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Shizuoka town determined to put empty houses to good use

11 Comments
By George Lloyd, grape Japan

Thanks in part to its aging population and the general preference for new houses, Japan has literally millions of empty, old properties. Ten million of the 60.6 million homes in Japan are considered to be vacant or abandoned and the problem is only getting worse. It’s estimated that by 2033, 30 percent of all homes will be empty.

Empty houses, or akiya, dot the landscape all over Japan. They are most common in isolated mountain villages in rural prefectures like Okayama on the Inland Sea and Kumamoto in Kyushu, at the southern end of the Japanese archipelago. But even Tokyo is not immune to the blight. In the apartment-dominated capital, one in 10 homes has been abandoned to the elements.

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Photo: Flickr

Putting akiya to good use is no easy task. In many cases, the heirs to the properties have moved to big cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka to find work. Particularly in rural areas where demand for homes is already weak, empty houses are worth so little that estate agents don’t want to take them on. They can’t make money from fees, which are calculated as a percentage of the property value.

Another factor in explaining the number of akiya in Japan is that the heirs to these properties often abandon them because they don’t want to pay the property tax. Many heirs don’t even want to admit ownership of akiya, and this creates problems for local municipalities, which eventually have to pay to have them demolished.

One municipality trying to address the problem is Fukuroi in Shizuoka Prefecture. On the face of it, Fukuroi is a prosperous town. It has grown over the last 50 years, going from 48,000 inhabitants in 1960 to 88,000 today. Yet in spite of population growth, signs of the town’s eventual decline can be seen in the abandoned houses dotted around its suburbs.

But the situation is far from hopeless. Determined to stop the blight of akiya, the authorities in Fukuroi have established a “counselling center” for homeowners worried about what to do with their unwanted property. As of April 2nd, owners of unoccupied houses can get free advice and guidance from a dedicated team of experts from Fukuroi’s Vacant House Countermeasures Council, a body made up of local estate agents, builders and legal experts.

The authorities in Fukuroi are hoping that owners of akiya will either renovate and refurbish their properties or have them demolished. Homeowners who would like to keep their properties can get advice on how to renovate them with a view to selling or renting. The authorities say that with appropriate renovation, many of the town’s empty properties could be rented out to young couples or converted into studio apartments.

Homeowners can also find out how to check their properties for structural damage caused by earthquakes and how to carry out the remedial works needed to minimize earthquake damage in the future. If all else fails, the team at the Fukuoi-Sumai consultation centre can also give advice on how to have the property pulled down.

The Fukuoi-Sumai consultation center is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 8:30 am to 5:15 pm. For more information, call 0538-44-3321, or email kikaku@city.fukuroi.shizuoka.jp (Japanese only).

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© grape Japan

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

11 Comments
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According to the sign, the rather fine looking building at the top is a music school. A Japanese house would not be built with that many windows, and probably without that degree of very tasteful symmetry.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Many prefectures are also operating "house banks" for sale or rent.

It costs a lot of money to demolish a house and then land tax needs to be paid. No tax on a empty house. No compulsory purchase laws.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The Akiya banks make for fun browsing. Want a huge house in the countryside for like 1 million Yen? Lots of fixer uppers available. Worry about the immense renovation costs later.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

the pre-fads can go, keep the local character housing. Having a city reflect its inhabitants was always going to be an outcome of a falling population

0 ( +0 / -0 )

You could replace it with a multilayered structure for solar panel electrical generation. No need for demolition to equal subtraction

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

"Another factor in explaining the number of akiya in Japan is that the heirs to these properties often abandon them because they don’t want to pay the property tax. Many heirs don’t even want to admit ownership of akiya, and this creates problems for local municipalities, which eventually have to pay to have them demolished." Another problem is that people in Japan do not typically have wills, and the properties are divvied up equally between siblings, making it necessary to all parties with an interest to agree to sign in order to sell a property. Exacerbating this is the cost of teardown, and the change in tax status of developed and undeveloped properties. The government's history of inaction in these matters is as much a cause as the recalcitrance of owners to identiufy themselves. Ulitimately, the government needs to pass a law that states owners must pay taxes within X number of years or lose claim to the property. The govt can pay the teardown cost and add it to the resale cost of the property.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

"The Akiya banks make for fun browsing. Want a huge house in the countryside for like 1 million Yen? Lots of fixer uppers available. Worry about the immense renovation costs later." You are liable for any unpaid property taxes and, in the case of apartments, years of kanrihi before the property can be transferred. In addition, both parites have to pony up to the fudosanyasan, any unapproved "improvements" made to the property have to be removed before title is transferred - which only the seller, not the buyer, can do.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Well, with teleworking this might be a good move after leaving Tokyo, exhausted. This trend is also in the US outside of major metro areas. My old hometown in Pennsylvania has lost more than 1/2 its population over the years and a pleasant little 3bdrm house with land just sold for $16,000 recently. Unbelievable compared to San Francisco.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The whole akiya problem is just screwed up in EVERY possible way, for owners, for cities, for potential buyers...cant get any messed up than the current situation, sadly its stupidity all round & the article above doesn't offer anything remotely useful in turning around the mess that keeps growing nationwide sadly

4 ( +4 / -0 )

GW - Best comment on this topic.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Maybe I am missing something, got a few pages stuck together, would it not be smarter and simpler to reform the property laws? Also define ownership responsibility, so a town council can take vacant possession.

How did this ludicrous nonsensical system develop?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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