Some officials and members of North Korea’s wealthy entrepreneurial class (donju) who purchased units in the recently completed “circular-shaped” apartment building in Sinuiju are reluctant to move into the building, Daily NK has learned.

Daily NK recently obtained a video (below) filmed from Dandong at night showing that many of the apartments in the building did not have lights on.

A Daily NK source in North Pyongan Province said on Monday that the reason many people have refrained from moving into the new apartment is because of its location near the Sino-North Korean border where there is an “extensive network of control and surveillance” by the authorities. 

In fact, the new building is located on the banks of the Yalu River and is close enough to afford a clear view of Dandong. The source’s report suggests that the various controls and surveillance implemented in the border region by the authorities to maintain their “ideological grip” over the population means that many government officials and donju accustomed to freely enjoying non-North Korean culture are reluctant to move into the building. 

Donju feel that they won’t be able to watch South Korean [dramas and movies on] memory [sticks] or make calls over the border [to China] as they please if they reside in the building,” the source told Daily NK. “They are reluctant to move in because they want to live freely.” 

According to the source, another reason for the empty apartments is that the owners purchased them for investment purposes without plans to actually live there. 

“These individuals already own two or three houses, so there is no reason to move into the new units,” the source said, noting, “In fact, they never even applied for ‘occupancy permits’ in the first place.” 

After investing with capital gains in mind, owners of new apartments in the building who already own multiple houses may have decided not to live there with all the “discomfort” it could entail. 

North Korean authorities also appear to be ignoring the lack of people moving into the new building.

“The high-rise apartment building was built with materials paid for by the donju,” the source said. “So, the Sinuiju Party Committee and Central Committee can’t do much if they decide not to move in.” 

Daily NK previously reported that officials and members of the entrepreneurial class had paid the cost of construction out of their own pockets. 

Some donju are reportedly even hiring “tenants” to occupy the units on their behalf in order to avoid punishment from the authorities for not actually living there. 

“Some donju are concerned that the authorities could make an example of them if the newly purchased apartments are not their actual place of residence,” the source explained. “One person is even paying an old woman about RMB 50 [approximately USD 7.20] a month to live in their unit for the sake of keeping up appearances.”

All houses in North Korea belong to the state and, in principle, all purchases or sales of properties are forbidden. This means that there are no rules governing punishments toward people who own multiple houses. Be that as it may, the constant risk of being punished for “anti-socialist” behavior has led many donju who own multiple houses to try and survive by deceiving the authorities.

“Although those hired as ‘tenants’ only receive a small amount of money, they use it to buy rice or other food on top of the free accommodation, so it’s a good deal for them, too,” the source said. “Both parties are satisfied with the arrangement.”

The source also told Daily NK that because there is a significant number of homeless people in Sinuiju “many houses have two families living in them.” In contrast, he noted that “there is no shortage of officials trying to earn more money [with the apartments they own].”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.