An advocacy group has urged the government to strictly enforce a new rent control law covering Hong Kong’s infamous subdivided flats, expressing concern that authorities have been lax in conducting inspections and have not prosecuted any landlords.

concern group subdivided flat exhibition
The Alliance Monitoring the Government’s Implementation of Tenancy Regulations of Subdivided Flat Units. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

The Alliance Monitoring the Government’s Implementation of Tenancy Regulations of Subdivided Flat Units told a press conference on the roof of a Kwai Chung tenement building that landlords were still overcharging subdivided flat residents for water and electricity.

Many have also refused to submit a written form outlining the tenancy agreement to the Rating and Valuation Department (RVD), a new requirement under the legislation, the group said on Thursday.

“The department has only carried out around inspections at 460 [subdivided flats]. But there are around 120,000 households living in subdivided flats in Hong Kong,” Ms Yip, a member of the group said.

The amended ordinance regulating subdivided flats came into effect in January to safeguard the rights of the city’s poorest. Waiting years for public housing and without the financial means to rent a decent home in one of the world’s most expensive housing markets, around 220,000 people live in subdivided units notorious for cramped conditions and fire safety hazards.

concern group subdivided flat exhibition
Ms Yip, a member of a Hong Kong concern group raising awareness about the plight of subdivided flat residents. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Under the new legislation, landlords cannot increase rent within a two-year period. After two years, they may hike the rent by no more than 10 per cent.

The new law also makes it illegal for landlords to overcharge for water and electricity, a problem about which advocacy groups have long raised concerns.

Offenders face a fine of HK$10,000 for a first conviction.

“We hope the RVD can write up a specific timetable for carrying out inspections and set an aim as to how many inspections will be conducted,” Ms Yip said.

subdivided flat
A subdivided flat in To Kwa Wan. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

According to the advocacy group, no prosecutions have been made under the revised legislation which the group likened to a “paper tiger.” HKFP has reached out to the RVD for comment.

Rooftop exhibition

Along with the press conference, the group also put on a mini-exhibition for reporters displaying information on 10 tenement buildings in Hong Kong.

The group said it had identified the 10 districts in Hong Kong with the most number of subdivided flat residents, and chosen the buildings – one in each district – for their high concentration of the cramped homes.

All but one of the buildings were over 50 years of age. They covered districts including Kowloon City, To Kwa Wan, Kwun Tong and Sham Shui Po.

concern group subdivided flat exhibition
A Hong Kong concern group put on a mini-exhibition showing ten tenement buildings that it said were “most worthy” of being inspected by the government. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Among the buildings was a 54-year-old tenement block on Wan Hon Street in Kwun Tong.

“Ninety per cent of the units in this building are subdivided flats,” Ms Chan, a member of the concern group, said. “For a long time, residents have wished [for new laws regulating subdivided units]. But now that there is one, their lives are still so difficult.”

She said that instead of being proactive, the government had shifted responsibility for regulating subdivided flats to tenants by encouraging them to complain if they were being mistreated by their landlords.

“But residents are very afraid of their landlords because they could evict them [if they complain],” Ms Chan said.

concern group subdivided flat exhibition
Ms Chan, a member of a Hong Kong concern group raising awareness about the plight of subdivided flat residents. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Members of the group said they hoped authorities would begin their inspections with these 10 buildings and step up checks across the city. They also suggested that authorities can conduct the inspections at night when residents were more likely to be home, rather than in the day, when the few checks that had been done were carried out.

Mr Ng, also a member of the advocacy group, told HKFP that while the exhibition was not currently available to the public, there were plans to collaborate with organisations to showcase the display.

“We hope to send a message to the RVD that there are many buildings in Hong Kong that are waiting to be inspected,” he said.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.