Twenty-five luxury villas built on top of a Chinese shopping mall have become migrant workers' residences after authorities declared them illegal, state media said Tuesday.
The houses, covering an area about the size of three football pitches, were built in 2009 on the roof of a multi-storey construction materials and furniture mall in Hengyang, the China Daily said.
Pictures show the houses -- with bright blue roofs and pastel yellow walls -- mixing architectural styles, with wraparound verandahs and some having vaguely Germanic towers attached.
They are divided by white picket fences, while trees and bushes grow in their courtyards and along the pathways between them.
The houses were built without a licence, the report said, and although the city government repeatedly demanded their demolition, developer Hengyang Wings Group ignored the order.
Authorities in Hengyang, in the central province of Hunan, have now ruled instead that the villas can stay but the developer cannot sell them, the paper said.
"The houses are now dormitories for our employees. Some migrant workers who took part in the villas' construction are also living in them," Wang Jianxin, the developer's general manager, was quoted as telling a local newspaper.
Property investment has been a driver of the Chinese economy for years, although authorities have long sought to control rapid house price rises.
Land grabs have become a volatile social problem as officials and developers seek to cash in on the property boom, sometimes forcing people out of their homes without proper compensation.
With land disputes becoming more frequent, the government has forbidden housing demolitions without the owners' consent, while police have been banned from intervening to protect developers in such rows, according to previous Chinese media reports.