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March 21, 2011

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Residents use free electricity loophole

TENS of thousands of city residents are living in neighborhoods where they get all their electricity free of charge, but are creating serious fire hazards.

In old residential areas - known as "dilapidated neighborhoods" - awaiting demolition and where relocation negotiations have reached, stalemate residents can take advantage of a policy loophole. In some relocation projects, the city power and water suppliers stop charging bills against the households but instead seek to recover the costs from relocation managers.

Accordingly, free electricity is available in the dilapidated blocks, which often have aged and messy wiring systems.

Feng Fang, a 39-year-old domestic helper from Anhui Province, said she lived with her husband in such a rented room in Putuo District for three years. She only moved out last month after her landlord finally agreed on a compensation offer.

Feng said the family paid only 500 yuan (US$76) a month for rent, with no charge for power and water. "It's a reasonable price for a migrant family," she said.

She used electrical appliances wherever possible and gave up using gas, for which she was charged.

"When my son came and visited us in summer vacation, we kept our air conditioner on 24 hours a day as there was no cost," she said.

Feng said she witnessed several small fires in the neighborhood, which firefighters blamed on the electrical system being overloaded.

Neighborhood and fire-control authorities in Huangpu and Zhabei districts said the practice is widespread.

"Everyone uses electrical kettles and ovens instead of gas in order to enjoy free utilities," said an official with the Yuyuan Garden neighborhood. Seven fires broke out last year in blocks planned for relocations around Yuyuan Garden.

The booming market has seen landlords divide or build makeshift rooms to earn more, adding to the load on old circuits and wires.

Posters boasting the lease of " Free Utilities" rooms can be found on many housing websites. Monthly rent ranges from 500 to 1,000 yuan.

A local power supply company said all domestic power expenses are recorded and charged against the relocation managers and developer as routine policy. They will not cut off power supplies so long as there are still people living inside to avoid complaints from residents, said the company.

The city government announced last month that it will demolish 3.5 million square meters of dilapidated housing downtown for re-development over the next five years.

About 150,000 local residents live in these houses, authorities said.


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