Phnom Penh City Hall has told the 600 families who call an aging Chamkar Mon district apartment complex home to prepare to move out due to safety concerns but has given residents no deadline to leave.
In a letter dated Thursday and signed by governor Kep Chuktema, the city said inspectors who recently visited the apartments came away concerned about the condition of the some of the structure’s main pillars.
The letter urged residents to stop renovating or adding to the building “to avoid any possible risk,” and to get ready for a move for which it set no date.
In December, the apartments–a string of six four-story structures along Sothearos Boulevard known simply as “building”–were one of seven communities the district said it would not issue titles to because they were too “complex” to adjudicate.
Despite a recently approved sub-decree permitting titles for apartments in multi-owner complexes, the district said the building would be passed over because residents were living together “on many floors with different families.”
District officials either could not be reached yesterday or declined to comment. Commune chief Khatt Narith said authorities had not yet set a deadline for eviction. He said the city was still searching for a private developer interested in buying the site.
“The state is looking for a private [company] that wants to invest, build a new building or buy the building from the people,” he said.
Residents who had heard of the government’s announcement had mixed reactions to the news.
“I don’t know what to do,” said Chea Sa Oun, who moved into her free third-floor apartment in 1980 as part of a government plan to set the building aside for artists.
“I am not prepared to do anything or go anywhere because I have no money,” said Ms Sa Oun, who now scrapes by selling pickled vegetables at the market.
Swinging in a hammock next to her display of noodles, chips and assorted snacks on an open third-floor landing connecting buildings B and C, another long-time resident was less perturbed.
“I’m not worried at all, I have heard it over and over and over again,” said the woman, who declined to give her name for fear of retaliation. “I am not going to let them evict us.”
Despite the shabby walls, dangling electrical wires and crumbling ceilings, residents all professed faith in the building’s safety.
“It is not old yet. It will still stand for the next 10 or 20 years,” said another resident who also declined to give her name, slapping the walls with her open hand.
Whatever the building’s actual condition, Sia Phearum, secretary-general of the Housing Rights Task Force, said authorities were shrewd in holding off on major renovations to the building all these years.
“I think they are very smart because [property in] that area is very expensive and they pay attention very carefully,” he said.
He criticized the government’s refusal to let residents apply for titles and urged the city to meet with the community.
“We [think] City Hall should negotiate with the building [residents] to find a resolution,” he said. “Based on the land law, they have a right to apply for title.”