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Thursday, Feb 09, 2023

First Hong Kong landlord fined under new law to protect subdivided-flat tenants

First Hong Kong landlord fined under new law to protect subdivided-flat tenants

Landlord fined HK$6,600 in total for six offences linked to water and electricity charges and one in relation to rent.
A Hong Kong landlord has been fined for violating a new law introduced to protect tenants of subdivided flats from excessive rent increases and overcharging for utilities, the first such conviction since the legislation took effect in January.

The landlord pleaded guilty on Friday at Eastern Court, and was fined HK$6,600 (US$850) in total for six offences related to water and electricity charges and one in relation to rent.

According to the authorities, the landlord failed to produce copies of the bills and provide an account in writing when requiring the tenant to pay their share of water and electricity charges. The landlord also failed to provide a rent receipt.

The Rating and Valuation Department conducted an investigation after receiving a complaint about the landlord in mid-May.

The Landlord and Tenant (Consolidation) Ordinance came into force on January 22. Under the law, when a tenant is required to pay for utilities and services separately from the rent, the landlord must produce copies of the relevant bills and provide an account in writing showing how the amounts are apportioned.

Non-compliance carries a maximum fine of HK$10,000 on a first conviction and HK$25,000 on subsequent ones.

A landlord who fails to provide a tenant with a rent receipt within seven days of collection of the payment faces a fine of HK$2,000.

A department spokesman said he hoped this first conviction would send a strong message to landlords of subdivided units, and reminded tenants of their rights.

He also appealed to the public to come forward and promptly report any suspected cases of contravening the relevant requirements.

According to a Transport and Housing Bureau report last year, an estimated 110,008 subdivided units housed 226,340 people, or about 3 per cent of the city’s 7.5 million population.

Sze Lai-shan, deputy director of the Society for Community Organisation, said the conviction would send out a signal to the public that authorities had been enforcing the law and those who broke it would be held accountable, but she added the punishment was too lenient.

“The penalty was too light and lacked deterrent power,” she said, calling for heavier punishments.

Sze said despite the new law, many subdivided flat tenancies remained largely unregulated, with renters not provided with a lease agreement or utility bills, or overcharged for water and electricity.

“Some tenants were either not aware of the law or were too afraid of speaking up for fear of being kicked out of their places by landlords,” she said, urging authorities to strengthen enforcement of the law.

Kenny Ng Kwan-lim, a member of the Kwai Chung Subdivided Flat Residents Alliance, welcomed the conviction, but also said it reflected a lack of law enforcement given there had only been one case while there were hundreds of thousands of subdivided flats.

He called on the government to step up its inspections, review the penalties to boost deterrence, as well as enhance the promotion and publicity of the new law to raise awareness.
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