Osaka’s leaning apartment buildings ignored for 8 years

On April 27, the Sankei Shimbun newspaper reported on two neighboring apartment buildings in Osaka that are leaning to the point where they are now touching. One of the buildings was deemed at risk of collapse over 8 years ago, yet the building owner has taken no action. Several tenants continue to live in the buildings.

Osaka City, having been approached by the newspaper, is now carrying out a building inspection. 

The two steel-frame buildings are 100 meters south-west of JR-Noe Station in Joto ward. They were both built in 1986 and have about 50 ~ 60 apartments sized from 10 ~ 20 sqm (108 ~ 215 sq.ft) that rent for 20,000 ~ 40,000 Yen/month. The five-story buildings are owned by separate owners. 

A building inspection carried out in 2013 determined that, based on the degree of the tilting, that there was a high chance of structural defects. This uneven subsidence put the building on the southern side at an emergency-level risk of collapse in the event of an earthquake (a Rank C designation). The Japan Building Disaster Prevention Association advises that buildings with a Rank C designation should not be entered, let alone occupied by residents. 

Several households live in the southern building and the landlord is aware of the structural condition. The building has gone through three different owners in the eight years since its inspection warning. 

In 2012 the previous owner of both buildings sold them to an Osaka-based realtor. That realtor became aware of the lean a few months after purchase. They initially complained to the former owner, but, being a professional real estate company who had purchased the buildings ‘as-is’, they were advised by a lawyer that they had no chance of winning any lawsuit. The realtor then sold the buildings in 2015 to two different buyers. One of the buyers ended up transferring the building back to the realtor in early 2020. The realtor responded to the newspaper saying they did not have the funds to repair the structural issues and were trying to get compensation from a former owner.

The statute of limitations for restitution for an illegal activity is 20 years, which means any claims against the original construction company of these buildings has lapsed. When a real estate company is the seller of a building they must provide a two-year structural warranty if the buyer is a non-real estate company. Generally speaking, should anything go wrong with a building and where no other party can be found at fault, the responsibility can fall on the current property owner.

During a press conference held on April 28, the mayor of Osaka said they were looking to resolve the issue as quickly as possible given the risk involved.

A later article by the newspaper said an on-site inspection found that spray-on asbestos is likely to have been used to fireproof the steel beams during construction of the southern building in 1986, but a sale agreement executed in January 2019 said no asbestos was used in construction. If this was an intentional misrepresentation, the seller may be liable for damages.

Sources:
The Sankei Shimbun, April 28, 2021.
The Sankei Shimbun, April 27, 2021.

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