New guidelines issued by the Shanghai's housing bureau that discourage landlords from offering "group rents" have sparked debate among local people.
According to the rules released on Monday, rooms should be let only to individuals and families and the total floor space should equate to not less than 5 sq m per occupant.
Landlords are also encouraged to stop renting out individual beds and sub-dividing rooms. The local media has often reported cases of poor safety standards in overcrowded, partitioned apartments.
However, many people have said the guidelines discriminate against unmarried couples and same-sex partners.
Group renting and the illegal partitioning of rooms are quite common in metropolitan Shanghai, where property prices and rents have soared in recent years.
As a result, low-income earners, such as migrant workers, college graduates and young white-collar workers often share rooms and apartments with friends or even strangers to reduce their outgoings.
The controversial guidelines sparked dozens of commentaries both online and in the traditional media, and a huge response from the public.
One netizen on eastday.com said: "No one wants to live in a cramped room with people they don't know, but it's too expensive for most people to buy a house or even rent one in Shanghai. Policymakers seldom care about poor people's living conditions."
Another, at hexun.com, said: "How can we survive with low incomes but high rents? It's hard enough even without the new restrictions, and the bureau should see that most people are against them."
Reuters, quoting a commentary from a local newspaper, said: "This matter, in essence, attacks the people who can least afford it."
However, some academics have highlighted the positives in the bureau's new guidelines, saying they are necessary for social stability.
Qiao Xinsheng, a professor at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, said in an article on hexun.com: "People want to live in a harmonious community. With the new amendments, disputes between landlords, residents and property management companies will be easier to solve."
Cai Xingfa, director of the Shanghai Property Management Association, said the government should provide more affordable housing for low-income earners, local media reported.
(China Daily August 31, 2007)