Owners association wins lawsuit against sharehouse operator

The owner of a share house that has been operating out of a condominium building in Arakawa-ku, Tokyo, has been ordered by the Tokyo District Court to remove the interior partition walls that had been installed to create small share rooms.

The share house was a violation of the building’s management bylaws. The owners’ association filed a suit against the apartment owner, and the Tokyo District Court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs on September 18. The judge noted that the use of the apartment exceeded what was expected for a normal residential unit.

Osaka may relax short-term rental rules for empty apartments

Osaka is considering introducing special regulations that would relax the rules on leasing apartments out on a short-term basis – a practice that is currently illegal without a hotel license.

In 2013 the Japanese government designated special zones in urban centres such as Tokyo and Osaka where regulations are to be eased, however it is up to the local governments to decide if they want to introduce these changes. If Osaka approves this plan, it will be the first place in Japan to do so.

Even with relaxed rules, operators of these short-term lodgings will need to be approved by local governments, rooms will need to meet minimum requirements such as being over 25 sqm in size, and will need clear instructions provided in several languages to assist guests. Operators will also be required to keep written records of all guests and keep copies of identification documents.

Lodging license required for Airbnb hosts in Fukuoka Prefecture

On July 10, Masashi Haranaka, a member of the Fukuoka prefectural assembly, confirmed that anyone who wants to rent out rooms on a nightly basis using online sites, including Airbnb, is required to obtain a license under the Inns and Hotels Act. This includes private individuals looking to offer out rooms in their own house to people in exchange for payment.

Under the Inns and Hotels Act, individuals and businesses looking to rent out rooms or entire homes to guests on a nightly basis must receive permission from the prefectural governor. This is the first time the prefecture has specifically indicated that this definition also applies to people renting out their own home to guests.

The prefecture has also indicated that they will conduct physical inspections to identify and prosecute people found to be operating illegally.

Residents seek urgent reconstruction of faulty building in Fukuoka

Kurume Fukuoka apartment buildingThe residents of a condominium in Kurume City, Fukuoka, that was found to have a considerably low level of earthquake-resistance, have filed a lawsuit against Fukuoka City seeking reconstruction of the building within the next 12 months.

According to the lawsuit, the 15 storey condominium was constructed by a subcontracting company of Kajima Corporation in 1996. Issues began shortly after completion, with exterior tiles from upper floors coming loose and cracks appearing in the building’s hallways. Since 1997, residents have repeatedly requested that the developer and construction company investigate and repair the building.

With Airbnb-style rentals on the rise, what are the potential legal issues?

Airbnb-style accommodation options in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and other popular tourist destinations are growing, and with rising foreign tourist numbers, more people may be considering renting out their spare room or house on an accommodation site. However, in some cases this practice might violate the Inns and Hotels Act. Local governments are scrambling to find ways to get a grasp on the situation and find ways to monitor and regulate the practice.

Revision to voting ratios to make it easier to sell apartment building and land

Hanshin earthquake
An apartment building damaged in the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.

On December 24, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) announced a revision to the Facilitation of Reconstruction of Condominiums Act which is intended to make it easier to sell off an older apartment building and land in order to speed up redevelopment.

Under the revision, the voting ratio to sell off the building and land will be reduced to 80% for kyu-taishin apartments that do not meet earthquake-resistant codes (the ratio was originally 100%). It is important to note that this revision does not apply to all apartments built before 1981. It only applies to those that failed an earthquake-resistant inspection.

At the end of 2013, there were 6,010,000 apartments across Japan. Of those, approximately 17% are in buildings built to the older earthquake codes (called kyu-taishin). The figures are higher for condominiums, with a third of condominium apartment buildings across Japan built to the older codes.

By April 2014, there were only 196 cases where kyu-taishin apartment buildings were redeveloped, accounting for just 1.4% of the total number of kyu-taishin apartments.

Realtor sued after promising landowners they could sell worthless land to Chinese buyers at inflated prices

Japan Land Scam 1114 landowners are seeking damages from an Osaka-based real estate company after claiming that they were encouraged to pay for land survey fees with the premise that they could sell their otherwise worthless forest land to Chinese buyers for high prices.

On November 28, a class-action lawsuit seeking 47 million Yen (390,000 USD) in damages was filed in the Osaka District Court against 13 employees of Mirai Tochi Corporation and two other related companies. According to the complaint, 114 people aged from 35 to 89 from across Japan were approached by the company between 2011 and 2014. They allege that they were encouraged to pay the company as much as 300,000 ~ 700,000 Yen in land survey and maintenance fees with the hope that the land could then be sold to Chinese buyers.

The company is also currently being prosecuted for fraud in the Nara District Court. According to the Nara prefectural police, the case, which also includes their predecessor Toshow Management, involves damages exceeding 1.36 billion Yen (11.3 million USD) and 5,000 victims in 36 prefectures across the country and overseas.

Suginami-ku may soon have powers to forcibly widen roads

Setagaya Road setback

The local government in Suginami-ku, Tokyo, is considering amending local regulations which would give them the powers to carry out the road widening and street levelling on privately owned setback land. If the plans are approved, this would be the first local government in Japan to have these legal powers.

Approximately 30% of the roads in Suginami are less than 4 meters wide and pose a hazard to the local community in the event of a disaster, such as an earthquake, as emergency vehicles cannot navigate the narrow roads and lane ways. 

Under the Building Standards Act, owners of buildings that front onto a road less than 4m wide are required to shorten their block land in order to widen the road when the building is redeveloped.

Suginami’s local government currently provide financial assistance to help owners with the cost of removing any obstacles such as walls and gates in order to complete the required setback.  Although landowners are required to make the setback portion of land level with the road, many owners leave the raised curbing as is with garden beds and other objects still blocking vehicle access.

Japan’s hot spring towns could be hit hard by new building safety regulations

Wataya Besso Ureshino Saga
The Wataya Besso Ryokan in Ureshino, Saga Prefecture. The 12-storey tower to the right will be demolished as earthquake-retrofitting costs prove too expensive.

Since November 2013, large-scale buildings, such as hotels and hospitals, built to the old earthquake-resistant building codes (called ‘kyu-taishin’) are obligated to carry out building inspections to determine their level of earthquake-resistance. 

Inspections must be carried out by the end of 2015, after which the results will be made public.

Owners and operators of hot-spring resorts and inns are worried that these requirements could spell the end for their businesses. Towns in these onsen areas that rely on the tourist trade are also worried that this could have a direct impact on their local economy.

Govt relaxes rules on building demolition voting rights and floor-area-ratios

Palace Akasaka

The Japanese House of Councillors have voted in favour and passed a revision to the apartment redevelopment law which will now allow an apartment building association to sell their building and land with approval from 80% of the apartment owners, rather than the previous requirement of 100%.

In addition, the maximum allowable floor-area-ratio (yosekiritsu) will be relaxed.

These changes will hopefully encourage the redevelopment of ageing and potentially dangerous buildings that do not meet current earthquake-resistant standards.

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