Steps towards reducing discrimination against foreign tenants

Many foreigners may have experienced some kind of discrimination when trying to rent an apartment in Japan. Landlords not only discriminate against foreign residents, but also the elderly, disabled and even families with small children.

Hyogo Prefecture, has introduced a new relief system for rental housing that targets the elderly and foreigners who are frequently turned down by landlords when trying to rent an apartment.

In 2008, owners of rental properties in Hyogo Prefecture were asked what group of people they would refuse to rent their properties to, despite the potential tenant having the ability to pay the rent. The most unwanted tenants were:

– Foreigners: 39.3%
– A single elderly person: 34.3%
– An elderly couple: 24.4%
– A handicapped person: 15.8%
– A family with a small child/children: 13.4%

The above groups of people face significant hurdles when trying to rent an apartment.

The number of single households aged over 65 years has increased from 85,767 in 1990 to 194,292 as of 2005. The number of married-couple households where the wife was over 60 and the husband over 65 has increased from 96,460 in 1990 to 213,316 as of 2005. Elderly households represented 19% of the total households in 2005.

With the assistance of landlords and real estate agents from within the prefecture, data was gathered on the properties which do allow the above tenants. A list of the properties currently available can be downloaded from Hyogo Prefecture’s Living Support Center website . Unfortunately this page is currently only available in Japanese.

As of October, 2011, there are just over 100 apartments listed with the support center. Rent ranges from 30,000 ~ 101,850 Yen/month (390 ~ 1320 USD/month), and apartments range in size from 12.08 ~ 70 sqm (130 ~ 750 sqft). Many of the apartments are located within Kobe City.

The center also offers rental guarantor services, similar to a guarantor company, to provide peace of mind for landlords. This provides limited compensation to the landlord in the event that the tenant stops paying rent or moves out and leaves a huge repair bill.

During my time as a leasing agent I heard various reasons for the landlord not wanting a foreign tenant. Some of them included:

  • Not being able to communicate with a non-Japanese speaking tenant in case of an emergency.
  • Depending on the nationality of the tenant, strong cooking smells could permeate the apartment and linger long after the tenant moved out.
  • Not ‘keeping-the-peace’ or observing local customs (eg. lots of loud parties and not separating the garbage correctly).

It also pains me to say that residents of some countries may have an easier time renting an apartment than those from other countries. Even Embassy staff.

There are also cases of mistaken discrimination. These usually occur with properties that require the tenant to have a guarantor or guarantor company, or in cases where the landlord only wants a corporate-rental contract. Japanese are also frequently declined apartments for these reasons so please do not take every rejection personally.

When looking for an apartment to rent in Japan, ask your agent to confirm with the landlord if foreigners are acceptable before being shown any properties. It should be your agent’s responsibility to do this anyway. Some local Japanese agencies advertise “Foreigner Friendly” apartments, while all properties listed with expatriate agencies will accept foreigners (but some properties may require corporate rental contracts, not private contracts). An expat agency will have much more experience in finding suitable apartments for you, while a local Japanese agent may have less success.

The Mainichi Shimbun, September 22, 2011.