‘Landlords still jacking up bills despite new law’

A grassroots concern group said on Sunday that landlords of subdivided flats are still overcharging tenants for electricity and water, even as a new law bans them from charging jacked-up water fees and as officials work on bringing in tenancy control.

In May, Legco passed a bill tabled by the Federation of Trade Unions’ Alice Mak under which owners of subdivided flats would be fined HK$10,000 if they breach official guidelines in charging tenants water bills.

The Society for Community Organisation (SOCO) polled 360 people living in subdivided flats and other subpar housing from April to June.

It found that the majority of them paid substantially higher utility fees, in comparison to what they would’ve been charged if they lived in a regular apartment.

For example, the group said the median water charge participants paid per month was HK$15 per unit, when the official charge approved by the Water Supplies Department was only HK$12 dollars per unit.

SOCO’s community organiser, Esther Wu, said the overcharging of utility fees should be criminalised, and called on authorities to strengthen enforcement work.

“The tenants may be afraid of the landlord, because if they report the situation to the government, their landlord may not let them continue renting the house,” she said.

“So it is most important that the government actively do the checking and recommend the electricity companies to also do the checking, to find out which landlord is charging unreasonable prices.”

Speaking at the same press conference, a single mother who lives in a subdivided flat said she tried to ask her property agent about an abnormal increase in her utility charges, only for the agent to hang up on her.

The woman said tenants in her flat share the utility fees of their toilet and kitchen, but they were still charged more than before, even when no electricity could be used in the flat’s toilet for three months due to broken lights.

“The lights in the toilet were broken, so how could we have used any electricity?” she asked, adding that the tenants had to light up the toilet with torches during that period and boil their own water for bathing.

SOCO also urged the government to roll out tenancy control of subdivided flats as soon as possible.