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Crackdown goes underground (2)

By Yin Yeping (Global Times)

08:40, October 12, 2012

Among them was Ma Hongyu, a 22-year-old restaurant waiter from Sichuan Province, who has lived in rented basement apartments for the past two years.

Ma moved to Shuangjing in Chaoyang district after floods triggered by the July 21 storm inundated his former basement apartment at a residential compound on Guangqu Lu. He said he would prefer to live above ground, but that Beijing's soaring housing costs meant a basement apartment was his only option.

"Monthly rental prices above ground in the compound where I live are several thousand yuan, but I only pay 500 yuan ($79.50) for my basement apartment," he said, adding his monthly salary is 2,000 yuan.

Ma agreed with the crackdown in principle, saying that underground dwellings are unsafe. "Living in a cramped room with no sunlight or fresh air would never be my first choice if I had other options," he said.

Jing Yulan, who rents a basement apartment in Dongcheng district, was also unaware of the crackdown when contacted by the Global Times. Jing said she was hardly surprised, explaining that many people like her are wary of being evicted without notice.

"Nevertheless, paying only 400 yuan per month provides enough of a reason to continue living like this," she said.

Aside from residents, the other group of people poised to be affected by the crackdown is landlords - some who oversee dozens of basement apartments. A landlord surnamed Jiang, who rents out many basement apartments spanning 4,000 square meters in a Fengtai district compound, told the Global Times he would take his request for compensation to the courts if his tenants are evicted.

Jiang rejected claims that his basement apartments were unsafe. "I met all official housing safety standards set by the government so that I could rent my basement apartments out," Jiang explained.

According to regulation No.236 passed by the municipal government in 2010, basement apartments are required to adhere to strict regulations regarding furnishing, facilitates and safety requirements, such as ensuring room sizes span at least 4 square meters per person, trash cans are provided and bunk beds prohibited.

Beijing's government began cracking down on basement apartments in the wake of the July 21 storm, when many such dwellings were flooded. Wang Jing, 33, drowned after becoming trapped inside her basement apartment in the Lugouqiao residential compound, Fengtai district.

Just days before the storm on July 18, four men died in basement apartments from carbon monoxide poisoning in Xibahe, Chaoyang district. The men had reportedly used a generator and succumbed to its fumes.

【1】 【2】

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