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Politics

Japan drafting new rules for private room rentals

Tokyo's Ota Ward allows private rented rooms on a limited basis.

TOKYO -- The Japanese government has put together a framework to regulate rentals of vacant rooms in private residences to travelers, aiming to tackle a chronic hotel shortage while addressing public complaints.

     Minpaku, as these accommodations are known in Japanese, have taken off as inbound tourism has surged, with the Internet as a catalyst. The labor ministry contends that anyone regularly offering rooms to paying guests must be licensed under the hotel law. This renders many existing unlicensed minpaku illegal. The ministry is responding to rising complaints from those living near these rented rooms as well. The labor and tourism ministries aim to draw up draft legislation by the summer to submit to the Diet in 2017.

     A registration system for minpaku operators forms the core of the new regulations, requiring the actual manager of the property to register. This is intended to apply to innkeeping companies and to homebuilders that serve as real estate brokerages, for example. Registrants will manage keys, verify lodgers' identities and post rules for trash disposal.

     Minpaku operators will be responsible for responding to complaints about noise or garbage. Employees will have to be trained in responding to problems. Operators failing to address such issues will have their registrations revoked. Insurance coverage will also be required so that compensation is available if a guest damages shared property.

     Operators of services matching travelers to hosts, such as U.S.-based Airbnb, do not actually manage properties themselves and thus are not covered by the legislation. But users of such websites may be asked to provide registration numbers when adding listings. Many individual would-be minpaku operators are seen turning over management of their properties to businesses.

     The new rules will make minpaku easier to run. They will be designated residences rather than inns, exempting them from the hotel law, which requires such facilities as reception areas.

     The government permits minpaku in deregulation-friendly strategic special zones, with Tokyo's Ota Ward the first to pass rules toward this end. But the measure enacted in January requires stays of at least seven days, aiming to minimize competition with existing inn operators. The ward had received only three applications as of March 1.

     Under an April revision to national ordinances, minpaku will be treated as simple accommodations -- the same class as capsule hotels -- and rules on floor space will be relaxed. This will allow small condominiums to be rented out but impose other limits, such as barring minpaku from residential areas.

     The new legislation will eliminate minimum stays and allow minpaku in residential areas. Although existing measures in special zones and allowances for minpaku in the hotel law are expected to remain in place, many will likely prefer the new system for its convenience.

(Nikkei)

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