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A nearly 40-year-old Tokyo condominium with no elevators was reborn in March as an apartment high-rise with modern facilities, and the firm in charge of rebuilding it said the project was possible only because of a law revision that eased the requirements.

At the Haginaka condo complex built in 1968 in Ota Ward, residents started campaigning more than a decade ago to have the old building replaced.

The campaign intensified as concern grew over the lack of elevators for aging residents, the building’s earthquake resistance and a dilapidated drainage system, according to Haseko Corp., which rebuilt the apartments.

Obtaining approval from the required number of condo owners to raze and rebuild has always been extremely difficult.

Many factors play into this, as the owners come from a wide variety of circumstances, including income level, age and lifestyle, industry sources said.

Even when successful, getting the go-ahead was always time-consuming.

But all that has been changed by the revision to the law on sectional ownership of buildings that took effect in 2003.

“The revision has a tremendous impact as rebuilding became possible even if there are opponents,” said Tomi Yatsuzuka, head of the condominium redevelopment division at Haseko.

Residents of the Haginaka complex voted in 2002 on whether to rebuild. Approval fell short of the then-required 80 percent because of two no votes in one wing, stopping the project for the entire eight-wing complex.

The following year, the complex got the nod for rebuilding after 92 percent of all owners voted yes. It was two months after the law revision took effect, allowing for rebuilding if 80 percent of all owners in a complex approve the plan, regardless of the wing in which they live.

The Haginaka complex was the first application of the revised law.

Before the revision, approval of all residents was thought essential to avoid the risk of being sued by opponents, Yatsuzuka said.

Under the previous regulations, repairs were allowed, but not rebuilding, unless the repairs were deemed “excessively costly.” At what level the cost of repairs crossed the “excessive” threshold was often a point of contention between opponents and supporters of rebuilding, and litigation sometimes ensued, he said.

The number of units in the Haginaka complex was increased from 368 to 534 and the average space of each unit was boosted by 18 sq. meters.

By using gains on sales of the additional units and some 500 million yen in subsidies, the rebuilding cost an average of 12 million yen per owner.

Costs differed based on a unit’s size and location, and some units were made available for free to residents in tight financial straits, Yatsuzuka said.

Masaki Kobayashi, a consultant for rebuilding at Tokyo Metropolitan Housing Supply Corp., said there is still a serious problem concerning buildings where residents want to rebuild but cannot have it done because of changes in regulations since their apartments were built.

For instance, due to a regulation limiting building heights in certain areas, structures erected before such regulations took effect remain as they are, but if residents want to rebuild they need to meet the current rule, causing space per unit to be smaller than the present level.

In such cases, it is all but impossible to gain the residents’ approval, Kobayashi said.

“Redevelopment of old apartments is an important issue to be coped with by the central government and the metropolitan government, because as the buildings age, risks rise from the perspective of safety and disaster prevention, and that could cause social problems,” Kobayashi said.

According to the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry, in 2005 there were some 510,000 apartment units 30 years old or older. It is estimated the number will rise to 940,000 by 2010 and 1.5 million by 2015.

In 2003, housing units had an average life span of 30 years, according to a ministry study.

Tadashi Yamamoto, executive director at the Japan Real Estate Institute, said there is mounting concern over building safety in the wake of the quake-resistance data fraud and revelations of asbestos woes.

Yamamoto said that although the legal revision helps make rebuilding a tad easier, it still requires a lot of work.

“It is very important not to neglect the minority’s opinions in order to nurture a comfortable community,” he said.

Tokyo Metropolitan Housing Supply started a consulting service in 2001 to act as a bridge between residents and developers.

Last year, thanks to rising demand, it expanded its range, offering such services to apartments that it did not sell itself.

Mitsubishi Estate Co., a private developer, said it is receiving an increasing number of inquiries for apartment rebuilding following the law revision.

Haseko’s Yatsuzuka said: “Rebuilding apartments takes about five times more time than just building a new apartment. If you think about profitability, you can’t do this job. But looking to the future, the demand will grow for sure.”

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