Neighbours file dispute over new apartment building in Tokyo’s Shibaura district

The Sankei Shimbun has reported that residents of a 14-storey, 36-year old condominium near Shinagawa Station in Tokyo’s Minato-ku have filed a complaint with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government seeking the cancelling of the building permit for a project under construction on an adjoining lot.

The neighboring building is being built on land that was once part of the older condominium’s lot. The land was sold off, making the existing apartment building oversized for the lot based on floor-area ratios, and technically a non-compliant structure. As a non-compliant structure, local authorities may sometimes have the power to issue a forced demolition order, although these are rarely enforced.

A banner protesting the neighboring development hangs from the residents’ building next-door. Image via The Sankei Shimbun.

In March 2016, the adjoining 2,200 sqm lot, which was previously a car park, was acquired by a train company. In October 2016, plans were approved for a 16-storey, 234-unit rental apartment building.

Residents of the older building have been in contact with the local government since November. The residents are arguing that because the land has already been used in the calculation of the existing building’s floor-area ratio it should not be allowed to be used a second time if the land is subdivided. The Building Standards Act, however, has no provision banning this practice.

Back in 2006 the vacant land was acquired by a studio-apartment developer who submitted plans for a 15-storey luxury apartment building. A little while later there were discussions to redevelop the existing building, amalgamate the two lots and build a larger building. Unfortunately this plan never got off the ground and the developer filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

A third building proposal for a 15-storey, 126-unit condominium was made in 2012 by an Osaka-based developer, but construction did not start. The neighboring residents quickly filed a lawsuit seeking to ban the construction but the Supreme Court ruled against the residents in 2016.

With the recent court ruling, the current owner of the land is confident that construction will not be interrupted.

Why are residents concerned?

Now that their building is oversized for the current lot, if the residents were to rebuild, they could not build a building of the same size. The replacement building would need to be smaller, meaning everyone would have to settle for smaller apartments. Construction costs would have to be fully funded by the apartment owners since there would be no excess floor area that could be sold to a developer to help fund the redevelopment. In this situation it is very difficult to get apartment owners to agree to redevelopment. The building was also built to the older earthquake codes, which means that future redevelopment may become a pressing issue in the years to come unless retrofitting is possible.

Banks are also less likely to lend on apartments in buildings that are non-compliant with current zoning regulations. These factors can limit the potential resale value of units in the building.

The Sankei Shimbun, June 19, 2017.
The Kentsu Shimbun, June 1, 2016.
Nikkei Business Publications, August 1, 2016.

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