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Economy

Japan tackles problem of unclaimed land bigger than Taiwan

Government panel proposes mandatory registration of heirs, enforced by fines

A narrow road to the deep north: Dilapidated buildings crumble in the northern Japanese town of Gojome. (Photo by Kaoru Yamada)

TOKYO -- Japan's government will seek new rules on real estate registration as it comes to grips with a growing expanse of land whose original owner has died, a problem that will only worsen as the population ages, Nikkei has learned.

Japan had an estimated 4.1 million hectares of unclaimed land in 2016 -- an area larger than Taiwan and Japan's own southwestern island of Kyushu.

A 2018 survey found 3.47 million unoccupied residences not intended for future rental or sale, up 9% from five years earlier.

Without a clear point of contact, outsiders have no way of buying or leasing abandoned land to put it to productive use, and local governments struggle to collect property taxes.

A proposal drafted by a Justice Ministry panel would require that property titles be re-registered under an heir's name within a certain period of time after the owner's death.

This would change the status quo in which heirs often decide that taking over ownership of family land is not worth the effort and cost, especially for low-value plots.

A house sat abandoned in the southern city of Kumamoto after the area was hit by earthquakes in 2016. Japan's total area of unclaimed land is estimated at 41,000 sq. kilometers. (Photo by Ryoma Kashiwagi)

The current registration process is complex and expensive. The would-be inheritor must provide all of the previous owner's family registry records from birth to death, and every eligible heir is required to submit forms agreeing to the title change. Taxes must also be paid on the land.

The Justice Ministry proposal would simplify re-registration, requiring only documentation of the owner's death and proof that the applicant has a right to the land.

Those who fail to comply would face a fine of 50,000 yen to 100,000 yen, or roughly $500 to $1,000.

The Justice Ministry panel plans to finalize the proposal this year and submit a report on it after a public comment period.

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