Beijing homeowners learn to wield technological tools

Xinhua
When property managers failed in their roles, tech-savvy residents in a Beijing apartment complex took matters into their own hands through voting by phone.
Xinhua

When property managers failed in their roles, tech-savvy residents in a Beijing apartment complex took matters into their own hands through voting by phone.

Close to 1,000 families live in Shiyunhaoting residential neighborhood in eastern Beijing. In June, they voted to fire their property management company whom they agreed was negligent, and decided to select a new one.

They did so through an app called "Beijing Homeowners," developed by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and put into use last year.

The replacement of property managers through phone voting was the first of its kind, the commission said.

Built in 2000, the apartments and public infrastructure are in regular need of repairs, but the old property management company had been slow in its actions, drawing the ire of residents.

"I remember the ground tiles at the gate were broken. I picked up a tile and asked the property managers to replace it, but they never got it fixed," said 72-year-old Sun Weiming.

Sun said many residents were angered by their repeated negligence.

Residents at Shiyunhaoting were among the app's first batch of users. Voting has become the most popular function, said Li Lang, who works for the commission's property management guidance center.

"With voting on paper, staff had to go door to door to collect votes and signatures, and often people are not at home. Voting on a phone app is much more convenient," Li said.

App users have to go through an identity authentication process to be able to vote, he said.

By the end of July, the community has welcomed its new property management company, said Yuan Jingchao, head of the homeowners' association.

According to a previously agreed rule, a majority of voters must support a resolution for it to be enacted.

"The phone app greatly raises the efficiency in solving matters of collective importance. It also helps us settle matters without entering into conflicts or other forms of disputes," said Yuan.

The app has been put to use in over 2,000 communities across Beijng. About 23 residential neighborhoods used voting functions on the app, said Li.

However, many residents worry about the security of data, and over the consequences, if their voting information is leaked, he said.

The app is developed and managed by a government organ, and the voter's information is kept strictly confidential, Li assured.

The app, however, has proven a challenge for senior citizens who are less tech-savvy. Sun needed the help of his neighbor to install the app and vote. Several elderly people in the neighborhood have not installed the app.

Advocates say the benefits of the technology's introduction outweigh the disadvantages. Residents at Shiyunhaoting will soon vote again on whether they should use their mutual fund to repair the old elevators. Their new property management firm will be put under tighter scrutiny.

"Technology now helps people to better know their rights, and allows residents to exercise them," said Yuan. 

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