Tenants offered accommodation in Kowloon
Residents of a tenement in To Kwa Wan give way to a court order, which wanted the premises vacated.
Residents of a tenement building gave way to a court order on Friday after a week of resistance and bargaining with the Building Department, which wanted the premises vacated to reinforce an unsafe balcony.
Tenants and owners at 51 Kai Ming Street briefly protested before police officers, but backed off after 4 pm on Friday and let Building Department officers enter and survey their premises.
The court order to vacate the six- story “tong lau” building, built in 1957, was deemed necessary after a government contractor found the building’s “cantilevered slab balcony” had become structurally unsafe.
Notified one week ago about the planned closure, residents vowed to defy the order. Tenants staged protests and held meetings with the Building Department throughout the week.
While Friday’s enforcement was peaceful, the government made considerable compromises in the process.
The department initially planned to move residents out for five months to demolish the balconies. It agreed on Thursday just to reinforce the risky structures, carry out more surveys and reduce the closure period.
Five shops, including a laundry, were spared from long-term closure, but must remain closed for a few days to allow concrete sampling. Laundry owner, Ms Wong, said she was still worried as her venture cannot suffer revenue losses for too long.
Residents will be given time this weekend to pack and vacate their balconies. District Councillor Pun Chi- man suggested they keep most of their furniture in place.
Stranded occupants were first offered interim housing in Tuen Mun, which proved enormously unpopular. Single tenants were then offered dormitories in two Kowloon locations. A family was later offered a room in a Mong Kok guest house.
The incident can be dated back to the collapse of a similar tong lau building just a few blocks away, in January 2010, which killed four people.
The tragedy prompted the government to launch Operation Building Bright the same year. A contractor was assigned to 51 Kai Ming Street to oversee repairs in 2011, but only produced a report on the structure earlier this month.
The contractor’s finding was disputed by a surveyor hired by owners at 51 Kai Ming Street, as shown by the lawyer representing the owners before the court on Friday morning.
But Deputy District Judge, Lawrence Yip Sue-pui, granted the order on the grounds that the building ordinance leaves no room for the judiciary to challenge the professional judgment of the building department as long as it has met all procedural requirements.
The only option to appeal, Yip said, was to apply for judicial review through the high court.
The owners had sought to redevelop the whole building, but representatives of the Urban Renewal Authority refused to tell whether or not the premise and its neighbors fit the criteria for its “demand-led” scheme.