – took over property management responsibilities. During a visit last month, HKFP observed that escalators have not been repaired, plants have not been watered, and rats have been left to roam.

Tin Ma Court estate
“I want real dialogue with the landlord”. Photo: Alliance Saving Tin Ma Court via Facebook.

The Alliance Saving Tin Ma Court – the principal concern group – called on Vantage and Guardian to conduct a “real dialogue” with residents. Several signs criticising the companies were posted around the shopping mall, where residents sat down in protest.

The signs and tents set up by residents remained in the shopping mall as of Tuesday morning.

Residents added that Guardian had increased rents at the estate’s car park by 12 to 18 per cent the day following their first protest on April 9.

Accusations of manipulation

During the noon-to-midnight demonstration, residents also criticised pro-Beijing district councillor Chan On-tai, claiming he was incapable of representing their voices.

Last Tuesday afternoon, the Liberal Party’s Chan organised a briefing session with residents attended by two Guardian spokespersons. Vantage did not attend the session. But almost 2,000 residents signed a petition demanding another session in the evenings or the weekends, when they are not at work.

See also: In Pictures: The slow death of Home Ownership estate Tin Ma Court

At the meeting, Chan accused the Alliance Saving Tin Ma Court of being manipulated by parties for a “political struggle,” and criticised the local media’s negative coverage of the saga. Pro-democracy legislator Jeremy Tam had attended and spoken at the April 9 demonstration.

“Certain media outlets do not understand the full story, and they think the new property manager Guardian has forced evictions [of shop owners],” said Chan in a press release.

Tin Ma Court estate
Demonstration at Tin Ma Court. Photo: Alliance Saving Tin Ma Court via Facebook.

“Residents and shop owners will say that [the mall] has been empty for a long time. I hope that media can spend more effort before reporting and not accept the biased opinions of certain people.”

“Some residents are worried that exaggerated, false reports will affect the valuation of Tin Ma Court, causing property prices to decrease.”

However, shop owners indeed told HKFP last month that Guardian had increased management fees from HK$4.5 to HK$6.5 per square foot. One tuition centre owner displayed a sign saying that Vantage demanded the cancellation of her lease by June, even though it was not scheduled to end until 2018.

Door ‘remains open’

At Tuesday’s meeting, a Guardian spokesperson explained certain changes in facility management to Tin Ma Court’s residents. He said that plants at the shopping mall were not being watered because soil needed to be removed, in order to solve problems of water leakage to the floors below.

“[Property owner Vantage] will introduce some new facilities, or change the appearance [of the public facilities],” he said. “But we cannot announce any information right now, because we are still at the planning stage.”

“The door of consultation remains open,” he said.

Tin Ma Court
Last Tuesday’s briefing session. Chan On-tai (L) and two Guardian spokespersons. Photo: Tin Ma Concern Group screenshot.

Guardian has not spoken to residents since last Tuesday’s meeting. Vantage and Guardian did not respond to HKFP’s recent requests for comment.

Built in 1986, Tin Ma Court is a home ownership estate originally managed by the Hong Kong Housing Authority. The government allocated the estate’s public facilities to listed private property trust Link REIT in 2004, but the trust sold the facilities to Vantage in 2016.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.