Seoul to ban ‘parasite-style’ basement apartments after deadly flood

The Seoul government on Wednesday announced plans to ban basement apartments in South Korea’s national capital – a style of underground house featured in the Oscar-winning film Parasite – after four people drowned in such flats in recent days during record flooding, the BBC reported.

“Seoul will no longer issue permits to build such houses from this week and will gradually convert existing apartments,” the British broadcaster reported on August 10, citing city officials.

Seoul’s worst flooding in 115 years has devastated the capital in recent days, killing at least 12 people as of Aug. 11. Four of those deaths occurred on August 8 in two separate basement apartments after the structures were inundated with water.

“[T]Three family members – a woman in her 40s, her sister and the brother’s teenage daughter – […] were found dead after being trapped in a submerged semi-basement house in Sillim-dong, not far from the affluent Gangnam neighborhood. Another woman in her 50s who lived in a similar residence also drowned, according to DongAIlbo newspaper,” Bloomberg reported.

The unfortunate family of three in Sillim-dong had “sought for help as their house filled with water, but rescuers couldn’t reach them”, the BBC revealed on August 10.

The Seoul government will soon begin implementing measures to phase out the use of basement apartments in the city’s downtown area. The capital currently has 200,000 basement and semi-basement apartments, a figure amounting to 5% of all residential buildings in Seoul.

Seoul Metropolitan Government officials detailed their plan to ban the use of basement apartments for residential purposes on August 10.

The Hankyoreha left-leaning South Korean newspaper, relayed the information, writing:

The plan is to give the owner a 10-20 year grace period and retire the building in order. To this end, it was decided to develop a plan to induce a change of use so that the current tenant no longer uses it for residential purposes and to give incentives to the owner.

It has also put in place a plan to prevent the deterioration of the living environment by giving tenants who have left basements or semi-buried rooms the possibility of moving into social rental housing or by granting housing vouchers .

Seoul’s basement apartments are typically “rented out to low-income people”, the BBC observed on Wednesday. The fictional family depicted in the South Korean film Parasite – which was the first non-English language film to win the 2019 Best Picture Oscar – also lived in a basement apartment due to financial difficulties.

“Underground and semi-underground housing is a type of backward housing that threatens vulnerable housing in all its aspects, including safety and living environment. It has to go now,” Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon told reporters on August 10, as quoted by the newspaper. Hankyoreh.


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