Apartment Reconstruction Still Lagging Despite Support System

Sansui Heim Motoazabu 1973

The following is a translation of an article that appeared in the Nikkei Shimbun on October 30th, 2010.

The large scale repairs and rebuilding of aging apartments in Tokyo is becoming more and more of a concern. Apartments built during the construction boom from the 1970s are now nearing 40 years old. If apartments are not properly maintained they create a fire and crime hazard (possibly because they have less security features than modern buildings). At the national and city level there is a support system for rebuilding, but actual cases where the system has been used are few in number.

“Even if agreement is reached amongst the residents of a condominium, the process can still take up to 5 years.” A 54 year old apartment building with 56 units in Tokyo’s Bunkyo-ku was torn down and replaced by a modern 5-storey, 74 unit apartment building completed earlier this year.

“100 owner-association meetings in 5 years”

Approval to establish the reconstruction association, bids for construction work, and inexperience of those involved will prolong the process.  A reconstruction association chairman said they held up to 100 resident association meetings during the 5 years of planning.

In 2008, there were approximately 50,000 condos over 40 years of age in Tokyo’s metropolitan area. In 2018, that number is expected to grow to 240,000 condos.

Lax  building repairs, deterioration in water pipes and exterior walls create a fire risk. In order to lessen the risks, in 2002 the Apartment Reconstruction Facilitation Law was created to help with the transfer of sectional ownership rights in condominiums.

However, when many of the residents are in their old age and in a tight financial situation, it can be very difficult to get their approval on reconstruction plans.

“Specialist expertise is essential”

Even when the condo management association has sought expert advice, there may be occasions where there is no designated person in charge and even with some residents demanding reconstruction, a general consensus is not met.  As of 2009, there have only been 19 cases in Tokyo where the new reconstruction laws have been applied.

The first step is to increase awareness of building deterioration amongst residents.

In Chiba City, where over 40% of apartment buildings are over 30 years old, building deterioration analysis is subsidized up to 250,000 JPY.  In Saitama Prefecture, at the end of September the city embarked on an investigation of the status of the large scale repair funds for all condominiums in the area.

The usage of the support system, however, has not been widely taken up. In Yokohama City, there have only been 6 cases in the past 5 years. Lack of awareness of the aging problems by management associations was cited as one of the reasons. In Chiba City, there has only been one application for assistance – the “Nishikonakadai Danchi” apartment block built in the 1970s and comprising 37 buildings and 990 units.

Real estate companies and private developers are making moves to capitalize on the reconstruction business. Whether this can become a thriving industry is still uncertain. One opinion is that the pressure on rebuilding should be relaxed, and other alternatives should also be considered, such as introducing a system to allow demolishing of a building and selling the vacant land.

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