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Leaning apartment block raises broader safety concerns

Residents of the leaning building were told that the entire complex may be rebuilt.

TOKYO -- A data-fixing scandal that began with an off-kilter apartment building in Yokohama is widening like a sinkhole in Japan's housing industry.

     Asahi Kasei said Friday that the subsidiary that supplied concrete for the tips of the foundation piles had also tampered with flow meter numbers.

     Residents, whose apartments were sold by a unit of developer Mitsui Fudosan, got an in-person apology Friday night from the supplier's president, Tomihiro Maeda. His company, Asahi Kasei Construction Materials, says it will check for problems with piles supporting some 3,000 buildings and report its findings as early as October.

     Other real estate and construction companies have launched their own investigations in hopes of allaying safety concerns. The same supplier has been linked to three residential projects marketed by Sumitomo Realty & Development over the past decade. Sumitomo Realty has not confirmed any wrongdoing in those cases. It says Asahi Kasei Construction Materials was not involved in the construction of 95 properties now on the market.

     Nomura Real Estate Development has asked Sumitomo Mitsui Construction to check for the supplier's involvement. General contractors Kajima, Taisei and Takenaka have begun similar probes. So have Tokyu Land, Mitsubishi Estate, Daikyo and Haseko.

     Some of the Yokohama building's foundation piles were not driven deep enough to reach a hard, load-bearing stratum, causing it to lean. Residents discovered the problem.

     Faulty pile-driving has surfaced before. A Yokohama apartment complex built by Kumagai Gumi was found last year to have similarly compromised foundations. Residents say all the people living in one of the buildings, which is leaning and slated for demolition, have since relocated. The other four buildings are due for repairs.

     Sumitomo Realty, which sold the units in that development, offered to buy back all 200-plus units from their owners at purchase prices and pay up to 3 million yen ($25,000) in compensation. Kumagai Gumi made roughly 8 billion yen in provisions related to the faulty construction in fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015.

     The newly discovered leaning building of Yokohama is part of a complex of about 700 apartments. Mitsui Fudosan Residential would likely have to pay upwards of 20 billion yen to buy back all the units, not to mention compensation. The company has proposed redoing the entire four-building development but does not have the agreement of Sumitomo Mitsui Construction, Asahi Kasei Construction Materials and others involved in the original project.

     An independent body is expected to issue its findings on the case soon. Rebuilding the complex would require the approval of at least four-fifths of residents.

(Nikkei)

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