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Sharing Economy

Airbnb removes 80% of Japan home-share listings

Unregistered dwellings taken off site ahead of June 15 law

A sign at an apartment building in Tokyo displays a ban on Airbnb usage at the complex.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Airbnb on Monday stopped displaying listings from hosts in Japan that had not obtained permission to operate, as a law in the country for private home-sharing, known as minpaku, is slated to take effect next week.

As of spring, more than 62,000 properties in Japan were available on the website of the world's largest home-share operator. The number has since plummeted nearly 80% to about 13,800.

Without a specific law on the books, prospective hosts had been required to obtain either a permit under the hotel law or certification in a special economic zone, such as Tokyo's Ota Ward. But many homeowners had obtained neither, leaving them in a legal gray zone.

The new minpaku law that takes effect on June 15 will lower legal hurdles, enabling hosts to provide accommodation for up to 180 days a year by registering their dwellings with local authorities. After that, those without permission will not be able to operate.

Airbnb had been displaying gray-zone listings, but had plans to remove them starting June 15. The earlier-than-expected removal was apparently in response to a notification from the Japan Tourism Agency sent to home-sharing websites on Friday, requesting minpaku operators to cancel bookings made by hosts who had not received permission to operate.

Airbnb's move may prompt other home-share operators to follow suit.

The company informed homeowners that by Monday it would stop displaying listings unless hosts reported their permission or registration information. Rooms not currently displayed will be reinstated once the hosts input the relevant information.

According to Hollywis, a vacation rental research company, the number of Airbnb hosts started to decline a short time ago as many decided to stop offering their properties due to cumbersome regulations. As of May 11, only 724 hosts had registered, according to data from the Japan Tourism Agency, despite registration having begun in March.

Moreover, many municipalities have established their own ordinances, such as prohibiting home-sharing operations in residential districts and shortening the maximum operating days per year -- regulations that conflict with the new law.

Airbnb, which has rapidly grown since its 2013 launch in Japan, now must rethink its revenue model due to a significant decrease in the number of properties listed.

In addition to privates homes, Airbnb lists hotels and Japanese inns, and has also started accepting reservations for experience tours.

Despite initial challenges facing the new law, big companies may be set to enter the home-sharing market as the national government has formally addressed the issue.

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