Chinese man spends years digging secret basement. Neighbours fear the whole block will collapse

Mandy Zuo

A Chinese man who secretly dug a basement for his ground-floor apartment by working away “like a rat” has angered his neighbours who fear he has now put the whole block at risk.

The owner, identified only by his surname Ding, has doubled the space of his apartment in Shenzhen, one of China’s most expensive property markets, which originally measured 100 square metres, over the past three years.

The project started about four years ago, and Ding persisted despite repeated complaints from neighbours in the tenement block and local officials, who issued several verbal warnings and even cut off his water supply at one point

He has now turned the space into four partitioned units, the Kankanews website reported over the weekend.

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Construction of the basement, which is nearly two metres (six and a half feet) deep, has caused one of the building’s major beams to cave in and cracks have appeared on the first floor, according to one of the neighbours surnamed Wang.

“Living here, we are on tenterhooks every day,” Wang said.

He complained that the Ding family “would not listen” to complaints, adding: “They are very arrogant, and asked us to go to court.”

Cracks have started appearing in the block. Photo: Weibo

He Wenjiang, an official from the Xixiang subdistrict office, which administers the community, told Shenzhen TV that the family “suspended construction when we paid a visit” and “built [the basement] slowly, secretly, like a rat digging a hole”.

Ding’s father told the television station that he did not think they have done anythingwrong since other residents had built illegal structures too.

“They built upwards. Why can’t I build underground? Some of them have even built two floors – I just dug one,” he said.

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Local authorities said a third-party assessment of the building’s safety would be conducted before deciding what to do with the structure and whether to penalise the owner.

Illegal home expansion projects have been common in China, especially in major cities where house prices have rocketed in the past decade.

One of the most ambitious was a siheyuan – a type of traditional household built around a courtyard – in Beijing that collapsed after the owner dug an 18-metre basement.

The owner, a former member of the Jiangsu provincial legislature, was later sentenced to five years in jail.

In 2013, it emerged that a wealthy doctor had spent six years and 800,000 yuan (US$115,000) building a villa complete with garden on the top of a 26-storey tower block in downtown Beijing. It took workers seven months to dismantle the complete the structure.

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