Expatriates' Housing Consulting - Tokyo, Japan +81-(0)3-5315-4931

FAQ

The purpose of this FAQ is to introduce and answer some of those questions we hear everyday from our clients. A lot of the questions are quite unique and offer an interesting glimpse into the "expat thought process". Please read and enjoy!

RENTAL HOUSING PROPERTY

AREAS/TRANSPORTATION

RENTAL RATES AND COSTS

LEASE TERMS

THE EXPAT RENTAL MARKET

DURING YOUR TENANCY

RENTAL HOUSING PROPERTY

What types of properties are available?

Low/mid/high-rise apartments, detached houses, and townhouses. Most high-rise buildings are located in commercial neighborhoods in the center, where houses are very hard to find. Low/mid-rise apartments are found throughout the central/outer area. The majority of houses are located in suburban neighborhoods.

What measurement standards are used for floor space?

Square meter is commonly used to show the floor space for most real estate properties. You may also come across "tsubo" (A traditional Japanese unit used to calculate floor or land space) and "jo" in your apartment search. A "tsubo" is usually the size of 2 tatami mats, while a "jo" is the size of 1 tatami mat. Please refer to the following conversions:

1 sq.meter = 10.76 sq.ft

1 tsubo = 3.3057sq.meter = 36 sq.ft = 2 jo

How large are the rental housing in Tokyo?

The size and type of properties greatly vary; with everything from 20 square meter studios and 1 bedrooms, to 400 square meter 5+ bedrooms properties. The average floor space of properties by number of bedrooms can be found on the Charts page.

What types of properties do expatriates typically occupy? For example, high-rise building or low-rise buildings?

Every expatriate household has its own needs, and thus chooses a property which most fits their needs. Many singles and couples prefer newer apartments in prime central locations, while many families with children choose houses with outdoor space or larger apartments in areas with easy access to international schools.

Is it possible to have a garden in Tokyo?

Houses are quite rare to find in the center of Tokyo, due to high land prices. Not surprisingly, houses with gardens are even harder to find (they make up only around 5% of all expats properties currently out on the market).

However, there is no need to despair: a short hop southwest into such residential suburbs as DenenChofu and Jiyugaoka drastically changes the situation. Almost 80 percent of expats properties in these areas are houses, and the majority of them come with a garden.

It should be noted here however, that no matter where you live in Tokyo, your garden or yard will not be the garden or yard your uncle Bob has back home. Consider yourself lucky if you can fit a mid-sized garden table with lawn chairs in the garden and still have enough room to sit down.

How does housing for expats differ from regular Japanese housing?

The major difference between a typical Japanese residence and the average expat residence is in size. The average Japanese apartment/house is typically 50 to 70 percent smaller than an expat apartment/house.

Expats HousingLocal Housing
Size50-350sqm17-140sqm
Price350,000-2,500,000yen70,000-400,000yen
FacilitiesA/C & heating system in each room, Basic appliances (stove/oven, refrigerator, dishwasher, washing machine, clothes dryer), often a telephone lineNot at all rare that you have to purchase air conditioning units and light fixtures in addition to kitchen appliances and washing/drying machines.
LayoutSimilar to the typical western housesSimilar to the typical western/expat house but with everything miniaturized and cut up. Tatami-matted rooms are still common but becoming less popular.
Rental ConditionNo key money
3-6 months deposit
No renewal fee
2 months cancellation notice
1 month’s penalty for cancellation within first 1 year
1-2 months key money
2-3 months deposit
1 month’s renewal fee
1 month’s cancellation notice
No penalty for early cancellation

Is it possible to find a place with a gym/swimming pool in the building?

Yes, it is possible, although your choices will be limited to less than a dozen buildings. We recommend you consider joining one of the many sports clubs which can now be found throughout the city, and which offer decent facilities and services for a reasonable price.

Are the utilities connected and ready to go when I move in?

Yes, the utilities are usually connected upon move-in. In most cases, the utility charges are not included in the rent and are charged to the tenant separately from the monthly rent. Each tenant is charged by each service provider directly every month (the water charge is usually billed every other month).

