A property developer in Zhaoqing, Guangdong Province, has been ordered to stop levying pipe gas installation fees on apartment owners.
Zhaoqing Municipal Pricing Bureau took the action after being sued by some of the residents for allegedly giving permission to the firm to impose 3,000 yuan (US$370) installation fees earlier this year.
It is the first time in the province, and probably the country, that a pricing administration has issued an official document to stop real estate developers from levying the fees.
It has aroused great attention among the public, related authorities and experts in the province as the charges have been levied for about two decades, with the number of complaints increasing in recent years.
Gao Yining, an official with the Guangdong Provincial Pricing Bureau, claimed the provincial pricing administration had never issued permission for levying pipe gas installation fees.
She said the levying of fees was a nationwide common practice and that it was a very complicated issue.
"The provincial pricing administration has been studying the issue," she said, refusing to comment on whether the fees would be abolished across the board in the foreseeable future.
Ren Jiantao, a public administration professor with Guangzhou-based Sun Yat-sen University, said while the fees were feasible and practical about 20 years ago, they may no longer be reasonable.
He said the practice began in 1987, when big cities in the province such as Guangzhou began to put into use pipe gas supplies.
Each apartment in Guangzhou paid pipe gas installation fees of 1,000 yuan (US$125) at that time. The charges were said to help the government raise funds for its pipe gas supply programme.
With the permission of the Guangzhou Pricing Bureau, the fees rose to around 3,500 yuan (US$432) per apartment in 1996 in Guangzhou and have remained at the same level.
Many other cities in the province have copied Guangzhou's practice, though fees vary from place to place.
Ren said that while levying pipe gas installation fees was common in China, there were no official price standards.
They were introduced before the country's pricing law came into effect in 1997, he added.
He suggested that the fees should be considerably lowered, if not scrapped completely.
Zhu Yongping, director of a local law firm and deputy to the municipal people's congress of Guangzhou, said reasonable pipe gas installation fees could be calculated into the total price of an apartment.
It is a method adopted by property developers in Beijing.
Zhu said pipes constituted part of the infrastructure facilities of an apartment.
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