The Ching Kee case is extraordinary as few adverse possession disputes are found in favour of the squatters. Chan Wai-ming, who is in his 50s, runs a farm, “Tin Heung Garden”, on around 60,000 square feet of land in Ma Tin Bok Village, Yuen Long.
Thinking it was a piece of abandoned land, Chan’s uncle began farming on it in 1999. Four years later, he told Chan to take over and farm the land. Chan cut away the grass, ploughed the land, set up a drainage system and has been farming it till now. He lives with six family members in a small hut on the farm and has planted over 200 varieties of fruits and trees.
Chan’s peaceful rural life ended when a dozen muscular men came to his farm last year, and threatened him and told him to leave. Chan had no idea where they came from or why they wanted him to go.
Following the incident there was a notice from the Town Planning Board about an application to change the land use from farmland into residential land. It was only when he read the news that property tycoon Lee Shau-kee, the chairman of property giant Henderson Land, was donating the land to the Housing Society that he realised that the land he farms belongs to Lee.
Henderson Land owns many plots in the New Territories and earlier this year, Lee proposed to donate farmland in Yuen Long to build 1,000 affordable homes for young buyers.
At that point, Chan said nobody had approached him to negotiate and he was adamant that he would not move.
Elsa Ko, a member of Ma Tin Pok Villagers Concern Group, has been assisting Chan on the case. She says that she spoke to lawyers and they thought Chan had a potential adverse possession case. However, Henderson has now opened negotiations and mindful that the legal process would be long and costly, Chan is applying for legal aid to hire a lawyer for the negotiations.
Disputed land ownership does not just pose challenges to plans to develop the New Territories, but also to urban renewal. The area of Yue Man Square in the Development Area Five of the Kwun Tong Town Centre project is a good example.
The Yue Man Square Chaos
Varsity visited the site after hearing about an adverse possession dispute between a local pharmacy, Victory Medicine, and the owners’ corporation of Yue Man Building.
Yue Man Square is the old town centre of Kwun Tong. At the heart of the square are three commercial-residential buildings — Yue Man Building, Yue Wah Mansion and Kwok Tai Building. Between these buildings are three pathways no more than five feet wide. They provide convenient access between Yue Man Square and Kwun Tong Road.
More than 30 old shops can be found along the three pathways including Victory Medicine. The pathway between Yue Man Building and Yue Wah Mansion is further divided into two paths by fruit stalls located at the middle of the path.
Land ownership and land boundaries in the zone are disputed – nobody knows who the true owner of the pathways and the stores lining them is.