News Archive : Japan Real Estate

Friday, November 25, 2005

Architectural Scandal Deepens

Aneha falsely listed as designer of 3 condos
The Yomiuri Shimbun

First-class architect Hidetsugu Aneha's office in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, was falsely named as the designer of three condominium buildings in legal documents, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Monday.

The three buildings in Funabashi in the prefecture were among 21 buildings in Tokyo and Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures whose mandatory structural strength analyses were falsified by Aneha.

The three buildings were developed and constructed by SunChuoHome in the city.

The Construction and Transport Ministry said Aneha's actions may be punishable under the Architects Law.

Mikio Akiba, head of Akiba Sekkei architecture firm, made a contract with SunChuoHome to design the buildings. However, Aneha's office was listed as the designer of the buildings on official documents in accordance with the Building Standard Law.

Akiba said he has known Aneha for about 10 years. About six years ago, the two began working on development projects for SunChuoHome, with whom Akiba had done business previously. Akiba described the relationship as "teamlike."

As a result of talks with SunChuoHome, Akiba made a contract to design the buildings. However, because he did not have a first-class architect's license, he was not legally eligible to be listed as the designer. So he asked Aneha to allow him to use his name.

Two years ago, Akiba was introduced by Aneha to eHomes Inc. in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, which certifies construction applications on behalf of local governments. The firm recently was discovered to have approved falsified earthquake resistance certificates and other documents on most of the 21 buildings.
(Nov. 22, 2005)
Architect fudged figures in same report
The Asahi Shimbun

The architectural office at the center of a scandal over newly constructed buildings with unsafe earthquake standards submitted an official report on an 11-story apartment complex filled with inconsistencies that any expert could easily have picked up, industry insiders say.

The office of architect Hidetsugu Aneha, 48, not only set unusually low estimates for earthquake stress but also used different figures for parts of the structure covered earlier in the report.

The Asahi Shimbun obtained a copy of the office's structural strength report for the Grand Stage Higashi-Mukojima condominium complex in Tokyo's Sumida Ward. The figures led to inadequate safety standards for the building.

The report, which runs to 302 pages, was compiled in August 2003.

In a statement Monday, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said that Grand Stage Higashi-Mukojima had only 31 percent of the necessary earthquake resistance as required by the Building Standards Law. It said the structure would likely collapse if an earthquake of upper 5 on the Japanese intensity scale of 7 hit.

Thirty-six households reside in the condominium complex.

Throughout the report, different figures are used for earthquake stress, or the level of force applied to the building during a temblor.

In the first part of the document, earthquake stress is calculated for different parts of the building according to floor space and height of the structure.

For example, a force of 35 kilonewtons is estimated for columns on the 11th floor in the event of an earthquake. A newton is a unit of force named after Sir Isaac Newton.

According to several architects who specialize in structural strength calculations, 35 kilonewtons is not problematical in itself.

However, in the latter half of the report, a different figure is used for the same parts of the building.

In the part of the report that covers calculations for cross-sections of the structure to determine the size and number of columns to use, the same column on the 11th floor has an estimated earthquake stress figure of just 16 kilonewtons.

In some sections, the figures used are about half those mentioned earlier in the report.

The architects who reviewed the report said calculations based on lower earthquake stress figures would naturally lead to a decline in the overall strength of the structure.

The structural strength report says there are 16 columns, each with a diameter of about 25 millimeters, used for the first floor of the building. However, an architect who reviewed the report said a building of that size would need at least 20 columns on the first floor, each with a diameter of between 29 and 32 millimeters.

The architect said the building would not be able to withstand a medium-sized earthquake with the specifications given in the structural strength report.

Calculations for structural strength reports are normally done using software approved by the minister of land, infrastructure and transport. The software used by Aneha's office in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, had ministry approval.

However, an architect said there are ways to falsify reports even when using approved software.

This can be done by compiling two structural strength reports, the first one using approved earthquake stress figures included in the software and the second one using earthquake stress figures at much lower levels.

The next step would be to combine the two reports, which is apparently what Aneha did for the Higashi-Mukojima residential complex, the architect said.

