24th May 2023 – (Hong Kong) The Hong Kong Housing Authority (HA) Subsidised Housing Committee (SHC) has recently endorsed a series of new measures to combat tenancy abuse and enhance the “Well-off Tenants Policies” (WTP) and “Addition Policy,” with the aim of safeguarding public rental housing (PRH) resources.
According to the Chairman of the HA and Secretary for Housing, Ms. Winnie Ho, “PRH is precious social resources, and the HA has adopted multipronged and risk-based measures, including preventive detection, in-depth investigation, publicity, and education, to comprehensively combat tenancy abuse. The HA has also been committed to addressing the issue of PRH well-off tenants.”
Enhancing Efforts to Combat PRH Abuse
The SHC has endorsed several recommendations to enhance efforts to combat tenancy abuse, including requiring PRH tenants to make declarations every two years that they have continuously resided in the units and complied with the terms in the tenancy agreement regarding occupancy status. This includes not subletting the unit, engaging in illegal activities in the unit, or using the unit for non-domestic purposes. The HA will also check tenants’ information with relevant government bureaux/departments (B/Ds) and public/private organizations. Tenants who refuse to make declarations or fail to make declarations within the specified time may have their tenancies terminated.
Applicantswhose PRH applications are cancelled on the grounds of making false declarations will be barred from reapplying for PRH for a period of five years. Former PRH tenants whose tenancies are terminated due to making false declarations, breaching any terms of the tenancy agreement, violating the Marking Scheme for Estate Management Enforcement, etc., will not be eligible to apply for PRH for five years instead of two from the date of termination. Tenants who knowingly give false statements when making declarations are liable to prosecution. If convicted, these tenants may be subject to a fine and imprisonment.
A spokesperson for the HA stated that the declaration mechanism can enhance tenants’ awareness of cherishing public housing resources and reduce the likelihood of tenancy abuse. The mechanism also allows the Housing Department (HD) to check tenants’ information with relevant B/Ds and public/private organizations. Barring those who contravene the requirements from re-applying for PRH for five years will strengthen the deterrent effect.
Enhancing Well-off Tenants Policies (WTP)
The SHC has endorsed several recommendations to enhance the WTP, including requiring PRH tenants to declare to the HD every two years whether the principal tenants and all members of the household own any domestic property in Hong Kong since admission to PRH. They must also undertake to declare to the HA after acquiring a domestic property in Hong Kong (within one month of entering into any agreement, including provisional agreements). The period of a Fixed Term License will be shortened from amaximum of 12 months to a maximum of four months. The tenant must move out after the four-month period, and the HD will not reassess the tenants’ eligibility.
Under the WTP, tenants who have lived in PRH for 10 years must declare their income, assets, and whether they own private domestic properties in Hong Kong in biennial declarations. If tenants refuse to declare, they have to vacate their flats. PRH households whose family income exceeds five times the prevailing PRH income limits (PRHILs) or whose total household net asset value exceeds 100 times the prevailing PRHILs are required to vacate their PRH flats.
The spokesperson for the HA stated that requiring PRH tenants to sign declarations and undertakings can enhance their awareness of the requirement and responsibilities for residing in PRH units, which helps further safeguard the rational allocation of PRH resources. Since the implementation of the revised WTP in October 2017, the HD has issued Fixed-Term Licenses to around 820 well-off tenants, who have to vacate their flats, with more than half (around 460 households) eventually not having to move out of their flats as their income and asset levels fell below the prescribed levels under WTP again or due to other reasons.
Shortening the term of Fixed-Term Licenses to a maximum of four months could reduce the chance of well-off tenants transferring their assets during the period of temporary residence to avoid having to surrender their flats. This change is more in line with society’s expectations. Upon the expiry of the license period, the HD will not reassess the tenants’ eligibility, and they must move out. If there are extenuating circumstances, such as a sudden loss of income, the tenants concerned may lodge an appeal with the Appeal Board (Housing) regarding the termination of tenancy under the established mechanism.
Enhancing the Addition Policy
The “Addition Policy” has been revised by the Housing Authority’s Subsidised Housing Committee. Currently, elderly tenants can add one adult offspring and their family members to the tenancy if there is no adult offspring in the tenancy. However, under the revised policy, if there is already an adult offspring in the tenancy, regardless of marital status, elderly tenants cannot add another adult offspring to the tenancy. If there is no adult offspring in the tenancy, they may add at most one adult offspring and their family members. The revision aims to prevent some people from having a shortcut to public rental housing (PRH), which is unfair to other PRH applicants. The policy on granting new tenancy is not affected by this revision. The revised policy will be effective from 1st October, 2023. Tenants will be required to declare that they have continuously resided in the units and complied with the terms in the tenancy agreement regarding occupancy status and whether they own domestic properties in Hong Kong. The declaration requirement will be implemented in batches starting from 1st October, 2023.