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Editorial: Japan's aging apartment complexes need gov't intervention

The Japanese government has revised legislation related to the management of aging apartment complexes so that administrative bodies will be able to get involved in the caretaking of such buildings. The revised laws, which will come into effect within two years, allow local government organs to issue advisories and guidance if there are any problems regarding building management.

There are over 900,000 housing complexes in Japan that are at least 40 years old, accounting for over 10% of the country's total. Many of these don't meet current earthquake resistance standards. If left unaddressed, the structures could be damaged, and some could become neighborhood slums.

The government has encouraged renovation of these old buildings, but there have not been many successful cases due to difficulties in consensus building among apartment owners. Strengthening the management of these buildings to extend their longevity can be seen as a realistic policy shift.

If apartment management unions are rebuilt, with new directors selected and other steps taken under the guidance of local governments, renovation planning and consensus-building become possible. We would like to see experts such as certified apartment consultants being dispatched if necessary to support the management of these aging buildings.

Apartment buildings in Japan tend to have more vacant rooms as they age, and owners then fall behind in their payments such as management fees and repair reserve funds. Owners are also aging, and there is a shortage of people to take over positions in management unions, which tends to cause delays in responses to the building's needs.

As an urgent task, the current reality of these housing complexes needs to be understood first. Checks need to be conducted into whether governing board meetings and general meetings of owners are being held, as well as the existence of repair plans to see whether management unions are functioning.

The government will also introduce a system to recognize apartment buildings that are properly managed. It is hoped that if the management conditions are reflected in the price of existing apartments, it would encourage the owners to put effort into the buildings.

Furthermore, if aging housing complexes are renovated with up-to-date quake-proof reinforcement and inclusive design, among other upgrades, it would lead to not only to an improved living environment but also help to maintaining public peace and the urban landscape.

As Japan's population shrinks, the number of vacant apartments and empty houses is increasing. The country needs to shift its housing policy, from focusing on the supply of new buildings, to the effective use of existing structures.

In some cases, however, decisions such as demolishing old complexes or selling the property are unavoidable. In the city of Yasu in the western Japan prefecture of Shiga, the municipal government had to spend 118 million yen (about $1.1 million) to demolish an old apartment building that had so fallen into ruin that asbestos had become exposed to the outside air.

There will likely be more housing complexes that will cost too much for their aging owners to demolish. Measures such as creating reserve funds for demolition beforehand are necessary.

There should also be rules regarding these buildings in case administrative bodies' involvement is required when there are imminent risks, such as destruction of the building. The central government needs to speed up discussions on the matter.

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