Is there Broadband or high-speed internet connectivity in most buildings?

Yes. Many apartment buildings going up these days are pre-wired with fiber-optic cable (typically 100-1000Mbps) for tenant use. Even if fiber optic services aren’t available in your building or house, ADSL services can be easily arranged for most properties. Connection speeds for ADSL vary greatly, depending on a myriad of factors, but usually they are between 20 to 50 Mbps.

AREAS/TRANSPORTATION

Are expatriates centered in certain areas?

Many expatriates prefer to be in the south-west part of mid-town, such as Minato and Shibuya wards, for easy access to the central office districts, international schools, international clubs, supermarkets, etc.

Some other locations where international schools are located are also popular with families sending children to these schools, such as parts of Shinjuku-ku and Chiyoda-ku for families with children attending the French school, and Setagaya-ku for families with children attending St. Mary’s/Seisen international schools or the German school in Yokohama.

What is the typical mode of transportation in Tokyo?

Subways and trains in Tokyo are very efficient, clean, and safe, and are the main method of commuting for most workers in Tokyo. Public buses are also convenient for short distance, but may not be so punctual, as they are at the mercy of traffic. Taxis are plentiful and easy to hail, but rather expensive, with a typical starting price of 650 or 660 yen.

How long do expats typically spend on their commute?

Many spend around 30 minutes one-way, while the ones living in the suburbs can often end up spending an hour each way. If you can get from your place to your office, door-to-door, in under 30 minutes, you probably won’t be complaining.

RENTAL RATES AND COSTS

What is typically included in the rent?

Maintenance/management fee, a parking space, and sometimes a separate storage space ("trunk room") are often included in the rent for properties over 600,000 yen. For properties on the lower end of the price range, these features are typically not included in the rent.

What are some of the common factors which define "fair rent" in Japan?

Location and size definitely come first. The age of the building closely follows behind. Interior quality, view and sunlight (this explains why apartments on lower floors are priced lower) are also important factors. Large accompanying outdoor spaces—rare in Tokyo—also add to value. Tenant privileges such as pools and gyms may also affect prices favorably.

Are security deposits refundable?

Yes, although they return without any interest and minus any "tenant liabilities" which may have occurred, such as room renovation costs, cleaning costs, unpaid rent, etc.

What does the maintenance fee cover?

It covers the cost for the maintenance of the common space in the building such as hallways, elevators, the building entrance, etc.

Who pays for the brokerage fee and what is the typical fee?

Typically the tenant will pay a brokerage fee equivalent to 1 month’s rent to the agent. Sometimes, property owners may also offer promotional monetary reward to agents.

Do landlords provide any special incentives to prospective tenants?

They often do, but not every time. Sometimes landlords bear the cost of installing new appliances or curtains, or they may offer free rent for a certain period. The details would be discussed and agreed upon during the initial application stages.

Of course, the more popular a property is, the less possibility that the landlord will offer you special incentives to move in.

LEASE TERMS

What kind of lease contract is used?

TThere are a total of 5 types of lease contract for buildings, with the following 2 types of leases being most commonly used in the case of residential properties.

Standard LeaseFixed-term Lease
MethodDoes not have to be put in writing (although it almost always is, to avoid any problems later). A verbal agreement is just as binding as a written one.

Must be in writing.

Lessor must make clear in writing that the lease won’t be renewed and that it will end on specified expiration date.
Renewal

Automatic renewal unless tenant submits a cancellation notice.

The lessor cannot reject a renewal without a valid reason.
No renewal
Limit of lease term

20 years for leases signed before Mar.1, 2000.

No limitations for the leases completed on and after Mar.1, 2000
No limitation
Validity of lease under 1 yearAssumed as the lease without the lease termValid
Rent revision during the leaseBoth parties have the right to request rent revision during the lease when the rent becomes incompatible with market conditions.Rent cannot be revised during the lease unless a special provision allowing for lease revisions is previously agreed upon.
Cancellation during the leaseAccording to the cancellation provision in the lease

Can not be canceled if there is no special provision.

For residential properties under 200sqm, the tenant can cancel the lease due to "unavoidable reasons" (e.g. transfer back to home country)

How long is a typical lease term in Japan?

