Group renting debate revived by boy's death

Updated: 2013-08-27 01:11

By Zhou Wenting (China Daily)

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Sociologists say policymakers should look into the housing needs of low-income groups and find solutions instead of churning out regulations designed to put an end to "group renting".

Group renting — the practice of dividing apartments into smaller rooms and renting them separately — has been in the spotlight since a 9-year-old boy fell to his death from the window of a 14th-floor apartment in Shanghai on Sunday.

The boy fell from an apartment building on Wanyuan Road in Minhang district at around 6 am after his parents, both migrant workers, had left for work, leaving the boy and his 12-year-old sister home alone.

The accident showed that group renting is still popular among the city's low-income families. The city banned group renting in 2007 because of safety concerns.

The boy's family lived in one of 10 rooms in a 170-square-meter apartment of Room 1401, local media reported.

Each separately rented room of the apartment has a lock on the door. Neighbors said the family of four had moved in a month ago.

An information officer from the Gumei subdistrict of Minhang said the subdistrict was not aware of shared renting in the apartment, and they had made continual efforts since 2011 to clamp down on group rentals.

"We authorized (a national housing brokerage) to deal with apartment renting in the neighborhoods and set limits on the number of tenants in every tenancy contract," said the officer, who gave only her surname, He.

Shanghai published a regulation on house leasing in August 2007, targeting group co-habitants.

The provision said the average living space in rented houses should be at least 5 sq m per person; a separate room is the minimum leasing unit; and the original structure of the house should not be changed.

The regulation came after six people were killed when such an apartment caught fire in the Songjiang district in July 2007. The fire was started by a short-circuit of electrical wires in the apartment, and the residents couldn't flee because of the narrow passageway.

Besides the potential fire hazards, group renting may also trigger problems with security, noise and house damage, social experts said.

However, as housing prices remain high, low-income earners have had difficulty finding accommodation.

An apartment of 80 sq m in Shanghai rented for an average of 4,086 yuan ($668) per month in the first quarter of this year, an increase of 4 percent from the same period last year, according to, an Internet real estate platform.

In Beijing, the rent on a similar apartment in the first quarter was 5,081 yuan, up more than 12 percent from the same period in 2012.

For migrant residents with low incomes in big cities, group renting is an acceptable solution. It is also welcomed by some homeowners, because they can collect higher rents this way.

Usually, with the agreement of the owner, housing brokerages separate a whole apartment into smaller rooms. Some even tore down existing walls in the apartment to then create more rooms.

Experts believe group renting mirrors the shortage in the lower-end real estate rental market, and governments should respect the right of everyone to survive instead of choosing the easy route and forcing them out.

"Housing management authorities should not ignore migrant residents and could let the group have access to public rental housing gradually," said Ren Yuan, a professor from the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Fudan University.

Big cities on the mainland have public rental housing, which is available only to those who hold permanent residence in the city.

"Property developers, who mainly target the middle class to sell big houses, should also consider the need of low-income groups, who actually will arouse great market potential," Ren said.

Gu Jun, a sociology professor at Shanghai University, said the authorities can also rebuild some unused nonresidential buildings into dormitories that could be rented out as cheap housing to those who need a roof over their heads.