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Politics

Japan looks to put more abandoned property to use

Municipalities will track down absentee owners and broker sales

Abandoned homes are growing increasingly common in Japan as the country's population declines.

TOKYO -- Japan plans to have municipalities gather information on deserted housing stock and mediate either the sale of property or its conversion into public space such as parkland, slowing a rise in vacancies as the country's population falls.

At last count, some 14% of Japanese homes, or around 8.2 million dwellings nationwide, were sitting vacant. That is expected to top 30% in the 2030s as the country's population continues to decline, according to the Nomura Research Institute. While the bulk of vacant homes are rental properties, some 2.72 million dwellings are largely unusable, either because they are damaged or because their owners are unknown.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is now planning measures that would have various municipalities take steps to put empty houses and land to good use. While local governments already gather information on vacant property, the new system would give them a more active role in tracking down difficult-to-find property owners and create a dedicated organization in each municipality to handle such tasks.

Localities will then help dispose of these properties as part of broader urban planning policies. This will involve brokering sales between parties wishing to sell or buy, as well as consolidating vacant properties for use as parkland or to house public facilities that will benefit regional communities.

The government plans to introduce the necessary legislation to the Diet next year. Tax incentives for buyers of vacant property, including reduced real estate acquisition taxes and lower registration and license taxes, will be weighed for inclusion in an omnibus tax reform bill for fiscal 2018.

Abandoned homes pose significant risks should disaster strike: A lack of maintenance can lead to fire, and homes that have collapsed in an earthquake, for example, can block roadways. There are also cases in which vacant houses have been used to dispose of bodies or grow cannabis. The land ministry therefore aims to keep the tally of vacant homes not used for legitimate purposes such as rentals from rising above 4 million or so in fiscal 2025 -- around 1 million fewer than expected absent the new measures.

(Nikkei)

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