Multigenerational Housing Would Provide Comfortable Lifestyles

Seiji Fuji

Easing regulations to extend building lifespans

 The November 1 issue of The Nikkei Morning Edition printed an article on the front page entitled, “Relaxing Condominium Renovation Regulations: Allowing 80% Consent, Encouraging Measures to Deal With Aging.” It read:

The government will make it easier to perform renovations (large-scale renovations) on aging condominium buildings with separately owned units. While consent must be obtained from all owners for renovations including privately owned portions of the building, the government is considering a proposal centered on reducing this requirement to 80% or less. The Act on Building Unit Ownership, etc. will also be revised in FY2024. In this way, the government is supporting efforts to improve safety, increase building lifespans, and provide low-cost housing.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) estimates there were 6.86 million condominium units at the end of 2021, of which 1.16 million are at least 40 years old. It expects this number to reach 4.25 million in 2041. Many buildings were constructed during the period of rapid economic growth in the 1970s according to old earthquake resistance standards. Urgent measures are needed to deal with these buildings that are at the risk of collapse and cannot be sold easily.
There are three main methods for updating condominium buildings: 1) Reconstruction by dismantling the old building and rebuilding it, 2) Large-scale renovations to change the interior, exterior, equipment, layout, or other elements without altering the structure, and 3) Selling off the entire building (including the site) and splitting the funds among owners.
In all of these cases, decisions are made by management associations formed of owners. These include different types of members with different objectives for owning the units, from elderly, long-term residents to investors. Elderly people are particularly cautious because they want to continue living in the building without paying more for reconstruction or large-scale renovations.
The government has already presented a proposal that includes lowering the required consensus for reconstruction from 80% to 75%. There is also a proposal to relax the renovation regulations to 75%, just like reconstruction.
A majority consensus, or consensus from 75% of owners, is required for repairs limited to common areas like elevators, hallways, and outer walls. Unanimous consent is needed for large-scale renovations including portions owned by other individuals.
In many cases, repair reserve funds are established with set monthly fees paid by owners for repairs to common areas. Due to the strict requirements for large-scale renovation, there are apparently few cases today in which funds are set aside for this purpose.
Large-scale renovations using the existing building structure cost less than reconstruction. According to research from 2012 to 2016, the average amount paid per owner’s household for reconstruction was 11 million yen. MLIT is aware of only seven reconstructed buildings in Japan in 2021 due to strict requirements and funding issues.
As construction technologies have become more advanced, even large-scale renovations can fulfill the current seismic resistance standards. By switching to a structure that enables easier decisions by owners, the government’s aim is to enact renovation-centered measures focused on aging condominiums.

 I agree with this large-scale renovation concept, in which the framework is left and improvements are made to extend the building’s lifespan.

Constructing buildings that last for 100 years and are designed for easy equipment replacement

 Many Japanese residences are built of wood, and many aging buildings are reconstructed after 30 or 40 years. Imagine a person who gets a mortgage to buy a home at the age of 35. Right when they finish paying it off, the building will need to be reconstructed, and they will continue making payments for the rest of their life. I think this is because many people dreamed of owning their own homes during the era of rapid growth, and there is a lasting trend in which they have purchased homes without giving any consideration to the building’s lifespan or equipment updates. Many old homes cost massive amounts of money to update because they are not designed to allow for easy replacement of facilities and equipment. In contrast, in the United States and Europe it is normal to build homes where people can live for a hundred years or more, including those made from stone. They constantly update the plumbing, air conditioning, heating, security systems, and other types of equipment without changing the building itself. In this way parents can pass down their homes over multiple generations to their children and grandchildren. Japan should emulate this type of housing.
 All buildings and equipment have different lifespans. It would be a good idea to build durable structures while designing them for the easy replacement of equipment when it reaches the end of its service life. For instance, some wooden shrines and temples have lasted for more than 1,000 years. It is entirely possible to use modern technologies to construct buildings that are continuously livable for roughly 100 years.
 Families could save money by living in the same home for several generations while updating its equipment when necessary. After the mortgage is paid off, they can likely afford more enjoyable lifestyles. For more durable housing we could implement a long-term mortgage system exceeding 30 years, which would ease the repayment burden for multiple generations. I think more people would reconsider wooden homes as well in that case. Traditional Japanese houses have outside corridors called “engawa” on the northern side to improve ventilation, making them suited to Japan’s hot summer climate. Japanese architecture is unique because it can purposefully build cool engawa on the north instead of the south, with views of sunny courtyards. By combining this with contemporary insulation technologies, we could create wooden homes that are warm and comfortable in the winter as well. Going forward, I think Japan will have to take on the important task of considering all these things to construct housing where people can lead pleasant lives, with solid frames and easily replaced equipment.

Some buildings are simultaneously renovating common and privately owned spaces

 According to The Nikkei article I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, one major point of the government’s efforts to relax regulations is making it easier to perform large-scale renovations not only in common areas, but also in areas owned by individuals. A pioneering example of this was introduced in a September 13 article from the Nikkei xTECH website, “The Problem of Replacing Pipes in Privately Owned Parts of Condo Buildings: The Key to Revising Bylaws.”