At the same time, the architect said that a careful reading of the entire report would have uncovered the fact that different figures were used for the same parts of the building.

On Friday, eHomes Inc., the building inspection company that failed to discover the falsification of the structural reports, blamed clever tactics employed by Aneha's office for its inability to discover the problems.(IHT/Asahi: November 23,2005)

Contractors to demolish 13 suspect housing blocks
The Yomiuri Shimbun

Three contractors involved in the construction of 22 metropolitan buildings built using falsified structural-integrity data have decided to demolish 13 housing blocks the government fears may collapse if hit by a temblor registering upper 5 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of seven.

At press conferences held in Fukuoka and Tokyo on Tuesday, Hideaki Shinohara, 40, president of Hakata Ward, Fukuoka-based real estate company Shinoken Co. and Susumu Kojima, 52, president of Huser Management Ltd., said they would reimburse costs incurred by those who had to be evacuated, but were divided on the idea of buying back the condominiums.

Shinoken was responsible for the construction of four questionable buildings in Tokyo, while Huser built seven of the residential buildings in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture.

Shinohara said his firm would demolish two buildings in Minato Ward and one in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, and that he would consider whether to tear down or reinforce a building in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

Huser President Kojima said his company would rebuild the four apartment buildings in Chuo, Sumida and Koto wards and Inagi, Tokyo, as well as three in Yokohama, Kawasaki and Fujisawa in Kanagawa Prefecture.

On Wednesday, Sun Chuo Home Co. of Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, said it would demolish two 10-story buildings and a nine-story building--a total of 177 units in the city.

Managing Director Keiji Kudo of the real estate company made the announcement during a briefing in Funabashi to the residents, during which he also offered his apologies to them.

He told the meeting, organized by the Funabashi municipal government, that his company had thought of reinforcing the three condominiums but that emergency inspections of their earthquake-resistance had led to the conclusion that they needed to be pulled down.

Kudo added he had yet to determine when the demolition work would start, but that he wanted residents to leave their apartments by the end of January.

On Wednesday, Kojima held a closed briefing for residents of the nine-story condominium that holds 24 units in Inagi, Tokyo, only to anger them.

Residents later told reporters that the president effectively retracted his Tuesday pledge to rebuild the condominium by saying his company was also looking into the possibility of proceeding with structural reinforcement.

Meanwhile, five licensed architects from the Funabashi municipal government inspected Sun Chuo Home No. 15, a 10-story condominium in Minatomachi, the first administrative action of its kind since the revelation of the construction scam.

The building's earthquake-resistance level stood at only 31 percent of the Construction and Transport Ministry's mandated standard.

4 hotels close over safety fears

Four hotels in Aichi, Mie and Shizuoka prefectures suspended operations on Wednesday to check the safety of their buildings after their operators found that the buildings' earthquake-resistance data had been prepared by Aneha.

The four hotels are Meitetsu Inn Kariya in Kariya, Aichi Prefecture, run by Meitetsu Realestate Co. affiliated with the Nagoya Railroad (Meitetsu) group; Sanco Inn Kuwana-ekimae in Kuwana in Mie Prefecture, and Sanco Inn Shizuoka in Shizuoka, both run by Sanco-Real Co, an affiliate of the Mie Kotsu (Sanco) group; and AZ Inn Obu in Obu, Aichi Prefecture.

The operators said it was not known whether structural strength data had been falsified, but they had asked inspection firms to check whether the facilities could withstand strong earthquakes.

The hotels will remain closed until safety checks are completed. Third-party inspections would last one or two weeks, the hotels' operators said.

The operators also said guests with reservations at the hotels would be referred to nearby hotels, mostly run by the same groups.

(Nov. 24, 2005)

4 hotels to shut until quake risk is determined
The Asahi Shimbun

Operators of four multistory hotels outside Tokyo said Wednesday they were suspending operations until the safety of their buildings could be determined.

They said they could not rest easy because disgraced architect Hidetsugu Aneha was among those responsible for calculating the structural strength of the buildings when they were constructed.

