TOKYO - As short-term private housing rentals struggle to gain legal traction in many countries in the region, Japan on Friday (June 9) gave the nod to home owners tapping on such sites as Airbnb to open their doors to visitors for a fee.
The new rules over home-sharing, or minpaku as it is known in Japan, are reportedly expected to come into force in January next year.
Short-term rentals, which are notoriously difficult to police and are largely unregulated, have been prohibited in Japan except under the so-called National Strategic Special Zones in some areas such as Tokyo and Osaka, where tourists can stay in rented private homes for a minimum of three days and two nights.
In Singapore, where the Planning Act enacted in February makes it officially illegal to rent out homes for less than six months, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is studying the option of creating a new category of private homes that will allow short-term rentals.
Japan's move will give the green light for all property owners to lease their homes to guests, although they are allowed to do so only for a maximum of 180 days a year and must first declare their intent to the prefectural government.
They must also adhere to strict hygiene control standards, maintain a list of guests, and put up bulletins notifying neighbours that their homes are being used for short-term rentals. They must also respond promptly to any complaints from neighbours.
Any failure to comply will be subject to business suspension orders and, in the case of repeat violations, a jail term of up to six months of a fine of up to 1 million yen (S$12,530).
The move to impose a ceiling of 180 days is seen as one which kowtows to the interests of influential lobby groups promoting the interests of hoteliers and ryokan inn owners.
The enactment of the law comes as Japan targets 40 million visitors by 2020, when Tokyo will host the marquee Olympic and Paralympic Games sporting event. Even so, it has for consecutive years been rewriting tourism records, and drew 24 million tourists last year.
Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Keiichi Ishii told reporters on Friday that he expects the law to be a boon for tourism with an eye towards the 2020 target, as it will "provide housing services under appropriate regulation".
Observers have said the country faces a dire shortage of hotel rooms if the number of tourists continues to surge at current rates, with hotel occupancies already routinely averaging above 80 per cent in cosmopolitan Tokyo and Osaka.
Airbnb's Japan country manager Yasuyuki Tanabe said in a statement that the Bill "provides much-needed clarity and certainty for locals who want to earn additional income by sharing their extra space with travellers from around the world".
He added that Japan has been Airbnb's most popular destination in Asia. Five million guests used Airbnb in the country last year, in a market that raked in 920 billion yen .
"We will continue to work with national and local governments to promote this responsible and sustainable framework for short-term rentals and home sharing," he said. "We believe the law enacted today will allow the short-term rental industry to flourish across Japan, to the country's immediate and long-term benefit."