LCQ14: Regulation of tenancies of subdivided units
Some concern groups have pointed out that even though the Landlord and Tenant (Consolidation) (Amendment) Ordinance 2021 (the Ordinance) which regulates tenancies of subdivided units (SDUs) has already taken effect since January this year, quite a number of tenants of SDUs still do not understand their own rights and interests, and some landlords also fail to comply with the requirements of the Ordinance. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the number of enquiries and complaints involving tenancies of SDUs received by the authorities and the number of such cases followed up (including whether on-site inspections have been conducted) since the Ordinance came into operation; whether the authorities have regularly conducted random on-site inspections; if so, of the number of such inspections and whether they will step up such random inspections;
(2) of the total number of Notice of Tenancy (i.e. Form AR2) concerning SDUs received by the Rating and Valuation Department (RVD) since the Ordinance came into operation; whether the Government has compiled statistics on the number of Notices involving tenancies which have (i) adopted the template for tenancy agreement provided by the Government and (ii) used tenancy agreement made by the parties on their own;
(3) of the total number of complaints and enquiries relating to landlords of SDUs overcharging their tenants for bills on water, electricity or miscellaneous fees that the relevant government departments (including the RVD and the Water Supplies Department) have received since the Ordinance came into operation, together with the number of such cases investigated;
(4) given that the Government has engaged non-governmental organisations to set up six District Service Teams (the Service Teams) to assist in promoting the Ordinance and rendering support to the landlords and tenants of SDUs, whether it has evaluated the effectiveness of the work of the Service Teams; whether it will strengthen the work of the Service Teams in providing support to tenants of SDUs, with a view to helping them lodge complaints against landlords who have contravened the Ordinance; and
(5) as some of the tenants of SDUs are worried that they would be evicted if their complaints against law-breaking landlords are in vain, whether the authorities will help tenants whose complaint cases are preliminarily substantiated to live in transitional housing for a period of time, so as to ease their worries?
Part IVA of the Landlord and Tenant (Consolidation) Ordinance (the Ordinance) which implements tenancy control on subdivided units (SDUs) came into force on January 22, 2022. The Rating and Valuation Department (RVD) has set up a dedicated team responsible for the implementation of the Ordinance.
In consultation with the Development Bureau, the reply to the questions raised by the Hon Stanley Ng is as follows:
(1) and (3) Since the Ordinance became effective and up to September 30, the RVD received a total of around 8 300 enquiries on SDU tenancy matters via enquiry hotline, emails, letters, home visits, referrals from the District Service Teams and office counters, etc. About 910 of these cases concern the receiving of non-permitted money or charges for specified utilities and services. If a landlord is suspected of breaching the requirements of the Ordinance, such as failing to submit Notice of Tenancy (Form AR2) to the RVD within 60 days after the term of regulated tenancy commences; overcharging the tenant for specified utilities and services; requiring the tenant to pay money other than the types permitted under the Ordinance; or harassing the tenant, the relevant complainant may report to the RVD via letter, email, enquiry hotline or by visiting the RVD's office. The RVD will investigate and follow up on these cases in accordance with the Ordinance, and conduct site inspection if necessary.
In addition to following up on reported cases, the RVD adopts a multi-pronged approach to proactively investigating suspected offences in relation to regulated tenancies, including –
(a) enquiring about the tenancy situations of those tenants calling the RVD's enquiry hotline regarding the Ordinance;
(b) sending invitations to the tenants shown on the Notices of Tenancy received for interviews; and
(c) the RVD and the Water Supplies Department (WSD) strengthening joint inspections and proactively visiting SDU households in various districts to promote tenancy control on SDUs, as well as to understand directly from the tenants if their landlords are suspected of committing the relevant offences, and to take follow-up action as appropriate.
From the second half of May up to September 30 this year, the RVD conducted 36 inspection operations, including 18 joint inspection operations with the WSD. The RVD visited about 1 600 SDU households in different districts, including 1 133 SDU households jointly with the WSD. The RVD will continue to visit SDU households, and at different times of the day including non-office hours (such as in the evenings or weekends), so as to reach out to more SDU households to enhance the promotion of the Ordinance, as well as to understand directly from the tenants if their landlords are suspected of committing the relevant offences. Furthermore, to enhance the enforcement and publicity of tenancy control on SDUs, the RVD and the WSD target to jointly visit about 4 000 SDU households by the end of 2023-24.