Aneha's office was involved in the structural strength reports for at least 80 buildings in six prefectures. Land ministry officials say some of those buildings are not strong enough to withstand a moderately powerful earthquake.

The hotels that suspended operations are the 138-room Sanco Inn Kuwana-Ekimae in Kuwana, Mie Prefecture; the 196-room Sanco Inn Shizuoka in Shizuoka Prefecture; and in Aichi Prefecture, the 162-room Meitetsu Inn Kariya in Kariya and the 120-room Az Inn Obu in Obu.

The operator of the Meitetsu hotel said a private-sector expert it commissioned to re-examine the quake resistance calculations found areas that may fail to meet even minimum safety standards.

Operations at the other hotels are also suspended until the safety of the structures can be assessed, although no definitive risk has been proved.

The Kuwana hotel said it will allow guests unable to find other accommodation to stay. The area's hotels are full because of a golf tournament.

In Tokyo, two Keio Presso Inn hotels suspended operations earlier.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said it will compile a unified set of standards to be applied when local municipalities order buildings that are at risk from temblors to be demolished or repaired.

The ministry decided on the step because standards differ from one municipality to another. Officials reasoned that residents in the apartments at risk should not be worried further.

A benchmark of 1 describes strength that will withstand a temblor of upper 6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7. Structures will be graded in proportion to the benchmark. A reading of 0.5 means that there is a danger the structure will collapse in an earthquake of upper 5 on the seismic scale.

Those classified as between 0.3 and 0.2 in quake resistance will be ordered torn down.

Of the 14 completed buildings in which Aneha, 48, was involved, the ministry said Monday that 12 were rated at 0.5 or less in quake-resistance levels. One was classified with a 0.56 reading.

Realtors or developers that sold apartment complexes deemed defective have decided to rebuild some of them.

Shinoken Co., a Fukuoka-based real estate company that sold four defective condominiums in Tokyo based on Aneha's falsified quake-resistance calculations, announced Tuesday it will tear down an apartment block in Minato Ward with 18 units and another in Shinjuku Ward with 47 units by the end of the year. Both structures are at risk of collapsing in an earthquake of around upper 5, officials said.

Huser Co., which had a hand in the construction of 12 apartment complexes in which Aneha falsified data, plans to rebuild seven. The company said it does not intend to address residents' demands to return the money they paid.

"That would require 15 billion yen, rendering the company powerless," Huser President Susumu Ojima told a news conference Tuesday.

He said rebuilding the seven complexes would cost about 5 billion yen.

Sun Chuo Home Co. plans to demolish its two completed, but defective apartment blocks and pay up to 300,000 yen as moving expenses.(IHT/Asahi: November 24,2005)

Builder of shoddy structures folds with 13.8 billion yen in debt
The Japan Times

KUMAMOTO (Kyodo) Kimura Construction Co., the builder of dozens of defective condominiums and hotels with falsified quake-resistance data provided by a scandal-tainted Chiba-based architect, said Thursday it will soon file for bankruptcy.
Moriyoshi Kimura, president of the contractor based in Yatsushiro, Kumamoto Prefecture, told reporters here that his company will file the bankruptcy applications in court next week at the earliest.

Kimura Construction, founded by Kimura himself in 1963, suspended its operations Tuesday after one of its checks was not honored by its lender Monday, according to credit investigators.

"The falsification scandal was a bolt out of the blue," the 73-year-old Kimura told a news conference, his first public appearance since the fiasco came to light. He broke down as he read a prepared statement about the pending fate of the company.

The firm had an estimated 13.8 billion yen in liabilities at the end of October, the investigators said.

Earlier this month, architect Hidetsugu Aneha, of Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, admitted he falsified quake-resistance data for a number of building projects in recent years, sending shock waves through a country prone to earthquakes. Kimura Construction is believed to have constructed many of the defective buildings based on falsified quake-resistance data.

The builder emphasized lower costs and faster construction to win condo and hotel construction bids in the Tokyo area and posted 12.7 billion yen in sales for the year that ended in June, a private credit research agency said.

