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Sidney Lee Chi-hang, a solicitor and district councillor for Central and Western District, points out that operating a B&B is a money-making business and should not be an exception to the law.

“The major difference between a B&B and guesthouse is whether you see it as a business,” says Lee. “If you treat it as a business and make a living with it, then you ought to obtain a guesthouse licence,” he says.

According to the Home Affairs Department, premises intended to be used as a guesthouse or bedspace apartment must comply with the building and fire safety requirements in order to obtain a licence. To fulfill such requirements, operators have installed fire extinguishers or auto-water sprays. The building materials used must all be fireproofed. There are also guidelines on the width of hallways and exits.

Veronica Chan of Espace Elastique in Tai O, did manage to get a guesthouse licence. She says it was not an easy process.

“As owners of B&Bs, we have to meet requirements originally imposed on hotels or guesthouses. It involves a relatively heavy investment,” says Chan, who invested her own savings to fit out the building so that it could get a licence. Still, she insisted on applying for it as she regards this as necessary to ensure the confidence of customers in her establishment.

Chan’s B&B is one of the few in Hong Kong that is licensed. Due to the regulation system here, most B&Bs are not in a position to apply for one at all. Most remain unlicensed.

Joe operates his two B&Bs without a licence, and is sure that he would not be able to obtain one. There are three reasons for this: first, one of the flats is not his personal asset; second, his flat is situated in a residential building which does not allow commercial use without the consent of the Owners’ Corporation; third, he cannot afford the cost of meeting the fire safety requirements of a guesthouse.

Joe knows that he will not be able to apply for a licence given the current policy towards B&Bs. He just hopes the government will leave him alone. “If [the government] exempts B&Bs, many people will make use of this loophole, such as brothels,” says Joe, “It is not practical.”

In fact, unlicensed B&Bs exist and are found in different parts of Hong Kong. Wan Chai district councillor Peggy Lee Pik-yee has received complaints from representatives of buildings about the disturbance caused by guesthouses and B&Bs.