Prevent Homes from Being Abandoned via Comprehensive Support Measures

More and more vacant houses are being abandoned. The central and local governments must implement comprehensive measures to ensure that vacant houses are properly managed and effectively utilized.

According to government statistics, there were 8.49 million vacant houses across the nation as of 2018. Among this number, there were 3.49 million houses that no one planned to live in — excluding such properties as vacation homes and rental housing — double the figure of 20 years before.

As the population declines and the graying of society continues, the number of vacant houses is expected to continue to increase. Countermeasures are urgently needed.

More than 50% of respondents to a survey by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry cited inheritance as the reason houses stood vacant. There is said to be a conspicuous number of cases in which people living in urban areas inherit their parents’ respective houses in regional areas and leave them unoccupied.

Such vacant houses could have adverse effects on the surrounding living environment and landscape, as the houses’ structure might be damaged due to poor management and weeds could be growing outside. Measures are needed to encourage owners to maintain, manage, sell or demolish their vacant houses.

One measure suggested for consideration by a ministry panel of experts that has been discussing ways to deal with vacant houses is making poorly managed empty homes no longer eligible for reductions of the fixed asset tax.

Currently, the fixed asset tax on residential land can be reduced to as low as one-sixth.

However, under the Vacant Houses Special Measures Law enacted in 2015, local governments can designate housing structures that may collapse or otherwise pose a danger to the surrounding community as “specified vacant houses” and suspend the reduction in the fixed asset tax if the situation is not corrected.

The new measure is said to be intended to expand the scope of this system, and disqualifying buildings from tax reductions if they are improperly managed is meant to prompt action at an early stage, when the property has not deteriorated to the point of becoming a specified vacant house.

However, it is expected that there would be opposition to this increased burden. It is essential that the envisioned system be carefully designed and well publicized.

Measures to make it easier for owners to sell their vacant houses should also be considered, such as expanding tax incentives for selling them and subsidies for demolition costs.

Using vacant houses effectively is also important. In city centers and tourist areas, they might be converted into restaurants, minpaku private lodges and other uses. There may also be demand from people who wish to move to rural areas or telecommute from remote locations.

Local governments and other organizations have established “vacant house databanks” where people can search for information. It is important to enhance the provision of such information and to successfully connect owners with people who wish to use these houses.

Every possible measure must be implemented to deal with vacant houses so that a good living environment can be maintained.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 15, 2023)