Proposed law could allow the forced sale of abandoned land

On February 22, the Cabinet approved a bill that will allow land with unidentifiable owners to be forcibly sold off by a court-appointed trustee, thereby helping to free up some of the vast swaths of idle land across the country with missing owners. 

Under the bill, the legal affairs bureau will have the right to investigate land where the title records do not show the correct owner’s name or address, and, acting as caretaker of the property, have the power to sell off the land to third parties via the court system. It is theorized that local governments could then use the land for public utilities, or private corporations could develop the otherwise abandoned land. Proceeds from the sale would be held by the legal affairs bureau and transferred to the rightful former owner of the property, should they come forward within a certain period of time. There are also plans to make property title registration compulsory when ownership changes due to inheritance and create a system that would allow the legal relinquishment of property ownership rights. Under the current Civil Code it is not possible to abandon your freehold property rights.

Back in 2017 the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) reported that 41,000 square kilometers, or as much as 20% of the privately-owned land in Japan had missing or unidentifiable owners. Some land parcels had not been updated since the late 1800s. 

The problem with much of the abandoned land is that it is often in remote or unaccessible regions or has little-to-no development potential, such as mountainsides and forest. On the open market, this land has almost no value, and in some cases has a negative value. The proposed plan will, however, be useful for situations where local governments need to build infrastructure such as roads. 

Sources:
The Nikkei Shimbun, February 22, 2019.
The Yomiuri Shimbun, January 14, 2019.
The Mainichi Shimbun January 12, 2019.
The Sankei Shimbun, January 11, 2019.

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