February 21, 2017 2:15 am JST

Airbnb to help hosts heed Japan's new rules on rentals

Platform may keep homeowners from exceeding annual cap

Accommodations found via Airbnb are increasingly popular in Japan.

TOKYO -- Airbnb will add new functionality to its website as part of steps to comply with a planned law on short-term home rentals in Japan.

Renting out a spare room or an entire home to travelers, a practice known here as minpaku, is seen by the government as a way to address shortages of lodging amid a rise in visitors from abroad.

The practice is currently legal only in special economic zones, including Tokyo's Ota Ward, or when permits are obtained under the existing inns and hotels law. Some home-sharing arrangements fall into a gray zone, not meeting these requirements.

The government seeks deregulation to allow the practice nationwide under certain conditions. It plans to submit legislation laying out the conditions, including an annual 180-day limit on rentals, to the current Diet session.

While the government has struggled to draw up the legislation in the face of resistance from the hotel industry, the practice has been gaining momentum, mainly serving visitors to Japan.

Around 3.7 million visitors to Japan arranged lodging via Airbnb in 2016. More than 24 million foreigners visited the country last year, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization, meaning that over 10% may have used Airbnb.

The American company is preparing to comply with the new law through such means as hiding rooms or homes that exceed the annual limit. It introduced this function in December for the Dutch city of Amsterdam, where rentals of entire homes are capped at 60 days a year.

Airbnb is also considering collecting accommodation taxes in Japan, pending support from the central and local governments.

In the U.S. city of Chicago, Airbnb host registration is facilitated by linking systems run by the local government and Airbnb. The company is looking into similar arrangements in Japan.

The timing of these changes will depend on the deliberations on the law.

Founded in 2008, Airbnb operates in more than 65,000 cities across 191 markets around the world. More than 3 million homes and rooms are registered globally, and around 48,000 in Japan.

Japanese have also been increasingly been finding lodging via Airbnb of late. For home-sharing to take root here, industrywide efforts will be needed to comply with annual caps when a home is rented out via multiple platforms, for instance.

(Nikkei)

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