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Traders using border town flats to store goods

SHEUNG SHUI: Residents of border town Sheung Shui are up in arms over changes to their neighbourhood brought by an increasing number of importers using flats to store goods.

"About one in 20 people buying or renting homes at Sheung Shui Centre and Choi Po Court are parallel traders," said James Chong Tsz-man, an associate director of Centaline Property Agency for Sheung Shui and New Territories North.

Chong said his agency had not acted for any such buyers or tenants but the practice began a few years ago and the number of traders using Sheung Shui flats for storage was  increasing.

Sheung Shui is the last northbound station on the East Rail Line before the Lo Wu terminus. Passengers without a Closed Area Permit or valid passport and visa must disembark at the station.

Unlike other MTR stations, the platform at Sheung Shui is at ground level, which means there are no steps to negotiate — an added attraction for traders transporting goods.

Wong Sing-chi, legislator and district councillor for New Territories North, said he had received around 20 complaints from Sheung Shui residents in the past year claiming that their neighbouring apartments were being used as storage units.

"The situation has grown worse in the last 12 months and has affected the rental market in Sheung Shui and pushed up rental prices and demand," Wong said.

But while the practice could be a violation of rental agreements, agents said it was a grey area and since landlords benefited from higher rents they were less likely to complain about lease conditions being broken.

Some traders are paying an extra 10% in rent to secure an apartment, Chong said.

In the private housing estate Sheung Shui Centre, rents on apartments of more than 400 square foot have increased to between HK$6,000 and HK$7,000 (RM2,335.54 and RM2,724.79) per month, Chong said. The rental for a Home Ownership Scheme flat of a similar size at nearby Choi Po Court is just over HK$6,000 a month.

"Some of the new tenants don't even apply for a gas connection so you can tell they are not living there," Chong said. "Since the supply of rental flats in the district is limited, I would not be surprised if some people are actually buying residential flats to store their products."

Parallel traders are particularly active in the area because it is only one station away from Lo Wu. They ferry products ranging from milk powder to mobile phones to cosmetics over the border to sell in China.

"Some parallel traders say these importers are transporting goods valued at more than HK$100 million in just a few days," Chong said.

Another property agent, who declined to be named, said rents at Sheung Shui Centre and Choi Po Court had risen about 30% to HK$14-HK$15.40 per sq ft in little more than a year, though this was in line with the overall market.

District councillor Larm Wai-leung said demand for flats from traders had only a small impact on the property market, and that many rented space in industrial buildings, too. Larm said the district council was looking into the issue. — SCMP

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