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Economy

Tokyo moves to bring unlicensed rooms out of shadows

Foreign tourists on a guided tour in Tokyo's Ota Ward.

TOKYO -- A municipal council here has approved letting residents rent out rooms to travelers starting next year -- a business that some enterprising Tokyoites are already offering illegally amid a surge in inbound tourism.

     Legislators in Ota, one of the capital's semi-autonomous special wards, passed the ordinance Monday. It will take effect at the end of January, and its first actual test could come soon after.

     Minpaku, as such accommodations are known in Japanese, are against national law. But Ota gets an exemption as one of the "special zones" that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has created as laboratories for deregulation. Sometimes called serviced apartments in the English-speaking world, these lodgings can also be found in detached homes.

     The measure imposes some requirements on would-be innkeepers. Minpaku guests must stay for at least seven days. The accommodations are subject to municipal inspections if necessary, and neighbors need to be informed. No such businesses are allowed in leafy Denenchofu -- an upscale suburb  -- and other residential areas.

     Hotels and other aboveboard accommodations in Ota are running at more than 90% capacity partly because of increased international service to Haneda Airport, which is located in the ward. The situation has reached "the bursting point," says Tadayoshi Matsubara, mayor of the ward. Residents complain of noise, garbage and other nuisances from unlicensed lodgings.

     Officials in Toshima Ward say the situation there has also gotten out of hand, prompting the ward government to weigh a similar ordinance. Shinagawa Ward may also allow minpaku in certain areas. Beyond Tokyo, Osaka Prefecture adopted a similar measure in October.

     Meanwhile, the ministries of internal affairs and welfare have begun drafting nationwide rules for minpaku. As a first step, national ordinances would be revised this fiscal year to treat such accommodations as capsule hotels and other stripped-down lodgings. This would bring the fledgling sector out of the shadows and into regulatory oversight.

     Next would come a revision of the hotel law itself or some other nationwide measure. This would likely impose fewer restrictions than the special-zone experiments, opening up minpaku to domestic tourists, not just foreigners. An expert panel is to discuss such changes.

Can't stay here

The idea of having a revolving door of guests staying in the same building will not appeal to every apartment dweller. Recognizing this, Sumitomo Realty & Development is readying to sell condominiums in new buildings where residents will be expressly prohibited from operating minpaku.

    The ban will be written into lease agreements. The company will also propose barring serviced apartments from existing buildings if enough residents want to.

    The building management side of the group has received complaints of unapproved lodging businesses going on.

    Other players in the real estate market see an opportunity in this segment. Able & Partners, a real estate broker, has begun recommending the minpaku business to Ota Ward landlords with spare rooms.

(Nikkei)

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