Last week, the Kyoto city assembly passed a regulation to introduce a special tax on unoccupied properties or underutlized second homes for the purpose of opening up the used housing market. Kyoto is experiencing an acute housing shortage that is pushing up prices and, as a result, making the city unaffordable for young families, who are moving out to the surburbs. Before the regulation goes into effect it has to be approved by the internal affairs ministry, and when it does it will be the first such local tax system that targets vacant properties, or akiya, as they’ve come to be called.
The regulation, which wouldn’t be implemented until 2026, targets three categories of empty properties according to appraised value: properties that are less than ¥7 million, those between ¥7 million and ¥9 million, and those that are more than ¥9 million. Each category would entail a different rate of taxation, and if the appraised value is actually less than ¥1 million, no extra tax is imposed for the first five years after the new regulation goes into effect. There are probably very few, if any, properties worth less than ¥1 million in Kyoto, since the appraised value would be for both the structure and the land together. Unoccupied properties includes non-rental condominiums and apartments that are empty. Excluded from the new tax are “historically significant structures,” such as Kyoto’s famous machiya row houses; as well as properties used exclusively for business purposes, rental properties, and empty houses and apartments that the owner plans to put on sale.
According to the Nippon Keizai Shimbun, during the press conference to announce the new tax, the mayor said that the purpose is not to raise revenue, but rather to “improve civic life and stimulate urban renewal.” Apparently, the idea for the tax originated in a proposal for a kind of vacation home property tax, but experts who studied the proposal told the city that it would be better if Kyoto’s large number of unoccupied properties, including vacation homes that seemingly no one was using, were either made available for others to occupy or torn down and replaced by new homes.
In effect, the tax would be levied on any property deemed to be unoccupied or vacant. The special tax would increase the property tax on such a property by about 50 percent, the idea being that owners who didn’t live there or rent them out would be thus encouraged to either sell them or destroy them and build something new or sell the land. Empty land, it should be noted, is taxed at an even higher rate, as much as six times as land which contains a structure, whether vacant or not. It should also be noted that properties that are categorized as residences but which are being used only for storage are not exempt from the tax; as well as properties that are only occupied a few times a year—though exactly how few isn’t clear from media reports so far.Read More