By Hidetoshi Takada
With more foreign travelers keen on renting Japanese private homes amid an inbound tourist boom, residents in high-rise condominiums are doing the opposite of what one might expect: forbidding home-sharing services due to concerns about security and living conditions around their properties.
Daisuke Shimada, 54, leads a tenants’ association group that campaigns against residents or owners of condos using their homes as “minpaku,” or paid-for accommodation. He has been president of the building’s home owners association for eight years. Its members, all of whom are condo owners, have given home-sharing services the thumbs down.
“Having tight security is one the benefits of living here. We’re not prepared to deal with any trouble caused by unfamiliar visitors” from around the country or abroad, said Shimada, referring to the 44-story Apple Tower building whose amenities include hot spring baths in each apartment and stunning views of Tokyo Bay.
Residents of the condo located in the Shinonome area, which is one of several luxury buildings adjacent to the area that will host the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, say they worry about noise and other trouble, such as visitors not complying with garbage disposal rules.
APA Community, a condo management firm, oversees about 30 housing complexes in the capital.
“Almost all of those under our management service in Tokyo have drawn up new regulations forbidding home-sharing and paid-for accommodations,” said Yuichiro Fujimoto, 36, in charge of management services at the Apple Tower. The firm checks home-sharing websites almost monthly to ensure Apple Tower apartments are not listed.
Some home owners associations in the neighboring Ariake district, where high-income individuals have purchased apartments as investment property, have taken similar measures to prohibit owners from renting out their properties for profits. They say they are wary of unfamiliar people staying in the properties.
The district is known for its iconic night-time harbor views, featuring Rainbow Bridge, which connects Tokyo with the artificial island of Odaiba, across Tokyo Bay.
Japan has seen an increase in demand for lodgings amid a surge in foreign visitors combined with a shortage of hotels and inns. The number of overseas visitors has grown by an average of 34 percent annually from 2011 to 2016. From January to October this year, it surpassed the record of over 24 million logged the previous year and the figure is expected to top the government target of 40 million in 2020.
Home-sharing service providers such as Airbnb Inc. and similar local businesses have played a key role in catering for this increasing demand for sheltering inbound tourists.
But having visitors stay in private housing without the permission of local authorities is illegal under Japan’s existing lodging business law, except in designated areas for minpaku accommodation approved by the central government.
However, the current legal framework has not prevented headaches for neighbors of housing units used to accommodate travelers.
According to a 2016 survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, 83.5 percent of private lodgings are run without authorization, or under the radar of local authorities. In more than half of the cases, local authorities are unable to contact housing owners or operators, another survey by the ministry showed.
Amid a suspicion of unlawful businesses, complaints by residents and public authorities, such as police and fire departments, to municipal governments nationwide ballooned to 10,849 in the year to March, up 1,413 from a year earlier, in line with widespread familiarity of the new business.
Rumi Yamazaki, sales promotion manager at a property investment consulting firm in Tokyo, said at a seminar for investors that gross revenue per square meter from private lodging businesses is 4.8 times higher than normally rented rooms.
In June this year, the Diet (Japan’s parliament) enacted a law that allows property owners across the country to rent out vacant homes or rooms to tourists for up to 180 days per year after notifying municipalities. The law will come into force next June.
Prior to this move, Sumitomo Realty & Development Co, the country’s largest supplier of condos and apartments, had included a ban on paid-for accommodation in a regulation draft for some condos and apartments it has sold since April 2015.
Some home owners associations at existing condos have also revised regulations on home-sharing, following proposals by Sumitomo’s housing management firm affiliate. Security appears to be a major source of concern.
“Security is supposed to be ensured by multiple measures at a condo. The home owners association assumes to know who lives there,” said Toshiya Suzuki, spokesman for Sumitomo. “Security systems will collapse internally if many unspecified persons are allowed to enter the property.”
Tokyo’s Koto Ward, which encompasses about 3,700 private housing buildings, including a number of high-rise condos in the Tokyo Bay area, opened a reception counter for condo regulation revisions in late September.
Similar moves have been seen in a majority of Tokyo’s 23 wards after the government proposed a revised prototype of the home owners associations’ regulations in late August, which aims to encourage measures to prevent trouble in the private accommodation business ahead of the new law’s enforcement next June.
Hideaki Umemura, head of the housing division at Koto Ward office, said, “Some locals tell us they recently have seen unfamiliar foreigners frequenting private housing buildings,” he said, adding that some have made requests to strictly ban minpaku in their buildings.
The Mizuho Research Institute said in its latest report that a hotel shortage in Japan would continue toward 2020, adding that Tokyo may face a serious shortfall around the Olympics and Paralympics.
But back at Apple Tower, for Shimada, peace of mind outweighs meeting the increasing accommodation demand — especially if home-sharing businesses are flouting regulations and buying properties only to reap profits.
“There is no guarantee that every single resident and owner will follow our regulations,” said Shimada. “Our owners association will issue an advisory to stop such practices first and prepare for lawsuits as a next step. With the central and local governments boosting minpaku business, we are concerned that professionals or entities in the private lodging business might launch their services by buying rooms here.”