Fences were erected near the historic Red House in Tuen Mun on Wednesday, prompting fears from residents that they would be locked out of their homes.
According to residents, metal pillars and a gate were set up last week. They informed Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan, who arrived around 8am on Wednesday but did not spot any workers. After he left, work began to surround the building with fences.
The land on which the building sits was sold to a company owned by a mainland Chinese person for HK$5 million last November. Locals believe the house is linked to modern China’s “founding father” Sun Yat-sen, who may have planned revolutions in the area during the early 20th century.
Some of the property’s exterior walls were found to have been demolished in February, but the works did not receive the required approval from the Building Department. The new owner had issued letters asking residents to leave at short notice.
Wan said on Wednesday that he was unable to reach the new owner’s representatives and lawyers after the multiple attempts to ask about the fences and the gate.
“I see there is a lock on the gate. Does [the owner] want to lock it up? If yes, what will be the conditions for the residents here?” he said. “Children have to go to school, mothers have to shop for food, elderly people have to walk in and out – what will happen to them?”
There are two households of more than a dozen people still living in the house, including children, mothers and elderly people.
Miss Chan, a resident for around six years in the house, lives with a family of nine.
“If we have to wait for the gate to open in the morning, children may be late for school,” she said. “My child has been asking why there are fences and locks, are we not allowed to be here?… Sometimes I don’t know how to answer.”
Chan said she was not given any explanation over the new structure, and the new owner was not in contact with her about how should they move out.
“We are being forced to leave, but we have yet to have found new places,” she said.
The Antiquities Advisory Board was previously unable to establish a direct relationship between the property and Sun’s revolutionary activities.
It was not listed as a proposed monument – which would have provided a protective status for 12 months – after the destruction in February. However, the board decided to grant it protective status a month later, after it suffered further damage.
Wan said the situation was a complicated one, as the fences and the gate sit on the land but no changes were made to the house. He said he respected the owner has the right to put items on the land, but there are also ongoing disputes about rental and land rights.
“A resident is even applying for adverse possession,” he said. “Until the issues are resolved, carrying out these small tricks cannot help with anything. It feels like the acquisition of some buildings in other areas, where [new owners] cut electricity and water.”
Wan also warned that locking the area without the residents’ agreement may cause an offence of false imprisonment: “I hope the owner can respect the rule of law and speak to the residents to resolve this matter.”
Regarding the government’s role, Wan said the progress of the talks between the Development Bureau and the owner was very slow, as the Secretary for Development was unable to answer his questions at the legislature.