The management association for Imperial Higashikurume (Higashikurume City, Tokyo), a condominium building that is 33 years old, will begin large-scale renovations in May to replace water supply and drainage pipes in common and privately owned areas. Maintenance is generally performed by the owner of each unit, and it is unusual for a management organization to replace these pipes in privately owned parts of the building.
MLIT selected this building in October 2021 for its Condominium Stock Longer Lifespan, Etc. Model Project, which provides subsidies for leading renovation projects at aging mansions.
In general, water supply and drainage pipes branch off from common areas into privately owned areas. There are benefits to updating both areas at the same time. Even if pipe replacement is limited to common areas, in many cases workers must enter private units and remove interior finishing materials, making it a logical choice to switch out pipes in those areas at the same time.
The Imperial Higashikurume management association is replacing vertical supply and drainage parts in common areas, as well as horizontal drainage pipes and hot water pipes in individual units. All existing pipes are made from metal, and corrosion and other types of deterioration have been confirmed. They will be replaced with longer-lasting resin pipes, which do not deteriorate as easily and have a longer lifespan.
Hot water pipes in individual units are included in these large-scale renovations due to the frequent leaks that have occurred since the building reached 18 years of age. This has been a major source of worry for owners.
Sho-Sekkei (Shibuya, Tokyo) has been contracted by the management association for tasks such as consulting on the repairs. Izumi Umezu, deputy general manager of the Engineering Division, explained, “Instead of leaving pipe replacement up to individual owners, leaks are easier to prevent if the management association replaces them all at once. This can also help lower costs.”
This method – in which the management association simultaneously replaces water supply and drainage pipes in common and individual areas – was added to the Long-term Repair Planning Guidelines and Standard Condominium Management Bylaws revised by MLIT in 2021. The precautionary items state that long-term repair plans should include information about replacing pipes in individual units, and that management bylaws should specify that repair reserve funds will be used for these construction costs.
These cautions exist because, in principle, individual owners are responsible for repair expenses in their units. As a result, unit owners have sued management association directors and other parties, saying it violates the Act on Building Unit Ownership, etc. to use repair reserve funds for pipe replacement in individual units. The proper procedures must be followed for the use of repair reserve funds to be allowed in court.
The Imperial Higashikurume management association followed the methods presented by MLIT and revised several parts of their management bylaws to perform these repairs.
The Imperial Higashikurume management association repair committee members and directors made many preparations of this sort to approve these large-scale renovations. Because the voting took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was done on paper rather than at a general meeting. A great majority agreed to the renovations.

 These condominium owners decided to carry out large-scale repairs in their units and common areas at the same time for the sake of efficiency. This differs from the large-scale renovations described in The Nikkei article, but I think this project will become a model for many condominiums as a way to maintain the comfort and asset value of an old building.

Steps should be taken to earthquake-proof furniture and other items inside durable, modern condominiums

 The November 1 article in The Nikkei concludes as follows:

Some have pointed out that easing regulations is not enough. Funding is also an issue. MLIT says that 35% of condominium buildings have not put aside repair reserve funds for common areas according to plan.
Takahashi explains, “Even if the rules are relaxed, people won’t agree to repairs without the money to pay for them. They will also need support like subsidies or tax breaks.” Some are saying the government should consider budgets and taxation at the timing of legal reform.

 However, in this difficult public finance situation it will not be so simple to implement public funds for subsidies and similar purposes. The SAKISIRU news website posted an article on November 2 titled, “The Issue of Regulatory Reform: After Relaxing Condominium Repair Requirements, the Next Issue is Subsidies or Tax Cuts.” It reads:

However, there is hope regarding tax breaks or reductions: profit-making enterprises by condominium management associations, which are regarded as having no corporate capacity. Monthly parking fees collected from residents are tax-exempt, but commercial businesses to earn extra money are taxed, such as vending machines installed on the first floors of buildings. In recent years more of these associations are engaging in full-scale businesses, and tax offices are keeping a watchful eye on revenue from increasingly diverse projects such as installing mobile telephone base stations, generating power with solar panels, and car sharing. In the past, some associations have been identified with undeclared income from mobile phone base station businesses, from several millions of yen to 20 million yen.
Tax-reduction measures seem like a smooth option to give associations more earning power. The timing after the Act on Building Unit Ownership, etc. is revised to ease reconstruction regulations will be a critical moment to take various measures, including the tax system.

 For older condominium buildings, as the residents age there are more open parking garage spots. Many management associations are considering turning these into coin-operated parking spaces, but taxation becomes a problem in that case. There is an urgent need for policy to encourage renovations on aging condominium buildings, for instance imposing no taxes on profit-making enterprises by management associations.
 We also need to think about large-scale renovations to improve the seismic resistance of structures built according to past earthquake resistance standards. Starting from building plans certified in June 1981, condominiums must follow the new standards and be designed to withstand a Shindo 7 earthquake on the same scale as the Great Kanto Earthquake. In the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, which had a maximum Shindo of 7, over 80% of the people who died were crushed when their wooden homes collapsed. Condominiums conforming to the new standard would have probably remained standing, and the people inside likely would not have been killed. Next year is the 100th anniversary of the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo, and a great deal of research has found that another major earthquake will definitely strike the Greater Tokyo metropolitan area someday. Even if buildings are not toppled, terrible tragedies will occur unless we take measures to earthquake-proof furniture and other objects inside rooms, just like the saying, “If you are prepared, there is no need for worry.”

November 10 (Thursday), 6:00 p.m.