But on Thursday, Kimura denied that his firm had ever pressured Aneha, but added that he had nothing but anger toward the architect's office.

"The confirmation documents had been approved, and we trusted them 120 percent," he added.

Kimura said he concluded his company will not be able to continue operating because of a plunge in its credit after the shoddy construction was revealed and after the check was dishonored.
The Japan Times: Nov. 25, 2005

Who checks the checkers? System allowing architect to pick lax inspectors ofbuilding plans
Tatsuhito Iida and Hirofumi Inaba Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers

A system in which architectural firms can choose the agency that checks their building plans enabled an architect to get falsified structural integrity data approved on 22 buildings.

Under a deregulatory measure taken by the government six years ago, private firms were allowed to undertake inspection services for building plans. The number of such inspection firms has risen sharply following a boom in condominium construction.

Under the new system, those needing their building plans checked could choose an inspection agency that would pass their plans--a systemic problem exposed by the recent scandal over architect Hidetsugu Aneha's falsification of structural integrity data on such matters as earthquake resistance.

Under the Building Standards Law, contractors are supposed to choose an agency to check building plans to ensure the structures meet safety requirements. But proxy agencies also are allowed to conduct such checks.

In many cases, therefore, the selection of inspectors has been virtually entrusted to architects.

Commenting on eHomes Inc., the inspection agency that approved falsified data provided by Aneha, the 48-year-old architect said, "When I asked the company to check plans [containing false data], they passed them, so I continued asking them to check my plans."

The president of a developer that built 12 apartment buildings using false design data said, "I didn't care who checked the construction plans."

He added, "I was surprised that [eHomes] checked them so quickly."

Concerning the entry of private companies into the inspection service business, a senior Construction and Transport Ministry official said: "We had hoped that companies that conduct accurate and speedy inspections would be highly evaluated as a result of competition among private companies. But in reality, it was found that agencies that conducted strict inspections were avoided, and those that quickly passed plans were more popular, making big profits. The system didn't work properly."

Safety inspections used to be conducted only by local government-approved architects.

They were required to have a first-class architect's license, with practical experience in construction management and to pass certain examinations. Heads of local governments were responsible for appointing them to authorize building plans.

But in 1999, private companies became eligible to provide inspection services.

A then senior official of the ministry's Housing Bureau recalled, "Although there was concern over whether safety would be ensured under the new system, we had to allow the private sector's entry as part of deregulation efforts."

A member of the government's task force for administrative reform even called for the inspection system by those qualified architects to be abolished, arguing they had vested interests.

To qualify as an inspection agency, a private firm needs to fulfill various requirements, such as having a certain number of qualified inspectors. Depending on their business area, either the construction and transport minister or a prefectural governor examines the firm's qualifications and awards it its designation.

Qualification requirements for inspectors are equivalent to those of architects authorized by local governments. To be qualified, architects need to pass a state examination after gaining work experience.

Only 20 percent to 30 percent of applicants pass the exam. Those qualified have a duty to protect privileged information and could be subject to bribery charges, just like government employees.

At the launch of the new system, there were 21 such inspection agencies. But boosted by a boom in condominium construction, particularly in major cities, the number has grown by up to 30 every year.

Last fiscal year, the number of construction plans checked by private agencies exceeded that of plans checked by public inspectors.

"It takes time and labor for inspection work to be undertaken thoroughly. Private agencies charge more than government bodies. It was beyond our expectations that the number of private agencies would increase this much," a senior construction ministry official said.

Administrative bodies, however, are responsible for overseeing inspection agencies. Under the construction standards law, authorities can order agencies to submit operational reports and can conduct on-the-spot inspections without prior notice.

An official of the ministry's Housing Bureau said on-the-spot inspections were supposed to be conducted once a year. But an official of a Tokyo-based inspection agency said government officials had conducted inspections only once in two years, after giving prior notice.

Construction and Transport Minister Kazuo Kitagawa has expressed his intention to urgently review the inspection system under which private firms are allowed to conduct inspections, saying, "The system itself is necessary, but the way it has been operated is problematic."

(Nov. 25, 2005)