Sunday, July 26, 2009

On the joys of renting in Tokyo

More so than cheating and extra-marital affairs, rent in Tokyo is one of this city's residents' dirtiest little secrets. Rent amounts are asked for in whispers at parties and given in barely audible tones or sign language, if at all possible. "How many mats?" you'll hear. "I don't do mats, but it's around 20m2" will come the reply. "Do you have a 1K?" "No, but I've got a 2LK." Drug talk and illegal arms negotiations? Nope, it's real estate talk. People in Tokyo are embarrassed about how much they pay in rent, especially knowing that moving east to Chiba or north to Saitama they could pay a fraction for more space. But then you wouldn't be able to make bad decisions after a night of drinking to drop 4000 yen on a cab home because it's close enough to justify in your inebriated state. Hell, I've justified it when I'm stone-cold sober on occasion. Some people prefer clean air, open space and easy living, while some prefer bars that aren't all snacks, the thrill of a salaryman's body pressed close during the morning rush (and on trains that run underground at that) and more Starfucks than you can poke a stick at. I respect people in the inaka, their experience is certainly different from my Tokyo existence and interesting to me because of that, but it's just not for me at this stage.

Living in close proximity to everything in Tokyo is something worth paying for in my books, and I find it has warped my sense of perception when I hear myself proclaiming a 120,000 yen shoebox to be a fabulous steal to someone I've just met. Someone I've just met and yet we are already airing our dirty real estate laundry, taking pains to assure one another that we both have great deals on our small and expensive apartments. It's a sickness, really.

Imagine how tickled fucking pink I was when the beau casually mentioned a couple months ago that we would have to pay two months' rent as a renewal fee once our two-year lease is up in the near future. Let me me clear: not two months' rent towards a deposit (i.e., comes back eventually) or two months' rent towards the first two months of the new lease, but two months' rent down the fucking toilet, off to nevernever land, sayonara 300,000 yen (yes you can do the math), never to be seen again and not to be used for any apparent purpose. The thought that we are in fact paying yakuza protection money actually crossed my mind, I'll admit. What else could explain this blatant price gouging??? I don't have the time to look into it at the moment but I'll go out on a limb and say it's related to the archaic (is it even?) practice of 'key money', a couple months' rent paid to the landlord as a 'please continue to think of us favorably' gesture. Quite the gesture don't you think? Especially considering that my landlord is not even a person but a huge real estate conglomerate with a bank as it's parent company.

Moving out isn't an option (hello six months' rent paid in advance for a new place) and truth be told, I am quite fond of our 'mansion' with its clean white walls and shiny new appliances that talk back. It just causes a pain like no other to flush perfectly spendable money down the toilet. An attorney friend advised me to try and negotiate with the Suits or tell them to piss off, something about a contractual loop-hole. Unfortunately I'm a bit of a goody-good and would not be able to ignore the PAY NOW notices that would come in fast and furious if we refused to pay the renewal fee.

Fast-forward to last week. The renewal notice came in the mail and it turns out we only have to pay one month's rent to the toilet demons. Still painful but I suddenly feel 150,000 yen richer. Let's go on an island holiday! I exclaimed to the beau. Well, maybe not, but I'll be able to put more money towards my student loan, investing in my already-gained knowledge I suppose. The next time someone whispers how much they pay in rent to me, I am going to break tradition and loudly rejoice at how we dodged a bullet, proclaiming with pride that I only have to flush 150,000 down the crapper.


Orchid64 said...

The two month's rent thing is usually one month for the landlord and one month for the real estate agency that originally married you to your apartment. It also tends to fold in things like insurance should you burn down your place.

If the fee was cut in half, it could be that the real estate agent got cut out on renewal. This is what my landlord did after the first contract. We "only" pay one month's rent as our fee every two years. It's still extortion, but we look at it as paying somewhat higher rent each month rather than as what it really is (a shakedown).

