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Legal eagles fly in to tackle relocation
( 2003-10-10 10:54) (Shanghai Star)

Huang Shuliang, of the Shanghai Academy of Social Science has some doubts about the effectiveness of the newly organized group of 152 volunteer lawyers providing legal advice to residents who are having problems over their forced relocation.

A girl on a broken cart in one of the Shanghai downtown demolition areas where most of the old buildings have been pulled down. [newsphoto.com.cn]

The local media has done a lot of reporting on the lawyers, saying that they may help to rationalize the behaviour of real estate developers and relocation companies and to standardize the relocation system and its associated policies.

All the 152 lawyers names and telephone numbers have been published in newspapers.

Help for the poor

Residents may call on the 152 lawyers for help about questions of law. However, "volunteer" doesn't mean free assistance.

"I may answer their questions, as many as possible, by phone or in person if I have time," said Cheng Peixin, a lawyer in the group from Shanghai Shenda Law Firm. "But as their counsel, we would charge them as usual except for those who are really very poor."

All the 5,000 lawyers in the city have a duty to accept relocation cases and offer legal services for residents, Huang said.

However, until now only a few lawyers were willing to take on relocation cases because most of them resulted in losses when they went to court.

They believed it would be hard to win the cases because the developers and relocation companies might have government backing. "Nobody wants to challenge the authorities," Cheng said.

Due to the lack of legal knowledge and assistance from lawyers, relocated residents disputing their enforced rehousing have had to try to fend for themselves.

Zhu Lingfeng, a relocated local who is going to sue the developer, decided to defend himself in the court because he "couldn't find any lawyer to represent me."

Now, the volunteer lawyers will not turn down relocation cases.

"At least, it's an improvement," Huang said.

Cheng now receives six to seven calls regarding relocation problems every day.

"For poor people, we can negotiate for a cheaper counselling fee. They don't have to pay the money at once but pay it by month," Cheng said.

Legal loopholes

Huang said he was concerned that the real reason behind many relocation disputes was because there were flaws in the Chinese legal system dealing with the policy.

So far, no specific laws have been issued but only some administrative regulations, which were vague.

"A huge conflict originated from the rocketing housing prices in Shanghai and the low level of compensation the developers or the government were giving to the relocated residents," he said.

According to a set of complicated and vague calculations to do with where the location was and the size of the house, residents can find themselves receiving different amounts of money as compensation which is not enough for them to purchase a new house.

The local government, which lacks all the necessary funds to reconstruct the city's old housing, leases the land to real estate developers.

Relocations are the result of two main factors - city infrastructure construction and building plans by property developers.

As far as infrastructure construction is concerned, the problems are whether the compensation policies are reasonable.

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