LC Paper No. CB(1) 1621/98-99
Ref : CB1/PL/HG
Paper for the LegCo Panel on Housing
Public views on the effectiveness of current regulating measures
and related issues
This paper outlines the views of deputations on the effectiveness of the measures taken by the Administration in addressing the problems of bedspace apartments, including the regulating of building and fire safety aspects, re-housing arrangements and Government's approach in addressing the housing needs of the singletons of the lower income group. It also gives an account of the Government's response to these views.
2. The Bedspace Apartments Ordinance (Cap. 477) (the Ordinance), enacted in April 1994, is the only legislative measure taken by the Government to regulate bedspace apartments (BSAs) through the implementation of a licensing scheme. Members of the Legislative Council Panel on Housing have raised concern about the effectiveness of the Ordinance and discussed the subject at its meetings on 5 October 1998, 2 November 1998 and 1 February 1999. At the latest meeting, members decided that deputations which have good knowledge of BSAs and have shown concern about the living condition of BSA lodgers should be invited to submit their views to facilitate members' further consideration of the problem.
3. In response to the Panel's invitation, four deputations (see list at Appendix I) have provided their submissions which have been forwarded to the Administration for response.
Problems of bedspace apartments
4. LegCo Paper CB(1)692/98-99 (07), presented to the Panel on Housing on 1 February 1999, has highlighted the problems which need to be addressed as recorded at the deliberation of the Bills Committee on Bedspace Apartment Bill introduced into the Legislative Council in 1993. These problems include:
- Living condition in BSAs, including fire safety and overcrowdedness;
- Re-housing arrangements for BSA lodgers; and
- Demand for public rental housing (PRH).
Living condition in bedspace apartments
5. Despite the enactment of the Ordinance, all deputations consider that the problem with BSAs still remains unresolved. The existing situation of overcrowdedness and poor living conditions in many BSAs, including those which have complied with the requirements stipulated by the Ordinance, are unacceptable. They consider that such living condition should not exist in a metropolitan city like Hong Kong given its current high living standard and advanced economic development. All four deputations urge the Administration to outlaw BSAs and re-house all lodgers.
6. Notwithstanding the fact that quite a substantial number of BSAs may not have been registered under the statutory licensing scheme of the Ordinance, the fire safety standards set under the Ordinance are in fact too low and there is no provision to regulate the overcrowded condition of BSAs. Lodgers in these apartments are therefore still subject to fire hazards. Besides, following the enactment of the Ordinance, there have been a growing number of "cubicle apartments"* to obviate the need to complying with these standards. The situation of overcrowdedness and fire safety in private apartments has therefore by no means improved as a result of the Ordinance.
7. In this respect, the Administration stresses that there is a demand, albeit not large, for BSAs given their low rents and convenient locations. Therefore, the policy of the Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) is to regulate the safety standard of BSAs, but not to outlaw them. The Ordinance regulates the building and fire safety and sanitation of BSAs. Measures have been taken by the Government to prohibit the operation of illegal BSAs. These measures include appealing to mutual aid committees, owners' corporations and district personalities to report any suspected illegal BSAs and the conduct of a territory-wide survey of unlicensed BSAs in early 1999. In the survey, some 3,190 private residential flats were visited. The findings of the survey are yet to be analyzed. The Home Affairs Department (HAD) will decide the way forward in the light of survey results.
Fire safety standards
8. Some deputations are of the view that the standards of fire safety as set out in the Code of Practice governing BSAs are too low to provide adequate protection to the lodgers. For example, as regards means of escape, all internal passageways between bunks in a BSA are only required to have a minimum width of not less that 750 millimetres, i.e. about one and a half shoulders wide. In the event of fire, for instance, in a licensed BSA with a floor area of 600 square feet accommodating 36 lodgers, the passageway may not be wide enough for safe escape.
9. The deputations also show grave concern about fire hazards in "cubicle apartments" of which the living condition is worse than BSAs. Some of these "cubicle apartments" are previous BSAs partitioned into rooms for letting. The deputations have noted that the definition of BSAs in the Ordinance only refers to premises in which there are 12 or more bedspaces under separate rental agreements, and "cubicle apartments" are not covered by the Ordinance for regulation. They consider that the coverage of the premises under regulation of the Ordinance is unclear and is subject to discretionary interpretation of the Administration. They urge that "cubicle apartments" should be covered by the Ordinance since they are subject to the same fire risks.
10. According to the Administration, there are difficulties to regulate private residential premises partitioned into rooms for letting. Recognizing the higher fire risks in "cubicle apartments", the Administration stresses that all such private residential premises are also required to meet the standards under the Fire Services Ordinance. For those BSAs registered with the Licensing Authority, HAD has implemented a scheme funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club to provide fire fighting equipment to the operators on a loan basis. The installation of fire fighting equipment in private premises is the responsibility of owners and occupants.
