Buying an apartment with a garden

Now that we are entering summer, some of you may be looking for apartments with outdoor spaces. If you are buying or renting an apartment in Japan with a garden included there are some key points that you should be aware of.

With apartments, your ownership rights are limited to the interior of the apartment while exterior spaces such as balconies, terraces and gardens are considered part of the building’s communal space. The owner or occupant of each apartment is granted the exclusive right to use the balcony or garden space attached to their apartment. However, the occupant must follow the building’s bylaws which provide rules on how these outdoor spaces can and cannot be used. Barbecues, for example, are almost always banned due to issues regarding open fires and problems from smoke and smells affecting other residents in a building.

If you want to make any changes or plant anything in the garden, you will need to first consult with the building management since the bylaws may have rules about garden usage. You should also be aware that you will need to let gardeners in periodically to prune the trees around the building. These gardeners are arranged by the owners association. If you want to directly hire gardeners to come in and prune the trees, you will need to discuss this with building management and will likely need approval from the owners association.

Generally speaking, an apartment owner or occupant is banned from the following:

  • Planting anything that may affect views, sunlight or airflow to other building residents.
  • Installing any garden sheds, greenhouses, storage, pre-fab buildings or playground equipment.
  • Any repairs or alterations to garden fencing or walls, including painting.

If you want more freedom over a garden space, a house may be a better option. Although, finding a house with a usable garden space may require looking further out of the city center and towards the suburbs.

Be aware:

  • Ground floor units may be humid, damp, cold and attract insects. This is more common for older construction. Nowadays, newer buildings may be built with pits or foundations below the ground floor which can alleviate the dampness and cold.
  • Privacy and safety. Some potential buyers or tenants will avoid ground floor apartments due to concerns about a lack of privacy and concerns about burglars or prowlers. Neighbors from higher apartments may be able to see down onto the garden, while a garden fronting onto a street may lack some privacy from pedestrians.
  • Sunlight can sometimes be limited, resulting in a darker apartment. Views may also be limited.
  • Items such as cigarette butts and laundry may fall down into the garden from apartments on higher floors.
  • Despite the negatives, ground floor apartments with gardens may sometimes be preferred by families with small children or pets. Elderly may also prefer ground-floor units since they are easy to come and go from without needing to use an elevator, and also easy to evacuate in an emergency without having to use the stairs. In that regard, there is a niche market for these properties.
  • The owners of apartments with gardens may usually have to pay a monthly garden usage fee to the building’s management to go towards maintenance. This fee varies depending on the building. It may be anywhere in the range of 1,000 ~ 10,000 Yen per month.
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