Problem of Vacant Houses: Find How to Utilize in Society with Declining Population

The number of vacant houses is increasing, but if they are left unattended, it will lead to a danger of collapse and deterioration of security and the landscape. The central and local governments should urgently consider how to deal with this problem.

According to a survey by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, the number of vacant houses nationwide has reached a record high of 9 million. Of these, the number of abandoned and unoccupied houses that are not used for rental or other purposes has reached 3.85 million, up 80% compared to 20 years ago.

In many cases, children have inherited the homes of parents who live far away, but they likely have no plans to live in these houses and leave them unoccupied. Houses that are left unoccupied are likely to deteriorate due to moisture buildup.

In addition to becoming more at risk of collapse, the unoccupied houses could become a target for such crimes as the illegal dumping of garbage and burglary. Although they are private property, they have a negative impact on the community and are a problem that cannot be left unattended.

The number of vacant houses is expected to increase further in the future due to the declining population. There are likely some owners who are unable to deal with the situation due to such reasons as old age, although they feel that they have to do something about the problem.

It is important for the central and local governments to first confirm the status of vacant houses in communities and carefully listen to the wishes of the owners. Based on such efforts, they must provide the necessary support.

The pillars of the measures to deal with vacant houses are to demolish dilapidated houses and utilize such buildings by renovating and reusing them.

The central government has established a system in which a heavier fixed property tax can be imposed on owners if they continue to neglect houses that are in danger of collapsing or houses that are poorly managed. Some local governments are also providing generous subsidies for the demolition of dilapidated houses.

These systems need to be made more widely known to the public to encourage the demolition of vacant houses.

It is advisable to register houses that are still livable into systems that allow people to search for properties, such as the local governments’ vacant house banks, so the houses can be used by those who need them. With more people moving away and working from home, there should be demand for inexpensive used houses.

However, there must be some owners who hesitate when deciding between demolishing and utilizing their houses. Selecting a contractor is also difficult. There might also be cases in which the children who have inherited the house have not reached an agreement and cannot easily decide on what to do with a house filled with their family’s memories.

The Setagaya Ward government in Tokyo has commissioned private advisors to provide free consultation services to listen to the concerns of owners. It is working with real estate agents, demolition companies and others to find solutions. It is hoped that a consultation system will be set up in each region.

In some cases, houses have been left unoccupied for generations and their owners can no longer be identified. As a result, the houses cannot be dismantled in the event of a disaster, hindering reconstruction efforts. It is essential to discuss the handling of houses among relatives in advance.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 25, 2024)