When Mitsuhide Taira moved into his 150-sq.-meter condominium in Grand Stage Kawasaki Daishi in November 2004, he thought he had found the perfect place for his wife and him to raise their three preschool-age children.
But just a year later, his dreams lay in ruins.
The Kawasaki Municipal Government told all 23 homeowners in the complex, near Keihin Kyuko Higashi Monzen Station, they had to move out right away because the building was not strong enough to withstand a big earthquake.
The complex had been built using falsified quake-resistance data from architect Hidetsugu Aneha and had only 30 percent of the resistance level required by law.
Now the Taira family lives in a smaller, rented apartment.
They get about 100,000 yen a month from the Kawasaki Municipal Government, but they have to pay an additional 80,000 yen to cover the rest of their rent as well as maintenance and parking fees — plus they still have to cover the 230,000 yen monthly mortgage payments on their Grand Stage condo, which they purchased for 60 million yen.
“We’ve been under a lot of stress,” Taira said. “My wife usually stays home because this condo is far from a train station, so it’s difficult for her to go to the center of town with the children.
“I don’t have time to spend with my family as I have to discuss with the other (Grand Stage) residents how we can rebuild the complex.”
The Grand Stage homeowners filed a lawsuit in June against Aneha, who did the engineering calculations; architect Hitoshi Shirakawa, who designed the building; his employer, Space One; builder Taihei Kogyo Co.; and the Kawasaki Municipal Government. They are seeking a combined 751.7 million yen in damages. The Tokyo District Court trial opened Monday.
The residents are not able to sue Huser Ltd., the developer, or eHomes Inc., which inspected the condo and said it met requirements under the Building Standards Law, for damages as they have both gone bankrupt.
Taira criticized Taihei Kogyo, saying the construction firm should have known that something was wrong with the blueprints based on the engineering calculations. He said the city was liable because it was responsible for supervising eHomes.
“I was concerned about the quake resistance of the condo (before I bought it), so I asked Taihei Kogyo and Huser a few times to show me the architect’s design. But Taihei Kogyo (which held the plans) refused,” Taira said. “I bought (the condo) because Taihei Kogyo is listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange and affiliated with Nippon Steel Corp.,” thinking that it was a legitimate operation.
In court Monday, all of the defendants except Shirakawa, who neither sent his lawyer nor submitted any documents to the court, demanded the case against them be rejected.
The Grand Stage homeowners say winning the lawsuit is imperative to pay for rebuilding their homes.
“To build a new complex, each household needs to shoulder an additional loan of 20 million yen to 30 million yen. We have to win the case,” Taira said, adding confidently, “I’m sure we can win because we did nothing wrong.”
According to a document provided by the plaintiffs’ lawyers, the cost to rebuild the new building is estimated at 529.5 million yen. The central and local governments have said they will cover the cost of tearing down weak Aneha buildings and some of the rebuilding costs.
The infrastructure ministry has said there are nearly 100 substandard condos and hotels built with Aneha’s fabricated quake-resistance data.
They are just the tip of the iceberg, said Toshio Kawai, a lawyer who has handled numerous cases involving defective buildings. And without changes to the system, more cases will surface in the future, he added.
The lawyer said the problem is that the construction firms control the architects and the subcontractors, which makes it more difficult to check building safety.
“Aneha is a rare case. Usually (companies) cut corners in building houses and complexes by watering down the concrete and reducing the number of reinforcing steel bars without leaving any evidence,” Kawai said. “Nobody knows if a building is defective until it collapses in a quake.”
As the government has known about the illegal practices for decades, it should have improved its inspection process to stop shoddy construction, he said, adding that construction firms’ shady dealings with politicians may have made that difficult.
The Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry in June revised several laws related to building standards and architects to increase punishment for breaking the laws and to create a third-party organization that will double-check building safety.
The ministry also is considering increasing certification requirements for architects and requiring developers to purchase insurance to cover any compensation they might have to pay for shoddy buildings.
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