Frankly, I wouldn't want to live in Saitama or Chiba because the commutes are too long. My husband works in Shinjuku and a smaller place at a higher price is worth a commute that is 10 minutes on the subway (plus walking, but still).

Anonymous said...

I believe this practice was just deemed illegal by a district court (and when I say 'just' I mean last Friday).

The case was out of Kyoto, but they're calling it a 'landmark' ruling.

gaijin wife said...

I would definately view this as saving 15 man! Bloody good if it's now illegal though and you can get out of it.

Sorry, I am bloghopping, but thanks for the entertaining read. Sounds like dinner out with the inlaws went well and all will be foregiven for their beloved chonan marrying a gaijin.

kathrynoh said...

Yikes, that's not that much more than we're paying for rent in Australia!!! I'd have thought Tokyo would be heaps more expensive.

Lisa said...

Can I ask how big your apartment is? I have this fantasy about moving to Tokyo. I haven't worked out the part about how my cat tolerates the flight, though, when I myself am always a wreck afterward!

Corinne said...

I too have paid ridiculous amounts of rent to be in my beloved Osaka and if we didn't have a car and a city car park finder in our favourites I think I would have refused to leave.
Definite bonus, in a twisted kind of way, you should go and buy a 150,000 yen brand handbag to celebrate, now that really would be fitting in with the locals...

Anonymous said...

We only refer to it as key money so that foreign governments, and companies headquartered in those countries, that have laws against bribery or paying of bribes can pay the "fee" on behalf of those of us here on behalf of our governments.

Elaine said...

This is actually only true in the big cities, I think; I'd never heard of it when I lived in Iwate. So I was shocked to come down here and find out about this. NOT looking forward to this December (and in Chiba it's 1.5 months, at least in my area)

Rose said...

Hey-o, first time commenter (though I've been lurking for a while... love the blog!)
I too am curious to know how large your apartment is... here in NYC we managed to score a 900 square foot (90 square meter-ish?) apartment for $3200 a month (and that's down from the original asking price of $3750!) Granted we're in a really nice area, but the real estate prices here are astonishing, even during a recession. We don't have to deal with key money, obvs, but since the apartment isn't rent stabilized they'll probably jack up the price when we have to renew....

Ryan said...

Don't you just love landlords, hey? I agree though, the second lot would have been for the agency that found the place for you. And they'll go on about administration costs blah, blah, blah.

Sounds like you're sorted now though. I must agree though, there's nothing better than living in Tokyo. I did that, and then tried the whole commute thing, from Chiba, now you come to mention it, and it didn't last long to be honest. I was back in Tokyo before you could believe it!

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Orchid64: It's a shakedown and nothing but. I agree that a place in the city is worth giving up a little space for.

Anon: Thanks! I've been looking into this after reading the article.

gaijin wife: Thanks for stopping by! I've been looking into the illegality of it but it seems the case has just set a precedent that might take a while to become accepted in Tokyo where I think the biggest ripoffs tend to take place.

kathrynoh: How much would that get you in Australia? I imagine there is a fair bit more room for the money.

Lisa: Just over 40 square metres..not sure what that is in American but it is small either way!

Corinne: Can't say the handbag idea hasn't crossed my mind :)

Anon: Even if you used a more literal translation it would sound like a strange administrative fee.

Elaine: You're right, I hear there is no such think in the Tohoku region. Check your contract to confirm the amount, that way you can start saving now!

Rose: Thanks for commenting. It's 40m2 so just over half the size of yours. I have fantasies of closet space. I think NYC is the only place the real estate situation is worse.

kathrynoh said...

I'm sure we get a lot more bang for our bucks in Australia space-wize. The biggest problem here is actually finding a place to rent because the demand is so high.

I recently took my son househunting and there were around 100 people or more at every open for inspection we went to. Even though he has a steady job and good rent references, he couldn't get a place and is currently crashing on his mate's floor!

There are a lot of dodgy practices going on like people offering above the advertised price to get a place (and real estate agents "auctioning" off rentals).