China Evacuates ‘Wobbling’ Skyscraper, Prompting Demands for Justice

People walk past the temporarily closed of 300-meter (1,000-ft.) SEG Plaza (C) in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, in Guangdong province on May 24, 2021, nearly a week after it began to shake unexpectedly, triggering widespread panic, with people fleeing the streets below. (Photo by Noel Celis / AFP) …
NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images

Tenants forced to evacuate a skyscraper in China’s southeastern city of Shenzhen last week after the building began shaking for unknown reasons are now seeking compensation for losses sustained due to early lease terminations and business losses, the South China Morning Post reported on Friday.

“[M]any tenants selling electrical goods in Shenzhen’s fifth-highest tower … are now calling for compensation for business disruption and early termination of their leases at SEG Plaza,” the Post reported, adding that most of the tenants have chosen to remain anonymous at this time.

“If it is defined as force majeure [an unforeseeable or unavoidable event freeing both parties to a contract from legal obligation], tenants are entitled to ask for at least half of the rent for the entire shutdown period as both sides are responsible for [the] disruption caused by such issues,” Liu Ziru, a property lawyer at the Shenzhen branch of Dentons, a multinational law firm, told the Post.

“But it is not legitimate to ask for early termination of [the] tenancy if it is a force majeure event, and the tenants may have to bear their own loss if they just surrendered based on the current situation,” Liu added.

China’s Shenzhen Electronics Group Co Ltd owns SEG Plaza, which is home to several tenants selling electronic goods, such as the well-known Huaqiangbei Electronics Market. The 70-story skyscraper began shaking on its foundation for yet undetermined reasons on May 18, prompting SEG Plaza’s management to evacuate tenants and others inside the building, which amounted to “thousands of people” according to the Post. The newspaper revealed on Friday that SEG Plaza “experienced further periodic tremors over the next two days, each lasting a couple of minutes.”

“In an internal notice to the tenants dated May 20 shared by the official [Chinese state] news agency Xinhua, the building owner said no one would be allowed to enter [SEG Plaza] until an investigation was finished, without giving an idea of the time frame,” according to the Post.

Shenzhen Electronics Group Co Ltd banned “all owners, merchants, and tenants from entering or leaving the SEG Building and electronics market … (which) will open again after the relevant inspection work is completed” according to the statement.

The ban went into effect on May 21. “Ten days on, there is still no official explanation for the shaking and the tower remains closed,” according to the Post.

“The Shenzhen Housing and Construction Bureau has commissioned multiple professional institutions to monitor the building since the incident. Tests have found everything to be within official ranges set by China’s safety bodies, according to a statement released on the official WeChat [Chinese social media] account of the Shenzhen government,” the Hong Kong-based newspaper reported on May 28.

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