Sayonara: Japan’s aging population, low birth rate leaves vacant properties

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A surge in the number of abandoned homes in Japan has been attributed to the country’s aging population and low rate of births.

According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, Japan’s death rate (the deaths during a year per 1,000 population) ranks 54th out of 225 countries.

Japan's population is aging rapidly.
Japan’s population is aging rapidly.

Japan also has the third-lowest recorded birth rate in the world.

In 2012, according to Japan’s Statistical Yearbook, the country’s annual death-to-population ratio passed one percent. Japan is expected to lose more than a third of its population by 2060.

Those factors have contributed to the doubling of abandoned properties between the mid-1990s and 2013. Vacant properties now account for about 14 percent of the Japan’s housing stock.

“Tokyo could end up being surrounded by Detroits,” a Japanese real estate expert told The New York Times in August.

Japan is dealing with the housing crisis with new legislation modeled in part after U.S. urban areas that experienced similar problems.

Japan’s Vacant Housing Law, passed in May 2015, gives government more leeway to enforce code violations and raze structures that have become blighted and potentially dangerous.

The law also created a database that identifies abandoned properties and their owners and assists in bringing the properties to public use. That is the key innovation of Japan’s new law, according to Peter Manda, a New Jersey-based fraud investigator with EY (formerly Ernst & Young).

“They’re not just going in and razing the properties,” Manda told CityLab. “They’re also turning these properties into municipal buildings and affordable housing.”

The law allows the formation of councils that report vacant properties to national tax authorities. The councils notify owners what needs to be done and what fines can be levied. Those fines and a national tax are funding the process.