I live in a real, honest to God mansion…apartment. Here in Japan, mansion is basically a large apartment building with a front lobby and an elevator, from what I can tell. And the word does come from English “Mansion”. An “Apato” is an apartment building that’s usually no taller than four stories and has doors that open straight onto the street like a house, making it easy for the Jehovah’s witnesses to come knocking. Yeah, even here in Japan. I’m sure if you go to the center of the Earth there are mole people going burrow to burrow with while other mole people hear them coming, say, “oh crap!” and freeze in place waiting for them to move on.
Mansion apartments are usually nicer than Apato apartments. They’re taller (so they have a better view), they tend to be newer, and Apato buildings are often made of wood. I have an irrational fear that a place made of wood would come tumbling down like a house of match sticks in a big earthquake, and light on fire just as quickly. It’s also likely to house a small independent state of roaches.
The blogs I’ve seen would have you believe it’s next to impossible to rent a mansion in Tokyo as a foreigner. They’re pretty doom and gloom about the high price and the discrimination that are often deterrents to renting. But I’m here to tell you it’s a challenge, but not impossible, and I know many foreigners out here who are living in nice, new mansions with a view. It just takes some patience, perseverance and money. There are three main steps to finding a decent place to live in Tokyo.
1) The Search
The internet is your friend, especially if you can’t speak Japanese at a near fluent level. That’s where I found a lot of agencies who catered especially to foreigners. You can plug in what you’re looking for and the sites will spit out some results, but I found that when I made an appointment to see the places, a lot of the time they were either already rented, or the landlord didn’t actually want to rent to foreigners. That was the most difficult part of the search for me. If anything has made me feel like a second-class citizen in this country it’s apartment hunting.
However the agencies I worked with were all very professional. They have no control over who a landlord wants to rent to, but they all tried their best to help me find what I was looking for. Although the internet can help you find an agency, when it comes to searching for apartments it’s best to schedule an appointment with an agent and have them manually search their databases. Some agencies I viewed apartments with are AghartA Inc., FLAT Inc., Tokyo Rent and Kimiwillbe.
2) The Application
After you’ve narrowed down where you want to live, you need to apply. Many Japanese places, especially mansion apartments, want you to have a guarantor. This is a person who is financially responsible if you can’t, or won’t pay rent. The best choice for a guarantor is a middle-aged Japanese man. If you know someone like that who’s willing to put his wallet on the line for you you’re set. However most of us foreigners don’t. That’s where guarantor companies come in. This is a company who will act as your guarantor. This company has to accept your application. So the average foreigner will be sending in applications to both a guarantor company and the housing company/landlord. BOTH have to be approved before you can get the apartment.
When I decided to move this year, I gave the housing company for the place I was previously living the obligatory one month’s notice, and began viewing apartments. I did it that way because I didn’t want to have to pay overlapping rent. With just two weeks to spare before I had to get out of my old place, I found it, the perfect mansion: spacious, a rent and move in cost I could afford, and it was in a new building and with a great view. I heaved a sigh of relief and applied. I wouldn’t be homeless. I sat back sure that with my steady income and work visa it would be no problem. A week later I received an email from the housing agent.
I’m sorry but although the housing company has approved your application, the guarantor company has rejected you.
Oh.my.god. What was I supposed to do? The agent said he would try another company. Yes please do, I said. A couple of days later I received another email.
Bad news. The second company has also rejected your application. I have one more company I can try.
What the hell? What could possibly be the problem? I’d lived in Japan for two years, steadily employed the whole time, no problems with the law and paid all my bills on time. By this point I had my theories, but nothing I could prove. And the companies didn’t divulge why I seemed to be such a huge risk. At this point I was sweating. I had a week to go before moving day, and technically no place to live. If this last company rejected me too…would I have time to find another place?
After another day, I checked my email with fingers sporting nails bitten down to stubs. There was an email from the housing agent.
The last company has approved your application! When can you come in to sign the contracts?
Yay, yay yay! So to all of you let my recklessness be a lesson. I really didn’t think it would take a month to sort out an apartment, especially when I had been browsing for a month before that! But for a foreigner, there are some complications that can come up. So even though you’ll likely end up paying a week or two of overlapping rent, don’t give notice that you’re leaving the first place until you’ve found the second.
3) The Payment
I won’t lie, if you want to move into a nice place in Tokyo it’s gonna hurt, BUT you can negotiate! This really surprised me because it’s been my experience in Japan that most things are pretty non-negotiable. I swear, if you go to McDonald’s and ask for McNugget sauce if you didn’t order McNuggets they’ll treat you like you asked for “filet Mignon– but hold the Mignon”.
There are at least three fees you’ll likely pay, but it’ll be more like 7-10 fees. The most common fees you have to pay are to the agency, the guarantor company and the deposit. You may also have heard of key money. This is a gift to the landlord for letting you rent the place and can be 1-3 months rent. But I asked the agencies to look for places that didn’t have that fee, and I think it’s becoming less common. There may also be a lock change fee, paperwork fee, insurance fee, cleaning fee, oxygen fee, Friday morning fee, Japan fee, or because-we-said-so fee, depending on how much money the renter thinks they can squeeze out of you. Expect to pay 225,000-400,000 yen (about $2500-4000 CDN) upfront to move into a nice place.
But as I said, you can negotiate. I was able to bring my upfront costs down by having the agent negotiate to lower the rent. Also the guarantor company I used turned out to charge less than the first two, the cleaning fee will be charged when I move out rather than upfront, and the housing company agreed to pay most of the agency fee, so I didn’t have to shoulder it. At the end I think I paid around 225,000 in initial fees.
So there you have it, the process for renting your very own Mansion in Tokyo.