Motion on “Landlord and Tenant (Consolidation) (Amendment) Bill 2021” (2021.10.20)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Deputy President, I speak in support of the Landlord and Tenant (Consolidation) (Amendment) Bill 2021 (“the Bill”) discussed today. Housing difficulties are a deep-seated problem that has been plaguing Hong Kong for years. At present, over 200 000 people are still residing in cramped subdivided units (“SDUs”) with terrible conditions.

The Bill seeks to incorporate the statutory requirements relating to SDU tenancy into the Landlord and Tenant (Consolidation) Ordinance by providing a four-year security of tenure to tenants and putting in place rent regulation on tenancy renewal. When the first two-year tenancy expires, tenants are entitled to renew the tenancy for another two years, and the rate of rent increase for the second term tenancy must not exceed the relevant rental index or 10%, whichever is the lower. In fact, the Government originally proposed a cap of 15%, but a number of Members considered that the cap was too high and unable to provide adequate protection for tenants. Some community organizations even harshly dismissed the measure as virtually useless, pointing out that the normal rent increase of SDUs currently ranged from 6% to 8% only and it was meaningless to set the cap at 15%. Eventually, the Government made a substantial concession, lowering the cap to 10%.

I very much appreciate the Government for accepting the good advice on this occasion, which is an important step towards good governance. In the past, it was difficult for the Government to take public opinions on board because the opposition camp would present a lot of specious views with a view to impeding the Government’s implementation of policies and achieving political goals. As we have now resumed rational policy discussions in the Legislative Council, other Members and I have repeatedly called on the Government to resume public engagement, thereby improving the quality of administration. I believe since the Government is no longer distracted or disturbed by those noises, it can listen to people’s voices clearly and readily accept their constructive views.

In fact, there are quite a number of loopholes in the Bill. Members certainly understand that the implementation of tenancy control of SDUs is just an interim measure. Therefore, even though the Bill is imperfect, we still find it acceptable. The Bill provides that the landlord is under an obligation to repair the equipment of an SDU, and if the landlord refuses to do so, the tenant may terminate the tenancy or repair it first and then recover the cost from the landlord. However, in reality, there have been quite a number of cases in foreign countries in which some unscrupulous landlords who wish to evict the tenants intentionally refrain from carrying out any repair, resulting in deteriorating living conditions; in the end, the tenants can do nothing but move out. This is usually a very effective means of forced eviction.

The Bill provides for restrictions on the rent increase of SDUs, which may give unscrupulous landlords an incentive to adopt underhand tricks to evict the tenants. Therefore, the provision stipulating that the tenant may terminate the tenancy agreement if the landlord is unwilling to carry out any repair is, in fact, exactly what such unscrupulous landlords hope for. Moreover, it is cumbersome and time-consuming to file a claim to the Small Claims Tribunal for the repair cost. Besides, since such tenants are the underprivileged, how are they supposed to know how to file a claim? In the end, many tenants simply move out to avoid further troubles. As such, this provision is in effect unable to help SDU tenants.

The Government has pointed out that the legislation should not impose a mandatory requirement for landlords to complete the repairs within a specified period of time. I consider this understandable because the Government needs to balance the rights and interests of all parties and it probably cannot implement excessive regulation. Nevertheless, the Government may assist tenants through other means, and the best way is to allocate resources to help them solve problems. For example, various District Offices may deploy additional manpower to mediate in disputes involving SDU tenants, or even assist them in filing claims in order to make them feel supported, which will also help address the inadequacies of the legislation.

Lastly, I have to stress that rent control of SDUs is just an interim measure. The long-term goals are to eradicate SDUs and allocate public rental housing (“PRH”) units to everyone on the Waiting List. According to the Policy Address, the Government has identified 350 hectares of land to produce 330 000 public housing units, which can meet the demand for the next decade. As it takes time to create land and build flats, only around 110 000 units will be ready in the next five years, and the remaining 220 000 units will only be completed thereafter. Thus, the people still have to wait for a few more years before the tight supply of public housing can be alleviated. I hope that the Government will continue to work hard, endeavour to expedite land creation and housing construction, and expeditiously allocate PRH units to those in need. Thank you, Deputy President.

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