ID cards on demand, and ‘let the sunshine in’Oct. 10, 1968
It will not take a new resident here more than a few days to realize that without a personal registration number, they are a non-person here.
The rough equivalent of a social security number in the United States, the resident registration numbers are needed constantly for everything from signing up for a magazine subscription to joining online bulletin board discussions.
That link between a person and a number is somewhat controversial; Korean-speaking Internet users outside the country who have no number have asked that Web sites here allow them to use their registration numbers in other countries. But some Koreans want the system scrapped entirely, saying it is a vestige of Korea’s past dictatorial regimes.
The resident registration system was set up during the Park Chung Hee administration. An earlier identity registration system was tightened up, ostensibly for national security reasons. In addition to the number, the new system added a gender identification and place of birth. Fingerprints are added to the registration database and a thumbprint is added to the identity card when a Korean reaches the age of 17.
The Park administration also required that Koreans carry their identity cards at all times and produce them at the request of a law enforcement official. That, the government said, would make it easier to track down North Korean spies.
Oct. 10, 1978
At most high-rise housing construction projects these days, disputes arise over whether the new buildings tower over existing structures and block the existing residents from their share of sunlight.
Disputes between construction companies and residents living in existing low-rise buildings rarely reach the courts, though. The parties usually reach a financial settlement before angry residents decide to go to court to seek damages.
But one case 25 years ago did turn into a legal dispute, when a group of Seoul residents asked a court to stop the construction of a nearby skyscraper that was already under construction. On this date in 1978, the Seoul High Court accepted the residents’ plea and ordered the company to stop further construction. At the time, it seemed like an unambiguous victory for Koreans’ “right to sunlight.”
But as it turned out, the residents had won a rare victory, not set a precedent. As more tall buildings began to rise in the city, the courts realized that they could be flooded with cases of widely varying merit. Some potentially sunless people wanted more money than the construction companies were willing to pay; others demanded their sun and wanted construction halted; others demanded that construction already underway be demolished. Builders claimed that despite their strict compliance with the law and building regulations, residents were demanding wild amounts of compensation.
A subjective zoning law added to the headaches for the courts. The law said that residents near a new building could sue builders for compensation if the new structure would block the sunlight to an “intolerable level.” What, the courts wondered, was “intolerable”?
Finally, in 1996, a new high court ruling put some definitions into case law, ruling that people had a right to sunshine for at least two hours between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., or for four hours between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on the shortest day of the year. If new buildings could not let either amount of sunlight get through to people in its shadow, the situation would be intolerable.
It is also difficult these days for people living in a skyscraper’s shadow to force a halt to new construction. A ruling by a Daegu court in December 2003 said that 16 families living near a new construction site were entitled to compensation from Taewang, a building company, but that construction of the new buildings could proceed.
“As cities become more densely built, the courts are wondering if there is a real right for residents to have sunshine all the time,” said Lee Seung-tae, a specialist in the area at Seo Woo law firm.
And views, not just sunshine, are now becoming an issue. What rights do people have to see a mountain out their windows rather that the windows of another apartment? “That’s another issue that the court did not have to worry about in the past [when the buildings were all low],” Mr. Lee said.
by Lee Min-a
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