Number of HK people with illegal structures rises to 6.8 million

The cataclysmic ‘Trellisgate’ scandal outrage mayhem shock horror massacre of 2012 continues. Sources vary, but it seems the Democratic Party has been threatening to apply for a judicial review or submit an election petition (normally used after dirty New Territories village polls) to – in effect – force Beijing to fire CY Leung days after he takes office as Chief Executive. DP boss Albert Ho declared that they will decide whether to go ahead depending on the response to a detailed questionnaire CY must complete and return to them by a set date.

There is some word that they are having second thoughts about some or all of this. The action has a whiff of ‘arresting Tony Blair’ about it – a sort of outlandish self-importance that Albert Ho is particularly ill-suited for. Plus the time period for such challenges to election results expired a good couple of months back.

We need a bit of light relief, and amazingly we find it in Communist-funded Ta Kung Pao, via China Daily, which gleefully lists many pro-democrats with illegal structures. The Confederation of Trade Unions has a suitably proletarian ‘tin-sheeted structure’ on its roof (no bourgeois trellises here). At the other end of the social scale, the Civic Party’s Ronny Tong has an unauthorized glass thing and an illicit swimming pool, as you do when you’re a millionaire lawyer.

The one I especially like is that of Social Welfare functional constituency representative Peter Cheung Kwok-che. He lives in the once-shabby, now gentrifying and increasingly bohemian district of Sheung Wan. Nearly half of his apartment in Po Yan Street was constructed illegally, the article says, yet he has refused to demolish it as the “the building was ‘too old’ for any reconstruction work.” I will make a note of that excuse.

Dwellers of dull, characterless, modern estate-type housing might wonder how you can illegally (or otherwise) double the size of an apartment in an urban area. A trellis, a place to store golf clubs (Education Secretary Michael Suen’s), a small verandah windowed-up and absorbed into a room (CE Donald Tsang’s) are one thing. But nearly 50% of the living space? In my neighbourhood not far from Sheung Wan, and probably quite a few other older areas, it’s perfectly possible. It helps to be one floor up from street level.

The photo from Google Maps below shows Cheung’s street, on the corner of sunny Hollywood Road (it’s chopped up a bit to compensate for the fish-eye camera lens). I have no idea whether this is Cheung’s place or whether it even shows an illegal structure. The fact that it overlooks the sidewalk suggests it is not unauthorized, as such additions are treated as a potential danger to passers-by and the authorities actually Did Something about them some years ago (though the structures sometimes reappeared in some form after the Housing Department enforcers goose-stepped out of the district).

In theory, what could have happened here is that the yellow box was originally a large open terrace. For some reason, many of the older tong lau-type buildings in the area were designed this way, with a sort of proto-podium; maybe the planning code allowed for higher density street-level retail space than upper-floor residential. The terrace would have had a short wall around it and you could have a barbecue or dry your washing out there.

Or you could wall it in and add a roof. A small flat becomes a much bigger one. Hey presto – ‘nearly half’ your apartment is illegal. Goodbye, 450 sq ft, hello 800. The next possible step would be to knock the previous interior wall in, or you could keep your old verandah as a separate room or rooms. This would all have happened back in the 1960s and 70s. In my neighbourhood, units like this were common, and there are still quite a few not overlooking public areas. In a city where the government sees the population as the enemy, to be deprived of living space wherever possible, people would be crazy not to do it.

Oh yes, the authorities know all about the contraband living space. They give owners a stern warning: you have three months to remove the UBW. Then, as lawmaker Peter Cheung’s gutsy-sounding riposte suggests, they do nothing. They put a note in the records so any future purchaser will know the property comes with an illegal add-on. The owner cries all the way to his sprawling kitchen for a beer.

The economics for a buyer are of course quite appealing. You pay the full market rate for the 450 sq ft, but only a modest premium for the ex-terrace. The extra money you would have spent on an 800 sq ft place goes into savings, compounded over the years and decades. If the slum district turns into a trendy neighbourhood, the value of the legitimate 450 sq ft multiplies as well. Peter Cheung could be quite a well-off social worker.


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12 Responses to Number of HK people with illegal structures rises to 6.8 million

  1. Joe Blow says:

    What did CY Leung know, and when did he know it ?