Up to September 30 this year, the RVD identified 467 cases of landlords suspected of having committed an offence under the Ordinance, 24 of which are complaint cases whereas the remaining cases are proactively identified by the RVD via different channels. There are 114 cases in which the landlord is suspected of breaching the requirements of the Ordinance when receiving reimbursement of the apportioned water or electricity charges and 10 cases in which the landlord is suspected of requiring the tenant to pay money other than the types permitted under the Ordinance. Out of the 467 cases, the RVD is investigating 292 cases and is seeking legal advice from the Department of Justice regarding the other 24 cases for taking appropriate follow-up actions. For the remaining cases, the RVD is not able to follow up as the tenants refused to provide further information to the RVD. In order to enhance the efficiency of law enforcement and prosecution, the RVD is in the process of hiring retired disciplined services officers to set up a dedicated enforcement and investigation task force.
Separately, from January 22 to September 30 this year, the WSD received about 1 100 enquiries and 35 complaints about overcharging SDU tenants for water. Among the 35 complaints, the WSD has recently initiated prosecution for one case and is investigating six cases. No follow-up action was taken for the remaining 28 cases due to insufficient evidence.
In addition, the RVD and the WSD would jointly visit SDU households to step up enforcement of the tenancy control on SDUs and to inspect if there is overcharging of water. The most effective way to tackle water overcharging is to install separate meters for SDUs. The WSD will also set up a dedicated team for processing applications for installing separate meters for SDUs.
(2) According to the Ordinance, the landlord must, within 60 days after the term of a regulated tenancy commences, submit a Notice of Tenancy to the RVD so as to provide information of the tenancy including address of the SDU, tenancy period, rent, floor area, provision of facilities. Up to September 30, the RVD had processed 6 945 Notices of Tenancy. As the landlord is not required to submit the tenancy agreement when filing the Notice of Tenancy, the RVD has no information on the number of regulated tenancies with Notice of Tenancy submitted that have adopted the tenancy agreement template provided by the Government or those tenancy agreements entered on their own terms.
In fact, the tenancy agreement template provided by the Government is for general reference only. The landlord and tenant of a regulated tenancy may use and adapt the template with modifications as appropriate, or enter into a tenancy agreement on their own terms, so long as there is no conflict or inconsistency with the mandatory terms of a regulated tenancy.
(4) The Government has engaged non-government organisations (NGOs) through open tender to set up six District Service Teams to supplement the efforts of the RVD in promoting the Ordinance at district level and handling general enquiries and referred cases, etc. Since early January 2022, the District Service Teams have conducted various publicity activities such as street counters, home visits, promotion websites, online or physical seminars and briefing sessions, and reached out to the grassroots through their connection networks. Up to September 30 this year, the six District Service Teams had set up 155 street counters at popular locations in the districts, distributed or posted about 151 000 publicity leaflets, held 89 online or physical seminars and briefing sessions, and visited 1 482 SDU households. The six District Service Teams also handled a total of about 6 200 enquiries through dedicated telephone lines, emails, WhatsApp, etc, and referred individual cases (including suspected offence cases) to relevant departments for follow up as appropriate. The Government has also engaged an NGO to establish and manage an SDU web-based information portal for sharing information on tenancy control on SDUs for publicity and education purpose. The portal has been launched since March 21, 2022 (www.sdu-info.org.hk).
The District Service Teams are required to submit monthly reports to the Housing Bureau to report on the progress of the service, including the details and outcomes of the publicity activities, and the support provided to landlords and tenants of SDUs. The Housing Bureau also conducts inspections of the activities provided by the District Service Teams from time to time with a view to reviewing how the relevant works could be enhanced.
(5) In accordance with the Ordinance, the tenants of a regulated tenancy enjoys four years of security of tenure (first term of two years and second term of two years). If a person (including a landlord) unlawfully deprives a tenant of a regulated tenancy of occupation of the SDU concerned; or performs any act calculated to interfere with the peace or comfort of the tenant or other household members, the person commits an offence, and is liable on a first conviction to $500,000 and imprisonment for 12 months; and on second or subsequent conviction to $1,000,000 and imprisonment for three years.
As regards transitional housing (TH), the current eligibility criteria are families who have been waiting for public rental housing for not less than three years; or persons who are living in severely inadequate housing and reasonably considered to be in urgent need for community support. Nevertheless, the NGOs operating TH may flexibly reserve not more than 20 per cent of the units for other categories of applicants with reference to their service needs, including those whose family situation has undergone a sudden change, or those who have imminent housing needs due to various reasons (e.g. being unreasonably forced to move out). In addition, the Assessment Committee of the Funding Scheme to Support Transitional Housing Projects by Non-government Organisations (AC) has agreed that if necessary, operators of individual projects can reserve more than 20 per cent of the units for other categories of applicants upon the approval from AC.
Ends/Wednesday, October 26, 2022
Issued at HKT 14:30
Issued at HKT 14:30