Booking an Airbnb is set to become less Japan-easy

If, like me, you're a fan of using online home rental company Airbnb, then keep an eye on the current influx of challenges and court cases that are cropping up against the company all over the world.

The latest announcement comes from Japan where a whopping 80% of the country's Airbnb homes, apartments and rooms have just been wiped from the site. That equates to around 62,000 homes removed - leaving only around 13,800 to choose from.

So, what's happened?

If you read my previous post about the city of Paris vs Airbnb, it's a fairly similar issue. Japan's government have introduced minpaku - a new nationwide home share law that comes into effect on June 15th. It requires Airbnb hosts to officially register for permission to share their home with the federal government, under the hotel and ryokan laws that promote fire and emergency safety. And it also limits the total number of days that a property can be rented out for - in this instance, 180 per year.

After a similar ruling in San Francisco, and Paris also likely to follow suit, it looks as though these could be the first in a long line of international regulation changes to clamp down on hosts and apartments in destinations around the world.

And what's the problem?

Primarily, it's unregulated home-sharing - an un-streamlined grey area where homes can be advertised on the site without any real health and safety laws and measures in place. A property could be breaking any number of complicated local laws - or those laws may not even exist in the first place, allowing it to happen.

Up until recently I'd have been quite disappointed at hearing this news. I've always championed Airbnb and have stayed in some incredible apartments all around the world, more cheaply and at greater convenience than if I'd booked a hotel. And I love staying in the heart of a place of my own choosing, getting to live and feel like a local. To me, there's something a bit more special about the whole process of booking to go away when I control exactly where I'm going to be staying in this way. 

However, I've just booked an Airbnb in Paris for a week, and it was a torturous process! Knowing that the June 12th verdict is likely to go in Paris's favour, I'd been looking for an affordable Airbnb apartment in the city WITH a registration number (or tax ID) - this is to ensure that I wouldn't lose my money/booking once the new law comes into effect. It currently doesn't clearly state on Airbnb whether a home is registered or not - you have to search for the long number which is usually beneath the description of the home, and this often needs to be expanded to see it. It should definitely be at the top of each listing, and particularly during a period of uncertainty, as with Paris and Japan, when it makes all the difference to users. But most annoying of all is that Airbnb don't have a filter to be able to show only registered homes - so it means sifting through loads of homes/rooms and specifically searching to see if each place has the registration number or not. This whole process took a few hours of my life that I'll never get back, plus lots of potential excitement at thinking I'd finally found somewhere nice, only to realise that it didn't have a registration number. In a couple of instances I also messaged the hosts to ask if they had the required number and had to wait many hours for them to get back to me, only to be disappointed again.

During my time of 'practically' looking at every apartment in the French capital, I came to better understand why the need for tighter regulation is there: a huge number of Paris Airbnb homes are beyond awful! I fully understand that space in the city is at a premium and homes are unlikely to be palatial, but the sheer number of grotty, hovel-like dwellings on the site was shocking. Hardly reminiscent of the French style and sophistication that many visiting tourists would expect, many looked like health hazards that I wouldn't even want my dog to enter! I'm sure this is similar in London and many other cities all over the world, and so this probably does need to change. 

I'm not sure how I feel about having less choice and likely higher prices as a result, and the regulations seem to be taking away some of the fun spontaneity of Airbnb for both hosts and users. But with the expansive grey area of unregistered and unmonitored homes comes the opportunity for abuse of the system. I'm hoping the crackdown will improve the quality of homes on offer in the long-term.

My advice

At the moment, by following the usual guidelines on the website and online (and if you haven't already booked an Airbnb in Paris or anywhere else going through similar issues) you'll probably be fine. My advice to anyone looking to book an Airbnb anytime soon is:

  • Keep an eye on the latest information for your Airbnb destination, and don't book if you're unsure.
  • Always check for a registration number in a city that requires their hosts to have one.
  • Have a brief think about a possible back-up plan for the rare instances when your booking does get cancelled.
  • If your booking is cancelled by the host or Airbnb then you should always be entitled to your money back

Has anyone got a booked Airbnb in Japan that's been cancelled, or a registered booking that hasn't been cancelled? And has anybody stayed in a Japanese Airbnb in the past? If so, we'd love to hear what it was like, and your views and opinions...

Your comments

Post by Stuart

Stuart discovered his passion for all things travel during one of his first jobs overseeing the travel section of a well-known bookshop. He has worked in publishing for 15 years, most recently as a freelance travel writer. He's always planning his next adventure away. Favourite destination? It has to be Western Canada & The Rockies. Next trip? Bordeaux.

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