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Politics

Tokyo and Kyoto look to stamp out shady home-sharing

But tracking down such listings in the first place has proved no easy task

Osaka's certification mark for vacation rentals.

TOKYO -- Localities around Japan are sniffing out illicit short-term home rentals to prevent friction between guests and neighbors ahead of the practice's full legalization nationwide in the coming months.

The Airbnb-style rentals were first recognized in January 2016 via relaxed regulations in certain areas for minpaku, as the practice is known here. Certain rentals were then permitted under the current hotel law as budget lodgings, starting that April. But unauthorized rentals have continued to proliferate.

Tokyo's Ota Ward -- the nation's first special zone to allow such home-sharing -- contains about 500 listings on major websites. But more than 200 are thought to be unapproved. Authorities have been unable to stop such activity, because the homes are difficult to discover, among other hurdles. The ward had confirmed just 27 unsanctioned properties and shut down 23 as of the end of December.

Illicit minpaku tend to invite trouble, as neighbors are often uninformed of their existence. Operators are often unknown and do not keep guest logs.

"Black-market minpaku could become a hotbed of crime if we neglect them," an Ota Ward official said.

The ward decided to strengthen its response to unauthorized listings before the government starts accepting applications for rentals under the new home-sharing law in March. It set aside 3.26 million yen ($28,800) to hunt down such properties in its supplementary budget in December.

Kyoto, a popular destination for tourists from overseas, has set up a special team to efficiently respond to complaints and investigate unauthorized short-term rentals by consolidating workers dispersed among 11 wards into a single 18-member task force.

The city responded on 319 properties from April to August, compared with 574 for all of fiscal 2016. "Improper listings will be strictly dealt with to eliminate any worries by residents," an official in charge of such operations said.

Osaka's tourist bureau began distributing certification marks in July to indicate that listings are run by approved operators. The 10cm-square notices, with text in Japanese, English and Korean, can be displayed in such areas as entrances. Officials also plan to post operators' names on the bureau's website and provide images of properties.

(Nikkei)

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