Residents of Phnom Penh’s historic White Building have been warned by local authorities that DIY repairs and jam-packed apartments could be putting the iconic structure at risk.
A letter signed by Tonle Bassac commune chief Khat Narith, which was signed on July 1 but distributed among residents last week, says the aging building has been put under increasing strain by its inhabitants.
Following an inspection from engineers, “we found that some of the families repaired or added structures to the building to make it overloaded and [did so] without taking good care of the building”, Narith said.
“The building is now old, which raises concerns about future dangers,” he added.
At the renowned apartment block yesterday, locals defended their actions.
One resident, Sam Van, said extensive renovations in his apartment had been made because of safety and sanitation concerns.
“We just got a new floor, ceiling and walls so that it would look like new,” he said. “We have no intention of making the building heavier”.
Another long-term resident, Khan Chan – who has lived in the building for more than 20 years – admitted that the number of people living in her apartment had grown significantly, with eight now crammed into the undersized flat.
“We have more family members now, like my son-in-law and my granddaughter,” she said.
“I know there are more people living here now, but what can I do? We don’t have anywhere else to live.”
In February, a large crack appeared through the southern part of the apartment block, leading many residents to flee their homes.
The damage was widely attributed to the nearby construction of an 11-storey hotel.
While the works were suspended for months, the construction has resumed in recent days, with excavators seen at the site yesterday shifting soil.
Neang Tha, whose apartment is next to the four-storey crack, said authorities promised residents that the construction would not lead to further damage.
“We are still concerned but what can we do? The authorities promised us that if something bad happens the company will be responsible,” she said.
Families who fled their homes had returned because they had been unable to afford accommodation elsewhere, Tha said.
Biaxis, the construction firm building the hotel, could not be reached.
Ee Sarom, executive director of housing NGO Samakum Teang Tnaut, said “if they [local authorities] are worried about the building why don’t they stop construction?”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY