Voting ratios relaxed to encourage speedier demolition of earthquake-damaged buildings in Kumamoto

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On September 30, the Japanese government voted in favour of enacting an exemption to the apartment redevelopment law in order to help speed up redevelopment of buildings damaged by the Kumamoto earthquake in April. Under the special exemption, the voting ratio for demolishing an apartment building and selling the land has been reduced to 80% for damaged buildings in Kumamoto. This is the second time the exemption has been applied. It was first applied to three buildings damaged by the 2011 Tohoku disaster in Sendai city.

Ordinarily, 100% of apartment owners must agree before a building can be demolished and the land sold. However, if the building has been seriously damaged in a major earthquake, the ratio can be reduced to 80% if certain conditions are met. Nevertheless, obtaining 80% agreement is still a difficult task.

According to Kumamoto City, 19 apartments buildings were considered to be completely destroyed, 21 suffered major damage, and 52 suffered partial damage in April.

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One of the buildings that was designated as being completely destroyed was No. 2 Kyomachidai Heights in Nishi Ward. The 7-storey apartment building was built in 1974. In the main earthquake on April 16, the ground floor garage support pillars fractured, crushing cars, while the upper portion of the building developed a dangerous lean. The building was built to the old earthquake codes (called ‘kyu-taishin’).

The chairman of the apartment owners association immediately embarked on efforts to get the individual unit owners to discuss and agree to demolition. However, contacting the various owners of apartments in the building proved to be a difficult task. Many had already evacuated leaving no contact details. After months of phone calls, in July the chairman finally managed to obtain agreement from over 80% of the owners in order to demolish the building.

The second step – finding a demolition crew – proved much more challenging. Within the prefecture, there were over 18,000 applications for government funded building demolitions and construction crews were in short supply. Building owners were facing a lengthy wait.

Initial plans were for the land to be sold after the building was demolished, with proceeds from the land sale to be apportioned out to apartment owners. Sale negotiations have been taking longer than expected and the entire process could take another one or two years.

Repairs also possible

Some buildings that were only partially destroyed or damaged can be repaired. In Kumamoto City’s Chuo Ward, repairs started this month on a 70 unit, 25 year old apartment building.

Damage on the upper floors was particularly noticeable, resulting in many residents evacuating to temporary accommodation provided by the city.

Apartment owners initially feared that the building would need to be rebuilt, but experts have said the damage can be repaired. The building was designated by the city as suffering from large-scale damage. This meant that each apartment owner was entitled to up to 570,000 Yen in financial assistance to go towards repairs.

With the exception of buildings deemed to be completely destroyed, many buildings damaged in an earthquake can be repaired with the proper expertise and cooperation by apartment owners.

Sources:
The Nishi Nippon Shimbun, October 14, 2016.
The Mainichi Shimbun September 30, 2016.

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