The vast majority of rental housing leases in Japan are set for two years. There is no particular law or regulation specifying or requiring a two year term, but custom has made this two year term the norm.

Can a contract be terminated? If so, how does the whole thing work?

Yes, in most cases it is possible.

For a standard rental contract, you are required to submit a notice of termination in writing at least one or two months in advance (the exact notification period will be noted in the contract). If you must move out sooner, you must pay rent for the one or two month period noted in the contract.

In the case of fixed-term lease contracts where your company is renting the apartment for you, things can become quite difficult. If there is no special provision or clause in the contract which enables cancellation, sometimes it may simply be impossible.

In the case of fixed-term lease contracts where you yourself are the lessee, you must have a very good and verifiable reason for terminating the lease (such as a transfer to another city).

Is the lease renewable? And the process?

Standard lease contracts can be renewed automatically, unless either party submits a cancellation notice. Typically, your landlord will remind you of the upcoming expiration a few months before, and ask if you’d like to renew. Rent revision negotiations talks are often held at this time.

Do tenants have automatic sublet or assignment rights?

In most cases the answer is "no", unless both parties have specifically agreed to it in advance.

THE EXPAT RENTAL MARKET

How is the market looking these days?

With the Japanese economy finally starting to pick up, a lot of foreign companies from a variety of industries are busily establishing (or reestablishing) a presence here. As a result, the expat housing market has definitely picked up over the last year, and shows no signs of abating any time soon. It should be noted however, that the market is no longer the "owner-driven" market it once used to be, and that in general, it follows a healthy "supply & demand" mechanism.

When's the most popular time for expats to move to Tokyo?

For the most part, expat relocations to and from Japan occur at a consistent rate over much of the year.

However, families with school-age children do tend to move the most during the summer school break (June August), so that the children can start attending their new schools from the beginning of the school year, in September.

Expat moves to Tokyo generally tend to slow down a bit in October, pick up some in November, then grind to an almost total halt in the latter half of December and first few weeks of January, for the holiday season.

When can I expect to find the "best deals?"

In Japanese culture, it is of paramount importance that everything be "tidied up" before the arrival of the New Year. "Everything" in this case literally means E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G; from the cupboard and windows, to family relationships and business deals.

Therefore, the last week or so of December is probably the most likely time in the course of the year, for a Japanese landlord to offer you an attractive discount.

How long does a typical rental property stay on the market?

This invariably depends on a host of different factors, including location, pricing, and age. Usually, however, attractive properties found in popular neighborhoods generally have a very good chance of being grabbed up very quickly, even if a bit overpriced, while "insipid" properties in less-than-hot areas can often end up being vacant for 6 months or more.

DURING YOUR TENANCY

Can I keep a pet in my apartment?

As many apartment buildings/landlords do not allow any pets, please first check with your agent or the building management to see if pets are allowed, and obtain the owner’s prior approval before deciding upon a place. It should be noted that even in cases where pets are allowed, you will usually be required to sign a memorandum which confirms your duty to pay for any and all soiling or damages caused by the pet

Does the tenant have the right to make improvements or alterations to the property?

In case of very minor alterations it is often possible with the prior consent of the landlord. However, any alternations beyond that are generally prohibited.

One good reason why you shouldn’t try to make improvements to the property is that tenants must restore a property to its exact original state when vacating the premises. In other words, any "alternations" --- damages and improvements included --- must be "undone" at the cost of the tenant, and the apartment returned to its exact original state.

What should I do if anything in the property breaks down? What damages are I responsible for/not responsible for.

You should immediately inform the landlord or the management in case of a problem or malfunction. You will be responsible for any damages/malfunctions caused to the premises or to the equipment which come with it (e.g. aircons) if they occurred as a result of abuse or lack of maintenance on your part, while the landlord is generally responsible for fixing all problems non-attributable to the tenant.

Considering the above, tenants are expected to regularly perform such basic maintenance as cleaning the a/c filters and watering and weeding the garden (if you have one), in addition to replacing such minor items as light bulbs and water faucet rubber sealings when necessary.