Apartment hunting in Tokyo? Things to Be Careful About

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  • Trying to find a decent yet affordable apartment to rent is a nightmarish struggle in almost every city. On top of that, when you try and rent an apartment in a foreign country where there’s a language barrier, the whole experience gets even more arduous. Tokyo has its own issues and different rental market rules, so it’s better to be prepared and careful.

    by Zoria Petkoska

    Beware of the high season for moving

    First of all, if you are able to choose WHEN you move, make sure you avoid the high season.

    Renting is a business transaction and as any business it is all about the supply and demand. When a lot of people are moving, the rental agencies and landlords have the upper hand, being able to pick and choose from prospective renters. They can also keep prices high and push unattractive properties on people who have a ticking clock and need to move in a new place before starting a new job or new school.

    The busiest moving season is around March, before the beginning of the new school year in April, the same time that many freshmen start their new job in the big companies that have mass recruitment.

    In addition to competition among renters and tired and stressed real estate agents, the busy moving season impacts all moving-related services. It might be harder to find, or you will need to wait for a long time for things like a movers company, furniture delivery, an internet connection etc. People have been known to wait for more than a month for an internet connection, regardless of which internet provider they go to. If you are working and only have weekends available, the wait will be even longer.

    In case you are among those starting a new school or job and you have to move in before April, consider staying temporarily in a share house or an Airbnb. Or, if you are already in Japan, try and anticipate the move and move in a few months before.

    Know that you will be discriminated

    In 2016 the Japanese Ministry of Justice conducted a survey and confirmed what foreign residents of Japan have long complained about: the rental market is rife with discrimination.

    The detailed report in English can be read in full here http://www.moj.go.jp/content/001249011.pdf

    It is true that some nationalities get more discrimination than others, but people from all countries have reported being discriminated. Prospective renters are outright told that some apartments are not available for them as per the request of the landlord. Sometimes there are uncomfortable calls, when a renter asks to see a property and the real estate agent calls the landlord in front of them only to confirm the “no foreigners” rule. These rejections slow chip away at a person’s mental well-being, so it’s better to be prepared and maybe even inform your agent that you don’t want those conversations in front of you.

    This discrimination, in turn, has led to foreigner-friendly real estate agencies, but their properties are usually few, limited to several downtown expat hubs and much pricier. A lot of people also opt for a sharehouse, as they are also known as more foreigner friendly. Both are also a good option for short term rentals, as Japanese apartments tend to require signing a longer lease.

    Japanese apartments are usually completely empty

    Apartments in Japan are a bare space, usually with only toilet and bath, kitchen sink, and air conditioner. But don’t expect a refrigerator or a washing machine. The renter is expected to bring their own furniture. There are many reasons why, the biggest ones cited being superstition and reluctance to use furniture someone else has used. A new renter will also very often ask for the tatami flooring to be ripped out and replaced, so as not to step and sleep on the same floor that someone else had slept on.

    This is understandable for long term contracts, but it is very inconvenient for foreigners, especially those on a 1-2 year school or work programs. It also adds up to the already exorbitant move-in fees, as both buying new furniture and hiring a company to move your old furniture are very expensive. And with apartments being small, the furniture you already have might not fit in the new apartment, in which case you also need to pay to throw it out.

    If buying or moving furniture is a deal breaker for you, it’s better to know in advance and see other housing options. In case you need furniture, be sure to check cheap recycle shops and online forums, because people moving out of Japan usually give away their furniture either for very cheap or free.

    Hidden fees and high move-in costs

    Everyone expects the extra costs when moving in, like a deposit that will be returned to you when you move out, or the commission cut for the real estate agency that is at least 1 months’ worth of rent or more. But that’s never all!
    Japanese apartments very often ask for 2 or 3 months’ worth of rent upfront to be delivered as a single payment, together with the real estate agency commission and other fees.

    Key money

    One of the most controversial fees plaguing Japanese residents as well is the notorious ”key money”. This is also translated as “gratitude money” and it’s an old extortionist practice of landlords that in the past were saying ‘renters should be grateful landlords are letting them stay’. This is usually between 1 and 2 months’ worth of rent.
    Good news is that more and more landlords are deciding to get rid of this antiquated practice, as well as not requiring a deposit. Rent being always paid upfront and automatically withdrawn from the renter’s bank account is enough to guarantee the landlord that rent will be paid in advance.

    Contract extension fee

    Check when does your contract expire and is it free to extend it. If you like a place don’t test the waters by signing a short contract, because more often than not the real estate agency charges commission again on re-signing and extending the same contract as if they found you a new place. And this is not a small fee either, it is usually a 1 months’ rent worth.

    Guarantor company fee

    Even if you found a place that accepts foreigners, someone needs to guarantee for you. It is never explicit what is guaranteed, but it has to be a Japanese person who knows you. Many people moving into the country don’t have anyone like that, so that’s where Guarantor companies come in. They are usually connected to the real estate agencies and will be offered to you as the only alternative even when you have a Japanese guarantor. Sometimes the agency will only accept the Guarantor company they are connected to and no one else. People have recounted being forced to pay a Guarantor company even when they have Japanese friends, coworkers, bosses and professors willing to be their guarantors.

    Of course, this also comes at a price, and it has to be renewed when you renew the contract.

    Insurance fee

    Don’t forget to budget for an insurance fee that is usually around 0.5 month’s rent worth. Be warned that it usually doesn’t cover any damage caused in an earthquake. Very often, insurance covers only less likely incidents like theft, or fire (but only if it’s not caused by an earthquake). Look into the insurance that you have to sign, before you do!

    Other fees

    Other fees that might get slapped onto the hefty move-in cost may be: apartment management fee (monthly, usually around 5000 yen), cleaning fee (around 10 000 yen), lock changing fee (around 10 000 yen) and so on.


    Armed with knowledge, you might feel more confident in your apartment hunting. You can also improve your chances with choosing the moving time of the year, the agency and the agent. You can avoid the extra costs that you can, budget and save for the ones you cannot. But above all, knowing the advantages and disadvantages might save you valuable time, money and stress even before you start the apartment rental search.

    *Featured Image from AC photo
    : AC photo/