11. The Administration has also stressed that to enhance the community's awareness of fire safety, the Central Steering Committee on Fire Safety chaired by the Secretary for Home Affairs has organized an on-going publicity programme, and the Fire Services Department has also published an information booklet entitled "Fire Prevention in the Home". The Administration is of the view that these efforts will benefit all building owners and occupants, including those living in cubicle apartments.
12. Some deputations have suggested that the Administration should regulate the minimum living areas of individuals in private residential premises by following the PRH allocation standard of 5.5 to 7 square metres per person set by the Hong Kong Housing Authority.
13. The Administration holds the view that the overcrowding problem of BSAs can be relieved by the compliance of BSAs with the standards set under the Ordinance. The Government has no plan to regulate the number of lodgers in a BSA or the minimum, nor the maximum, living areas of individuals. The Administration is of the view that a person's living area is usually governed by social-economic factors such as market conditions, economy, personal finance and personal choice. Any regulation on living area in private premises will be quite impossible to enforce.
14. There are fundamental differences between the Administration and deputations on the rehousing needs of BSA lodgers. The deputations are not satisfied with the rehousing arrangement for BSA lodgers. They press for the construction of PRH estates and singleton hostels in urban districts to provide rehousing within the same locality for BSA lodgers.
15. The Administration does not consider that lodgers in licensed BSAs complying with the building and fire safety standards under the Ordinance will have special needs for rehousing. The Administration has repeatedly stressed that BSA lodgers and the persons living in "cubicle apartments" are no different from other inadequately accommodated people in terms of housing needs. They are therefore required to register on the Waiting List for public housing.
16. Deputations have pointed out the failure of HAD's singleton hostels to attract BSA lodgers. The problems with these hostels include the lack of privacy for individual lodgers due to its open-plan design, stringent hostel rules and high rent. These factors have attributed to the low occupancy rate of the singleton hostels.
17. The Administration stresses that those lodgers who are displaced from BSAs that fail to meet the required standards will be re-housed in HAD's singleton hostels. It is Government's policy that no one will be rendered homeless as a result of the implementation of the Ordinance. All singleton hostels are located in densely populated urban districts with a high concentration of BSA such as Yau Ma Tei/Tsimshatsui/Mongkok and Sham Shui Po. Since the full implementation of the Ordinance in July 1998, all eligible lodgers applying for singleton hostels have been offered accommodation in hostels within their preferred districts.
18. According to the Administration, the occupancy rate of the singleton hostels is about 40% as at 31 January 1999, with a breakdown as follows:
|Types of hostels
||No. of places
||No, of lodgers
|Hostels managed by Agency for
Volunteer Service (AVS)
|Sunrise House, Sham Shui Po
19. The Administration explains that as the statutory licensing scheme of BSA came into full effect only in July 1998, HAD is still in the process of offering accommodation to the displaced lodgers and is in anticipation of a rising occupancy rate in the near future. Sufficient vacant bedspaces have to be reserved in the hostels to meet any unforeseen demand for accommodation from the displaced BSA lodgers.
20. As regards house rules, HAD has provided information on house rules of AVS-managed hostels and Sunrise House at Appendices II and III respectively.
21. The Administration explains that such rules are essential and reasonable. Each lodger of AVS-managed hostels is given a key of the main entrance door, allowing unrestricted entry to the hostel at all times. For Sunrise House, although smoking inside bedroom is prohibited on the grounds of fire safety, HAD allows smoking in designated areas. Consultation with relevant parties, including the Sham Shui Po Provisional District Board, and lodgers' representatives have been held to discuss ways to improve the management of the hostels. The Government is mindful of the needs of lodgers and is striving to improve the living environment of the hostels, e.g. by installing television sets, improving privacy in AVS-managed hostels, adopting single room or shared room design in future singleton hotels, etc.
22. On rents of singleton hostel, HAD has advised that the monthly rent for AVS-managed hostels is $430 per person which is lower than that of most privately-run BSAs. As for Sunrise House, the monthly rent ranges from $900 to $1,400 per person depending on the facilities and space required by the lodgers. Those lodgers who are receiving assistance under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme (CSSA) are entitled to full housing subsidies. HAD has advised that it does not intend to lower the rents of the singleton hostels, since it will induce significant loss on the part of the managing agencies.
Rehousing for the elderly
23. As regards the rehousing for the elderly, the Director of Housing has advised that displaced lodgers aged over 60 or with medical or health needs will be considered by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) for admission into welfare institutions or PRH estates through compassionate rehousing. Elderly applicants on the normal Waiting List are also given priority in the allocation of PRH flats. On recommendation of SWD, HD will strive to allocate a PRH unit in or near the applicant's preferred locality to maintain his normal support network.
