June 14, 2017 4:50 am JST

Japan to tidy up scattered property records

New system will aim to promote repurposing of idle land

Clarifying ownership will help efforts to make better use of vacant properties, the government hopes.

TOKYO -- Japan intends to make its sprawling government real estate databases more useful by consolidating data to clarify ownership, particularly of the growing number of vacant homes and lots, and encourage sales and redevelopment.

The justice and land ministries each maintain their own property registries, as do municipalities for taxation purposes. Separate records are kept for farmland and forested areas. Real estate companies have their own databases as well. The Ministry of Justice says 230 million plots and 50 million buildings are registered nationwide.

The government will connect all this information and make it viewable in one place. The new system will be tested in select cities in the summer of 2018, with a targeted nationwide rollout over five years if all goes well. Information from financial institutions about collateral and sale prices may also be added.

Plans are to link data using blockchain technology to prevent tampering.

The new system should help the government with such steps as improving regional disaster preparation and making better use of vacant houses or properties with unknown owners. It should also aid in discussions with landowners regarding redevelopment and public works projects. Municipalities will require less effort to confirm information needed for such levies as fixed-asset taxes.

Some of this data will be made available to the private sector, with privacy protections in place. The government hopes that the information will be used to develop new technology-based services to improve the efficiency of real estate transactions.

Landowners recorded in government databases often do not match up with the people actually using the property. A Justice Ministry survey found that 6.6% of landowner records in big cities -- and a whopping 26.6% in small and midsize cities and mountainous areas -- have not changed in at least half a century.

In these cases, if a portion of the property is farmland, the user is recorded in a farmland register. Combining this with local-level data will make it easier to tell who is responsible for vacant land or buildings.

A lack of data has left actual ownership unclear in many cases. When the agriculture ministry cross-referenced farmland and residential registers last year, it found that records for 20% of agricultural land likely were not updated when the original owner died and the property was inherited. Uncertainty over ownership could hinder farmland consolidation efforts and disaster recovery.

(Nikkei)

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