Residents of Phnom Penh’s iconic “White Building” on Thursday said they were again worried about being evicted after their commune chief issued a letter this month asking them to vacate their homes, citing unsafe conditions in the aging apartment complex.
The future of the dilapidated building in Chamkar Mon district, built as a low-cost housing project under then Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1963 and now home to hundreds of families, has been uncertain over the past year.
Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong said in September that the building was slated to be demolished, before reneging and saying the building would remain standing but that residents would be responsible for its upkeep.
Earlier this month, Tonle Bassac commune chief Khat Narith issued a letter to the building’s 547 families warning them that the building is unsafe and advising them to move out temporarily.
“We are not forcing them to leave,” Mr. Narith said Thursday of the letter, dated July 1. “We advised residents to move and make repairs because we don’t want them to be involved in any accident.”
Mr. Narith said that if residents don’t want to make repairs, the city may encourage them to sell their apartments to investors who will upgrade the building.
Resident Leat Chenda, 30, said she believed the safety warning and advice to temporarily move out were an attempt to steal her property.
“If we move, they [the city] will not let us back into our house,” she said.
Sea Vouch Eng, 49, echoed her neighbor’s sentiment, and vowed to stay in the building until she died.
“I’ll die if the building collapses on me, but I don’t have any money to move out temporarily and make repairs,” she said.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said that the letter was simply a warning to residents that the building is not safe, adding that repairs were not the city’s responsibility.
“Would you ask the state to repair your house?” he asked. “It’s your house, so you have to repair it by yourself.”
(Additional reporting by Alex Consiglio)