To rent an apartment in Japan, would-be tenants visit real estate agents located in every neighborhood and browse through copies of apartments for rent. Apartments are usually rented through real estate agents rather than landlords.
Real estate agents usually have the layout of the apartment for rent and the costs to rent this apartment. Real estate offices can be recognized by listings of available apartments in their show windows. They also advertise on signs in the neighborhood and in various publications.
The rental system of many conventional real estate companies is not very foreigner friendly. Furthermore, most landlords are naturally reluctant to rent their apartments to foreigners who are not able to communicate in Japanese. Some of them will even categorically refuse their service to non-permanent residents out of fear of frictions.
If a would-be tenant is interested in a particular apartment, the agent contacts the landlord to see if the apartment is still available and whether a visit could be arranged.
Entering a rental contract with a conventional real estate company is very expensive and time consuming. Traditionally, a number of refundable and non-refundable fees have to be paid, often totaling three to ten months' rent, depending on the company and apartment:
- Reservation Fee "Tetsukekin - 手付金" - The tetsukekin is paid when you apply for an apartment, and before the actual rental contract is signed. It serves as a guarantee for you that the apartment is not given to somebody else, and for the agent that you do not change your mind. It is refunded after the actual contract is signed and is usually equivalent to about one month's rent.
- Security Deposit "Shikikin – 敷金" - The security deposit is usually equivalent to few months' rent. This is used to cover eventual future damage to the apartment. The deposit minus the cost for repairs is refunded when you move out. You probably won’t get your deposit or the remainder of it back right away. Usually in Japan the landlord has up to 60 days before they have to return your deposit.
- Key Money "Reikin – 礼金" - This is a non-refundable payment to the landlord in the amount of up to several months' rent. (History)
- Agency Processing Fees "Chukai Tesuryo – 仲介手数料" - This is a payment to the real estate agent for services rendered, which is usually equal to one month's rent.
Apartments are usually rented for a minimum of two years. If the renter wants to extend their stay, couple of months before the contract’s deadline, the agreement is re-negotiated. Contract Renewal Fee "Koshinryo - 更新料", is usually equivalent to one month's rent. This is another "gift" to be paid to the landlord for allowing you the privilege of renewing your contract. (History)
Japanese Apartment Layout Terms
Most rooms come with tatami floors or wooden floors, while fully carpeted rooms are rare. Some apartments come with both, tatami rooms and wooden floor rooms, while others do not contain any tatami room.
SLDK is an abbreviation frequently used in the world of Japanese real estate to describe apartments. It stands for Storage, Living, Dining and Kitchen area, and is preceded by the number of rooms. The number that comes before the acronym means the number of rooms separate from the LDK "basically the number of bedrooms". LDK makes up the heart of a Japanese apartment and will usually be an open-plan area of all of these combined. You’ll rarely find separate rooms with doors between your living/dining rooms and kitchen. Some examples are:
- 1R = 1 Room is what we would call a studio apartment. This type of apartment usually has a bedroom/kitchen combination, and a bath/toilet combination room. The average size is 16m2～20m2.
- 1K = Although the size of the apartment is almost identical to a 1R, in a 1K the bedroom and kitchen are separated.
- 1DK = A 1DK has a bedroom, and a kitchen/dining room combination. The overall size is slightly larger than a 1R or 1K.
- 1LDK = A 1LDK has a separated bedroom and living room. The common size of an apartment of this type is 40m2～60m2.
- 1SLDK = A 1SLDK is almost identical to a 1LDK room, except that it has a large walk-in size closet.
Normally, the location and age of the building and the size and position of the apartment are the main factors that determine the cost of the rent:
Location: Apartments located close to city centers are most expensive. Furthermore, the distance from the apartment to the next train station is crucial.
There are a number of things you need in order to move into an apartment in Japan. Starting with the basics you need two forms of identification, the first one being your passport and the second can be either your visa, foreigner card, or a student ID. After that you need a Japanese phone number and a Japanese bank account. If you are employed you need proof of employment and if you are a student you need your certificate of eligibility. In addition to those you also need a copy of your bank statement or pay stub. Domestic emergency contact as well as a guarantor is required.
Real Estate Companies For Foreigners
An industry of no-deposit apartments, called monthly mansion and weekly mansion "Guest Houses", has sprouted up in Tokyo as well as other major cities.
Guest Houses come in a wide verity of styles and price ranges from private apartment to dorm style housing. Many would also come with basic furnishing so you don’t have to buy furniture.
Reikin "礼金" & Koshinryo "更新料" - History
Though the purpose of these fees may have been obvious at the time, they became arbitrary once owners were allowed to set rents freely again. Yet many landlords continued to demand them simply because they could, and they still can. Japanese consumers are typically not the type to voice any discontent so this archaic tradition carries on.