Fire safety concerns in sleep box boarding houses

Sleep boxes in shared rooms in boarding houses are popular among students and freelance workers in HCMC due to their convenience and cost savings.

The area of each box is about 2 square meters, enough for one person to lie down and move around quite strenuously.

Most of these renovated rooms are located in townhouses that do not meet fire safety standards.

Diverse forms of low-cost accommodation

On May 24, assuming the role of a student seeking accommodation, a reporter from SGGP Newspaper visited areas near major universities in Binh Thanh and Go Vap districts. Although no rental sign was visible at 358A Xo Viet Nghe Tinh Street (Ward 25, Binh Thanh District), locals confirmed its availability for rent, with the landlord ready to open the door upon request.

The house comprises one ground floor and two upper floors. The manager warmly opened the gate to welcome us inside to view the rooms. The tenants' motorbikes were parked tightly behind the gate, and the kitchen was just a few steps away. According to the reporter's observation, each floor of this boarding house has two rooms, with an area of about 25-35 square meters each. Each room contains eight sleep boxes, with a shared bathroom, and the air conditioner is opened continuously to avoid stuffiness.

The manager led the reporter to see the only vacant sleep box in the room. The area of each box is about 2 square meters, enough for one person to lie down and move around quite strenuously. Each sleep box is equipped with electrical outlets and a small bed desk, with a rental price of VND1.8 million per sleep box per month.

Not far from there, an old house on Xo Viet Nghe Tinh Street is being rented out. The ground floor is used for a beverage business, while the upper floors are transformed into bedrooms, each divided into six rooms. Led by the landlord to view the rooms through a narrow corridor, the reporter felt uneasy at the appearance of the "rooms" ahead. Each room is barely 15 square meters, with walls made of welded iron bars and patched with roofing sheets, foam sheets, and insulated roofing panels for daylight. Light seeps through the patched gaps, casting direct sunlight into the rooms and creating a stifling feeling.

This house is undergoing renovations to meet the demand for student accommodations. According to the manager, rooms will be available for rent within three days, despite the ongoing presence of scattered building materials and the incomplete appearance of the rooms. The landlord and manager also mentioned that if guests request and make a deposit in advance, they can immediately install air conditioners or build a private bathroom in the room. The landlord has also converted the house's rooftop into several similar rooms. As they are on the top floor under intense sunlight, these rooms must utilize insulation panels to mitigate heat.

A similar situation is noted in several rental accommodations in Go Vap District and District 10. Not referred to as sleep boxes, the owner of a boarding house on Le Loi Street (Ward 4, Go Vap District) calls it a "shared bed rental". Each bed is priced at VND1 million per month, excluding parking fees, electricity, and water bills. The house, consisting of one ground floor and three upper floors, always has at least 20 tenants.

Drastically tackling unsafe sleep boxes

After the recent deadly fire at a boarding house that claimed 14 lives in Hanoi, concerns about fire safety in small-scale accommodations and boarding houses in major urban areas have escalated. Many residents living near areas prone to fire hazards express worries and emphasize the need for authorities to conduct more rigorous inspections and checks because human safety and lives are of utmost importance.

In early October 2023, the HCMC authorities conducted a comprehensive safety inspection regarding fire prevention and control in boarding houses, multi-unit residential buildings (commonly known as mini apartments), collective residences, and old apartment buildings throughout the city.

During an inspection of a boarding house on Nguyen Thien Thuat Street (Ward 14, Binh Thanh District, HCMC), the inter-agency task force discovered 125 sleep boxes and numerous serious violations related to fire prevention and control, leading to the decision to temporarily suspend the operation of this boarding house. Returning to the premises on May 26, reporters noted that the house was now closed and displayed a sign indicating the entire house was available for rent.

Following the inspections, mini apartments and sleep box boarding houses found in violation were suspended. However, other establishments located not far from the inspected sites are still in operation and continue to exist. Colonel Huynh Quang Tam, Head of the Police Department of Fire Prevention and Fighting and Rescue of the HCMC Police Department, said that the unit has received and directed units to investigate and address violations reported by journalists and the public. In the coming time, the unit will collaborate with relevant agencies to conduct comprehensive inspections to rectify this situation further.

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