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Japan - Renting Property
For those who don’t want the hassle and expense of renting an apartment straight away, staying with a host family or in a guest house is often a good solution.
Alternatively, you can ask the employer who sponsors your work visa to secure your initial accommodation. Remember, you cannot legally work in Japan without obtaining a work visa, as we set out in the Finding Employment section of the country guide.
Of course, if you ask your employers to arrange your living space, there’s a risk you will end up in an apartment you don’t like. However, Japanese accommodation is expensive and often smaller than Westerners expect, so this will give you a chance to acclimatise to what is typical without spending a lot of time traipsing round hundreds of apartments looking for the impossible.
Annabelle moved from New Zealand to an apartment in Tochigi which had been secured by her new employers at a language school. She was responsible for paying the rent but was spared the pain of other upfront costs.
Finding An Apartment To Rent
Looking through some listings will give you an opportunity to assess what you can expect to pay in the area of your choice.
Do not agree to rent an apartment without seeing it for yourself. All the photographs in the world can’t give you the information you need about the condition of the heating system, noise levels from next door or the type of neighbourhood outside.
Estate agency staff will make suggestions based on your wish list and budget. They will then accompany you to viewings, which saves you the worry and hassle of getting lost or trying to negotiate with a landlord in Japanese.
It is a good idea to reach out to the existing expat community in Japan and ask for recommendations for a reputable rental agent. You can do this through our Expat Forum or by joining our dedicated Facebook Group.
Furnished Apartments In Japan
Canadian expat Erica Knecht, who secured a rental apartment in Kyushu, found that furnished apartments are a rarity outside larger Japanese cities. “Apartments come totally empty and it is up to the renter to supply all appliances, including A/C units,” she warned.
Like many other expats, she also noted how small the accommodation is, with tiny kitchens and limited storage room. She added: “We eventually found a place that met our needs, but it required a lot of leg work, and some modifying of expectations”.
Renting Accommodation In Japan As A Migrant
You will often hear discussion about landlords who only accept Japanese people as tenants. Official figures are not available, but this practice appears to be fairly widespread.
Some people call this out as blatant racism. Others conclude that landlords may be worried about upsetting neighbours by renting accommodation to migrants who don’t respect the cultural norms of low noise levels, tidiness in communal areas and correct allocation of rubbish disposal.
Your estate agent should have any issues like this identified before you go to view a property. You may wish to seek out accommodation near other expats, to give yourself the best chance of making friends and being accepted comfortably into a social group.
UK expat Jonathan moved to Tokyo. He found major cities are a good place to source estate agencies that are tailored to the needs of expats, and that specific areas of major cities can be easier places for expats to settle into.
“Tokyo is a wonderful city for expats. However, on a clock-face, the areas from 6.00 to 10.00 and into the centre (roughly Gotanda, around the Yamanote Line to Shinjuku and into Akasaka) are more used to foreigners' requirements. The east of the city is always fascinating; however, unless you speak Japanese, it’s more challenging in daily life. Additionally, the foreign stores, schools, expat clubs and so on tend to lie in the western part of the city,” he explains.
Upfront Costs Of Renting Accommodation
When you sign up for a new tenancy, you will pay a significant amount of money upfront.
First is advance rent, which will be at least one month’s rent.
A deposit is also required to cover the costs of any loss or damage to the property while you are a tenant. Ideally you will receive all of this back when you vacate the premises at the end of the tenancy. To keep the charges against the deposit to a minimum, take a thorough photographic record when you move in and then again when you move out. In an age where good quality digital photos can be backed up from your phone into free cloud storage, this is easy to do.
You will be charged commission by the rental agency that helped find your new home. Whilst this is a service paid for by landlords in most other countries, many expats are happy to pay this since the tailored services make their property search so much easier. It is often equivalent to six weeks’ rent.
Guarantors are part of the Japanese rental system. This responsibility has recently moved from financially secure family members across to insurance through rental agents. This adds yet another month’s rent to the list, and is not refundable.
Depending on the property, your annual building maintenance fee may well be charged in full at the beginning of the tenancy. In addition, you should also take out insurance at this point.
Then comes the key exchange fee. This isn’t much, but does add to all those other fees you are trying to cover. If you are unlucky, you will be asked to pay a key charge. Plus, don’t lose the keys at any time during the tenancy, as replacement will be very expensive.
The practice of giving a financial ‘gift’ to your landlord to thank them for allowing you to become a tenant has become an established business charge. This is usually a further month’s rent and is not refunded.
Luckily, a sea change is happening in the market for property rentals to migrants. Savvy landlords and rental agents have understood that expats don’t like paying the key charge when they are already struggling to afford the upfront costs for a place to live. This means that many of them are reducing the upfront costs, in particular abolishing the key charge, and increasing the ongoing rent instead.
This means your rent will be higher than it otherwise would be, and perhaps over the long term will cost you more. However, it is an incentive to encourage landlords to rent to foreign tenants, and means it is one less fee to worry about when you are trying to find somewhere to live.
Proving Your Right To Rent In Japan
Your landlord is not allowed to rent to illegal migrants. This means they will ask to see your passport and your residency card. If your employer is arranging accommodation for your arrival, you may have to send scanned copies of your documents in advance, or produce them on the first day of arrival in the country.
Your landlord will also want to see proof that you are financially secure. This means payslips, bank statements and contract of employment can all be requested.
Your rental agent will ask for a character reference, as a check that you are a reliable person. This is not only important so that the landlord has assurance you will pay the rent and not trash the property, but it will also to protect their reputation. If they let the property to tenants who disrupt the life of the neighbours, this will reflect badly on them.
While you may be able to wire through the advance payments from an international bank account, you should pay your regular rent through a Japanese bank account. Therefore, do prioritise the task of opening such an account.
Don’t be tempted to pay any rental costs or fees in cash. Electronic payments are the only secure, indisputable way to prove you have paid should you need to resort to a court of law. This becomes especially important in a country where you are unfamiliar with the culture and practices.
Once you finally move into your new home, don’t forget to register with the local town hall as a matter of urgency. Almost as importantly, do get to grips with the local recycling regime. These are different in every area, and making the wrong decisions about how to dispose of your garbage will quickly irritate your new neighbours.
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