Renting in Japan – Beginners Guide

Apartment renting in Japan is perhaps a must for all expats. Unfortunately, it is not a cake walk even if you understand a bit of Japanese. It certainly helps if a Japanese friend is with you all the time during the process but, I believe to ask the right questions you should be equipped with all the information. This post serves as an all inclusive guide for renting an apartment in Japan. The article also contains specific points to remember when renting in Hokkaido. The time required for the whole renting process can range anywhere from 4 days to 2 months depending on how soon you choose an apartment. The process contains four steps.

Four steps of renting in Japan :

Step 1:  Approach one/multiple real estate agencies and discuss your renting criteria.

Step 2: Your agent will show you properties suiting to your requirement.

Step 3: Once you finalize a property the agent will ask you to put an application for that property.

Step 4: Once the application is approved, sign the contract pay the initial money, get the keys on move in date and and move in.

Lets go through each step to equip you with all the information so the your renting experience is as smooth as sliding a knife in butter đŸ™‚ .

Step 1: Approaching the rental agencies.

You can approach any number of rental agencies at once. Decide your criteria before approaching them, for example; maximum rent you would want to pay, area you want to live in, type of room etc. Rental agents will show you the apartments in their database and persuade you to rent through their agency. Feel free to shop around, especially if you have time. Before going to the rental agency get familiar with these terms and situations.

1. Apartment types

Apartments (aparto) in Japan are classified by layout. Starting from the smallest they are: 1K,  has 1 room with a very tiny build in kitchen; 1LDK, has 1 bedroom, 1 living + dining room and a separate kitchen); 2K, has 2 rooms and a kitchen; 2LDK, has 2 rooms plus 1 living room and a kitchen. The rooms can be Japanese style (tatami floor) or Western style (floorboards). Apartment with tatami rooms are cheaper as they are difficult to maintain and can be a bit smelly. You are also not allowed to keep any non-flat surface furniture that can damage the tatami.

2. Apartment size

Room size is measured in tatami units (a useless unit in the modern time in my opinion ). One tatami mat is approximately 90 cm x 180 cm. The size of an apartment (total floor space) is measured in meter square, but it is usually an approximation.

3. Shikikin – Refundable security deposit

This amount is normally one month’s rent. Shikikin is paid when you sign the contract and is refundable unless it is used to cover the non payment of rent or to cover damages to the property. Legally your landlord cannot use it to fix damages due to natural ageing etc. You can check with your agent if no deposit apartments are available.

4. Reikin – Non refundable key money

This is a non-refundable gift money to the landlord to display gratitude because they accepted you as a tenant .  Reikin is normally equal to one months rent. Try to negotiate on this as recently a lot of no Reikin required apartments are also becoming available.

5. Chukairyo – Agency fees

This is the fee for the agent, you may be required to pay this if the landlord is not willing to pay the commission. This is equivalent to one month’s rent and can be negotiated with your agency.

6. Yachin – Monthly Rent

Rent is paid in advance on a monthly basis in Japan. You might have to pay the full rent even if you move in halfway through the month. It is best to set-up an automatic bank transfer to avoid late payments but, it is up to the landlord to decide on the method of payment. The rent amount is sometimes negotiable and you may be able to get the first month free on your contract, be sure to ask your agent.

7. Kanrihi – Management fees

A monthly service fee on top of the rent, paid to the building`s management company. This covers the cost for maintenance of the shared areas and lifts etc. In some apartment complexes,  a small community fee is also added on top of Kanrihi to cover the cost of waste disposal. Not negotiable .

8.  Kaiyaku – Termination of contract

A normal tenancy contract in Japan is for two years. You will need to inform the agency or the landlord about leaving the property as per your contract`s guideline. Towards the end of your contract, you will receive a letter from the landlord or agency asking if you would like to extend. If you leave the property before the lease expires, you will need to inform at least one month in advance and have to pay a penalty fee which is usually 1 month of rent. This is normally mentioned in the contract so do check before signing.

9. Cleaning fee and 24/7 emergency fee

A one time cleaning fee may be required either when you move in or when you move out.  Not negotiable and the fee depends on the size of apartment. The 24/7 emergency fee goes to a separate agency who will help you with after hours support  in situations such as loosing your key in the night or apartment being flooded due to a broken tap. This fee might not be applicable in every building complexes.

10. Guarantor and Insurance

When you put in an application for an apartment, you will need to provide a guarantor. Check with your agent on who can be your guarantor. Usually, your company or your boss can be your guarantor. If you are a student then the University can serve as a guarantor. As a last resort, you can also use an external guaranteeing company. This will be an additional cost and is usually paid on an yearly basis. You will also need to buy a home insurance to cover you from any damages to the house during your stay. This needs to be done before you sign the contract. Speak to your agent on the feasible options available.

11. Pet friendly?

Just like any other country, it is difficult to find pet friendly apartments in Japan. However, you should definitely go for one if you are looking to stay for long in Japan and plan to get a pet. Most of the pet friendly apartments have restrictions on the type and size of the pet. You will need to fill in a separate pet application form and provide a picture of your pet . In many cases you will also need to pay a non refundable pet key money equivalent to one month’s rent.

Phew that was a long list. Lets move on to the next steps, which will be lot shorter I promise .

Step 2: Hunting Apartment

Go through the apartments your agent shows and enjoy the ride when they take you out for inspections. Unfortunately you can only inspect apartments that are currently empty. So if your favourite apartment out of the list is still occupied you may have to decide on the basis of pictures available. You can also hunt apartments online on Suumo.jp or homes.co.jp. Use Google chrome to navigate through if your Japanese is not so awesome . Contact the agency managing that apartment. Points to remember while searching:

  • In some apartments foreigners are not allowed (Gaijin dame!). Do not set your heart on any apartment before asking the management company. You can get around this if you know enough Japanese. The main reason for Gaijin dame! is the inability to communicate.
  • Check the fixtures, sometimes light fixtures are missing. Type of heating available (kerosene is cheaper than gas- Hokkaido)
  • Don’t just decide in one visit, take details of your apartment and ask a couple of Japanese friends on what they think about it. They might point out something you overlooked.
Step 3: Applying

Once you have decided, you need to apply for the property. At this time you will need the details of your guarantor. Once the application is sent the apartment is blocked, so relax until they decide on your application. When your agent confirms with a green light, go on to the next step.

Step 4: Contract and Moving in

Before anything else, request a copy of the contract and ask  a trusted Japanese friend to go through it to make sure there are no hidden clauses that can bite you later. When all is good, sign the contract and pay the initial amount, including deposit, key money etc. Your guarantor need to sign/seal the contract too.

Finally, some points specific to renting apartments in Hokkaido:

1. It is very common to get no key money and no deposit required apartments. So you can easily save on money .

2. Heating costs can mount up very quickly in winter so make sure to look for kerosene heated apartments.

3. If you decide to move out of your apartment between December – February, you will need to pay an extra one month of rent as it is very difficult to find a tenant during winter in Hokkaido.

In short, the initial apartment moving cost in Japan is an expensive affair and it can be almost up to 4 times of the monthly rent. The stress can be a little troubling too because of the language barrier. However, you can just breeze through by knowing all the nitty gritties through this guide.

Share your good/bad experience of renting in Japan or ask any questions by commenting below.

Thank you for reading and happy apartment hunting .

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