Housing needs of those requiring social rehabilitation
24. The deputations have pointed out that one of the reasons for BSAs to continue to exist in spite of their unsatisfactory living condition and fire hazards is the lack of means to address the needs of those requiring social rehabilitation. According to the result of a sample survey conducted by a deputation in 1997, 31.1% of BSA lodgers are from deprived groups such as ex-prisoners, ex-drug addicts and ex-mentally ill patients. Without adequate services for these deprived groups, they could only resort to low-cost BSAs for accommodation.
25. In this respect, the Administration advises that a wide range of halfway house for mentally ill persons, hostel for ex-prisoners and supported hostel are in place for single persons requiring social rehabilitation. SWD has also financed a total of 11 temporary shelters/urban hostels to help the single homeless persons. Three more such hostels will be set up by 2002. Destitute persons with genuine housing needs can also be considered for compassionate re-housing.
Long waiting time for Public Rental Housing
26. A deputation has remarked that the average waiting time for single-person PRH flats takes nine years. It is due to the fact that there is a serious shortage of single-person PRH flats and the income limit set for single-person application for PRH is too low. To rationalize the low supply of single-person PRH flats, the income limit is far lower than the median monthly employment earning, e.g. $6,600 against the median monthly employment earning of $10,000 for single-person applicants, as compared with $17,700 against the median four-person household income of $20,000 for four-person applicants in 1998. The deputation has therefore urged the Administration to raise the income limits for single-person applicants and expedite the construction of single-person PRH flats to reduce the waiting time to two years.
27. The Administration explains that the income limits for Waiting List applicants are reviewed annually having regard to housing cost in the private sector and non-housing expenditures of different household sizes. The Housing Authority has frozen the Waiting List income limits at last year's levels for the current year, despite a fall in housing cost and non-housing expenditures.
28. As regards construction of single-person PRH flats, the Administration has advised that efforts have been made to increase the supply of single-person PRH flats over the next few years. Flat mix in new PRH estates has been reviewed and small PRH flats have been converted to single-person PRH flats. The Housing Bureau (HB) will also complete by mid-1999 a comprehensive review of the needs of non-elderly single-persons for PRH flats, subsidized home ownership flats and housing loans, and will consider the kind of assistance which can best meet their housing needs.
Rent subsidies and compensation for those living in bedspace apartments and "cubicle apartments"
29. Some deputations have proposed to provide rent subsidies for single persons and families in BSAs and "cubicle apartments" to improve their living environment before they are allocated to PRH.
30. A motion to urge the Administration to provide rent assistance to persons who have been waiting for allocation of PRH for some time was debated at the Council sitting on 22 January 1997. The Secretary for Housing, in his speech on the motion, reiterated that Waiting List applicants including those living in BSAs and "cubicle apartments" should approach SWD for CSSA assistance if they had genuine financial difficulties. CSSA recipients would be entitled to rent allowance. He stressed that providing rent assistance to Waiting List applicants was not in line with the policy objective of housing development and the Government should not move towards the direction of a welfare state. He cautioned that the provision of rent assistance would have a great impact on recurrent expenditure and high administrative cost could be incurred. The Administration has considered that the foremost task of the Government to address the problem should be to increase the supply of PRH flats. The motion was amended and carried by a vote of 33 against 15 to urge the Administration to provide rent assistance to eligible PRH applicants on the Waiting List and to formulate measures to increase the volume of PRH flats.
31. A deputation has pointed out that as the Administration did not take immediate action on those BSAs failing to comply with the Ordinance upon the expiry of the grace period, principal tenants of these BSAs continued to pay full rents to landlords while part of their sub-tenants had moved out. In the circumstances, their losses should be compensated. The Administration reiterated that it is Government's policy to adopt a gradual approach to implement the statutory licensing scheme. There is no maladministration, hence no case for compensating the principal tenants.
Matters requiring attention
32. From the views expressed by the deputations and the Government's response, it is noticed that apart from some basic principles such as priority for public housing which have far-reaching impact on the community at large, a number of management issues could in fact be dealt with at this stage. These include:
- promoting the attractiveness of singleton hostels so as to encourage more BSA lodgers to move to these hostels;
- assessing the demand for single-person PRH flats and incorporating the information for the purpose of the overall planning of PRH;
- assessing the needs of those living in "cubicle apartments" and taking the information into account when reviewing the eligibility criteria for PRH; and
- enhancing the co-ordination of different bureaux and departments involved in the work relating to BSAs, i.e. HAB, HAD, SWD, HB and the Housing Department (HD), to address the housing needs of those who have no choice but to reside in BSAs or "cubicle apartments".
