Tokyo ward becomes first area in Japan to regulate Airbnb-type home-sharing

TOKYO (REUTERS) - A local authority in Tokyo started accepting applications on Friday (Jan 29) from residents wanting to rent out their homes for short-term lodging through matchmakers such as Airbnb Inc, making it the first in Japan to regulate the practice.

Residents of the south-east Tokyo ward of Ota, home to Haneda Airport, Japan's busiest aviation hub, will be able to rent their personal space to tourists for a minimum of seven days provided they register with the local authority. Matchmakers can then collect revenue from connecting homeowners to guests.

The move comes as the host city of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games suffers a shortage of accommodation after a push to boost tourism brought Japan a record 19 million foreign visitors last year, 1 million shy of the government's end-decade target.

With the pace of hotel construction lagging the influx of tourists, the government is exploring short-term home-sharing which, at present, falls under hospitality regulations. Those rules dictate conditions private homeowners invariably cannot meet, such as providing receptions and separate toilets.

"Providing safe accommodation through regulated home-sharing will be good for visitors as well as locals because the scheme will stimulate business in the area," Ota mayor Tadayoshi Matsubara told reporters earlier this week.

The government has designated Tokyo and Osaka in western Japan as special zones as part of its overall economic growth strategy. That allowed Ota - the biggest of Tokyo's 23 wards - to pass a bylaw on home-sharing late last year.

Under Ota's system, residents register homes with the local authority, which can then inspect the accommodation and monitor homeowners should problems arise, Matsubara said.

Ota will be a test case for Japan. Hotel-starved Osaka city is considering a similar system for this year, a local official said. The city passed a bylaw this month permitting home-sharing, after rejecting it in 2014 due to security concerns.

"Home-sharing could eventually be a threat to our business to a certain extent," said the manager of a hotel in Ota. "But I am not sure if guests would feel comfortable staying where there is no guarantee of security."

San Francisco startup Airbnb said 26,000 properties across Japan were listed on its home-sharing website on Jan. 1, representing growth of over 300 per cent from the year earlier. The company declined to comment for this article.