    Those are the questions that must be answered, my friends.

  2. Real Tax Payer says:

    You see ……..! Even Ta Kung Pao columnists and China Daily editors are beginning to have a sense of humor


    Whoever said that HK’s political kindergarten games are not having a positive effect on the Mainland ?

    PS: Don’t you just love Albert Ho’s STERN AND SERIOUS face in the pic ? Captain standing against the storm etc . I’ve nothing against vertically challenged men, but the PD’s could have chosen someone a bit more “fearsome” for when they need someone for a job like this

  3. Smarmy Git says:

    I’m particularly proud of the fact that despite owning two HK properties, none have any illegal structures. Actually, I’ve even got a related entry on my c.v. – these things are important.

  4. Old Timer says:

    CY needs to get himself a decent PR team. In American media, the term ‘illegal structure’ would have been dropped in favour of ‘informal enhancement’ by now.

  5. Aghast says:

    Um, yesterday you said it was ‘impossible to believe’ that CY knew the structures were illegal.

    But – you know about your own UBW, people like Peter Cheung and future buyers know all about them because of the price discrepancy, people who put them in obviously know if they’re unauthorised – even the authorities, you say, know all about them.

    Heck, I’ve got an illegal structure and I know perfectly well it’s illegal.

    But somehow it’s ‘impossible’ that CY, a professional surveyor, should know? Even when the sales and purchase agreement for CY’s property had a special clause added regarding UBWs?

    Pull the other one, Hemlock.

  6. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Also, CY may have bought his Peak property first-hand, in which case who else could have added the metal/glass structure which Hemlock thinks was a trellis?

    I wonder if his other property(ies) have/had similar enhancements?

  7. Real Tax Payer says:

    I thought that an ‘informal enhancement’ was something like Tsang’s bow tie or Henry’s grin

  8. Slavia Wanderer says:

    I think what Hemlock found impossible to believe is that in CY’s IQ (which couldn’t possibly be lower than Henry’s), he would strangely do nothing when Henry was bogged down in his basement tragedy.

    But it’s easy to understand, in my opinion. CY only just saw a slice of hope for him to win back then, and any move would be too risky for a person as cautious and ambitious as CY. If he came out, Henry’s scandal wouldn’t have been taken as serious, and there wouldn’t have been enough public pressure for Beijing to reconsider. If he demolished the illegal/informal six, it could make him look like a sneaky wolf if anyone found out. And someone would find out, because everyone was highly alert to any slightest mud for slinging.

    So I’d have done the same thing in his shoes. But I’d have definitely hired a better PR team.

  9. Real Tax Payer says:

    Actually I don’t think it was enery’s illegal basement that was his downfall per se, although it certainly contributed. Remember his infidelities ? And it was the sheer scale of Tang’s pleasure cellar which galled, plus that he obviously built it knowingly and illegally . And then make it even worse ( as if he could ) he at first tried to cover up his basement-gate scandal, and when he could no longer cover it up he blamed it on his poor long-suffering wife. And he has still not allowed the media in to see what’s under the pool, still less filled it in the moment it was discovered

    Meanwhile CY invited the media into his home ( and wasn’t that how IS’s 4 – 6 were found ? )

    Read back to the end of yesterday’s BL comments and scroll to almost the end for the late additions. There’s a very good one about a hypothetical conversation twixt CY and ZNH

    Anyway, latest news / stop press is that Xi Jinping in BJ has officially congratulated CY on becoming the new CE, so it’s now a slam dunk . ( Sorry Albert Ho ho ho / too late )

  10. Vile says:

    You’d think he would have tidied the place up a bit before letting the cameras in.

  11. maugrim says:

    Actually Vile, it sort of surprised me that no matter how much cash you have in HK, you still accumulate useless shit just for the sake of it. He’s just got a bigger rabbit hutch with a better view.

  12. Slavia Wanderer says:

    Interestingly that China Daily didn’t say “be fair to Henry” and stuff. Guess after all CY is nailed in and will stick with us for the next five years. Not a bad thing, though. Many ngo directors I know are in fact quite hopeful for him, because they’ve made progress talking with CY that they couldn’t make with Donald.

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