Promoting the use of singleton hostels
33. It is noticed that BSA lodgers may have formed an opinion about the management of singleton hostels. Many of them may not be aware of the changes taken place in recent years and especially the more pleasant living environment in these hostels. More publicity of the positive aspects of the hostels is required.
34. Some of the fundamental needs of those habitually residing in BSAs may still have to be addressed, particularly those requiring social rehabilitation. Concession in rent to make the hostels more competitive when compared to BSAs should be considered in view of the present economic situation. A higher occupancy rate will help cut down on the overhead costs.
Assessment of needs of single-persons for public rental housing
35. Apart from those registered on the Waiting List, the Administration should take proactive approach to conduct regular survey to ascertain the actual population size of single persons living in BSAs and in inadequate housing. The statistics should help the Administration plan for the number of PRH production with a view to improving the living conditions of single persons.
Assessment of needs of those residing in "cubicle apartments"
36. It is noticed that "cubicle apartments", besides providing a refuge for BSA operators obviating the need for licensing under the Ordinance, have been providing low rent accommodation to those families on PRH Waiting List, in particular, to those families which could not be eligible for PRH allocation at the moment due to the residence rule, i.e. the rule that the majority of family members are required to have lived in Hong Kong for seven years in order to be eligible for PRH allocation. With the growing number of families residing in "cubicle apartments", it is high time the Administration formulated measures, including reviewing the residence rule for PRH allocation, to tackle the housing needs of these families.
More co-ordinated efforts by the Government
37. The issues arising from BSAs are under the purview of two bureaux and three departments, namely, HAB, HAD, HB, HD and SWD. While HAB and HAD are responsible for the smooth implementation of the Bedspace Apartments Ordinance and the re-housing of lodgers who are displaced by BSAs that cannot meet the standards set in the Ordinance, they consider that the housing needs of lodgers in BSAs and "cubicle apartments" should be addressed through the public housing programme under the purview of HD. SWD, on the other hand, only plays a remedial role to take care of the individuals and families who have special needs and require compassionate service.
38. Against this background, it is understandable that there is no incentive for HAD to extend the coverage of premises under the regulation of the Ordinance or to set more stringent standards under the Ordinance, since it will have impact on the work of HAD which needs to resolve the rehousing problem of displaced lodgers.
39. As long as HB maintains a view that BSA lodgers and the persons living in "cubicle apartments" are no different from the other inadequately accommodated people in terms of housing needs, and therefore do not deserve special nor priority treatment in the allocation of PRH units, the solution to the housing problem of these people will only be for HD to expedite the whole public housing programme and to increase the supply of PRH flats. Nevertheless, without addressing the needs of singletons, even though HD could reduce the average waiting time for PRH to three years by 2005 as pledged, the waiting time for single-person PRH flats will fall behind the average.
40. Members are invited to give advice on the way forward.
Legislative Council Secretariat
29 June 1999
LegCo Panel on Housing
Regulation of the building and fire safety aspects of
Bedspace Apartments and related issues
List of deputations which have provided their submissions
- Hong Kong People's Council on Public Housing Policy
- Overcrowded and Endangered Tenants in Cubicle Apartments in Wanchai
- Society for Community Organization
- Joint Concern Group on Problems Arising from Bedspace Apartments
(Extracts from the Tenancy Agreement for Lodgers under the
Housing Services Scheme of the Agency for Volunteer Service)
(9) Lodgers should note and observe the following rules while they are within the premises of the Hostel:
- No dogs, cats or any other pets are allowed;
- No gambling;
- Do not disturb other lodgers;
- Do not cook or light any fire anywhere except in the kitchen;
- Take good care of public property, and any lodger who damages any public property either on purpose or through negligence will have to compensate for such damage;
- Keep the Hostel clean, and help prevent fire and accidents;
- Be nice to other lodgers and respect each other;
- In case of any problem, please contact the Agency's Housing Services Office.
(Extracts from the introductory leaflet on Sunrise House)
* "cubicle apartments" usually refers to those private residential premises which have been sub-divided or partitioned into several units/rooms for individual letting to different families/persons.
- Lodgers should be polite and respectful to the staff and other lodgers. Do not use foul language or disturb others.
- Keep all public areas and the bedrooms clean and tidy. Do not place any sundries therein.
- Do not light any fire in the building. No smoking is allowed in the building except in designated smoking areas.
- No drinking or gambling in the public areas.
- Lodgers should take care of and be responsible for their visitors who are allowed to use only the visitor room and the activity room on the third floor and they must leave before 11:00 p.m.
- Do not keep any pets.