It has gotten a lot easier to rent in Japan, landlords are more open to renting to foreigners and more and more real estate agents speak English. Still, renting a place can be a headache. Below I will try to give a few points of advice you will want to keep in mind when looking for a place to rent in Japan.
Real Estate Agents:
Real estate agents either get an agent fee (“chukairyou” in Japanese) from you, or an “advertising fee” (“koukokuhi” in Japanese) from the owner, or both. The agent fee is prescribed by Japanese law to a maximum of one month’s rent. The “advertising fee” varies by property and can be anywhere from one moth to three months rent.
This creates a conflict of interest sometimes; the agent wants to make as much as possible and will thus try to have you sign a place that pays the highest advertising fee and not the place that is best suited for you. Properties that have a high advertising fee can often be priced higher than market; thus the higher advertising fee to give agents incentive to find a lessor.
Can I negotiate the agent fee?
The agent fee is prescribed by Japanese law to be NO MORE than one month’s rent and can thus be less. However, keep in mind the above advertising fee. If the agent agrees to waive the agent fee, it means he/she is getting a decent advertising fee.
Can I negotiate the monthly rent?
Depending on the property of course; you can usually knock a thousand or two thousand yen off the monthly rent.
Are Japanese landlords racist?
The owner (landlord) is usually someone that wants to rent to someone that 1. Can pay the rent 2. Can pay the rent for a long time (will not move away for a while) 3. Will not make noise (throw parties, etc.) 4. Will not wreck the place and 5. Will not stink the place up (e.g.: cook food that Japanese people living in the building will find foul smelling). Renting to a foreigner is stereotypically risky because a foreigner can move back to his/her home country in a short amount of time (maybe without paying the last month of rent). Foreigners are also known for throwing loud parties, and Asian foreigners can be looked at as people that cook bad smelling food.
Overall however, few owners are racist, and will usually rent to a foreigner if the following conditions are met. The foreigner has the ability to pay rent (has good job etc.). The foreigner has a guarantor. A guarantor is a co-signer that guarantees that if you default (don’t pay rent), they will pay for you. Most owners only accept family for guarantors but because most foreigners don’t have family in Japan, you usually have to get a guarantee company to be your guarantor. This service is of course not free, and the agent can set this up. It usually costs around a half month’s rent for a one or two year contract.
Can I negotiate a cat?
Sure, if a property doesn’t specify that pets are allowed, you can always ask. Some owners will allow a pet but might ask for an extra month of damage deposit. I wouldn’t recommend keeping a pet in secret.
Other costs to consider:
Utilities are normally paid directly to the utilities companies but in some cases can be paid to the owner who in turn pays the utilities. In this case, the owner might be making a profit. It is a good idea to confirm this with the agent.
Gas: There are different types of gas, “propane or LP gas” and ”toshi gas.” The propane or LP, etc. gas is around twice as expensive as toshi gas. So for example a room that costs 50,000 per month in rent and has toshi gas and a room that costs 47,000 per month but has LP gas, really cost around the same.
Heating: Rooms in Northern Japan will either have gas, kerosene (“toyu”) or electric heaters. Kerosene heaters are the cheapest but they do leave a smell. Gas heaters are the most costly.
Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions.