Absence makes the heart grow more litigious

On Jan. 26 the Supreme Court decided in favor of a condominium management association that wanted to charge a nominal fee to non-resident owners of units in a large complex in Osaka. The decision overturned a lower court ruling that had supported the owners, who refused to pay the fee by saying that it was unfair. The judges in the higher court said “no,” the fee was perfectly legal and proper.

The fee itself wasn’t much, only ¥2,500 a month. Referred to as kyoryoku-kin (cooperative money), it was implemented in March 2007 by the management association of the Nakatsu Riverside Coop condo complex, which is made up of four 14-story buildings comprising 868 units. Of these, 180 were owned by people who didn’t live in them. They either rented them out or left them vacant. The management association, of course, already imposed a management fee (kanri-hi) on all the owners, which was much less than most management fees since the owners basically staffed the management association. The majority of condominiums are managed by property management companies, which charge a lot for staff, but this particular complex was built in 1971 and ever since the owners have taken it upon themselves to do their own managment, which means electing a director every so often and distributing tasks to the various members on an equitable basis. These tasks can be anything from cleaning the common areas to supervising elevator maintenance and keeping track of other association members. It’s a community thing, and because the 180 non-resident owners did not participate in these chores, the association felt they should pay a little more. The owners felt they didn’t have to.

It should be noted that only five non-resident owners refused to pay the fee. Media reports haven’t gone into detail about whether or not these owners rent out their units or not. It would be interesting to find out. Of course, any fee a landlord had to pay could be passed on to a tenant, whom the association probably doesn’t ask to fulfill management tasks that the landlords themselves are responsible for. Then again, a web search for Nakatsu Riverside Coop reveals that some units are on sale for the very low price of about ¥13 million for 70 square meters, so it may be the case that some of the owners are trying to sell their units without success. Some 300 householders of complex are over 70 years old, which probably means they’ve been there since the place was first built. In any case, commentators have called the decision “epoch-making” since it sets a precedent that people who don’t live in the condos they own can be treated differently than those who do.

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