Property Management

A Tale of a Haunted Apartment in Tokyo: Renting Out a Stigmatized Property

By: Erik Oskamp

Many Japanese people are superstitious. An apartment next to a cemetery will be difficult to rent out, especially if you can see the tombs from the kitchen. The worst thing is if a suicide has happened in the apartment. Even if somebody has jumped from the roof, many renters will move out. Other issues are a serious crime or a lonely death.

Stigmatized Apartment

A property where the former tenant died of unnatural causes, such as suicide, murder or neglect is known as a jiko bukken (事故物件) or a stigmatized apartment.

As a landlord, it is necessary for you or your agent to inform any potential renter about such events for at least two years after they happened. Naturally, renters will then show diminished interest. Some Westerners do not share these superstitions and so it might be possible to find such a renter. Otherwise lowering the rent 30% for a fixed-term contract of two years might be required to attract a renter.

Below is a true story of a lonely death in Ueno and how our agency handled the leasing out of the apartment after the incident.

A Lonely Death in Ueno

We received an ominous call from the police. Would somebody like to come over and open the door of that really small apartment close to the park in Ueno?

We checked the rent records. The renter, an 80-year old woman, always paid exactly on time. One of my team didn’t mind a trip on this nice, warm day in spring. He hopped on the train and went to the apartment with the key. When he arrived, the police offered him a mouth mask as there was a bit of a foul smell.

We have a standing rule at our office that if you are asked to open a door, stick the key in the lock and step away, far away.

Still, nothing could have prepared him for what he saw when he opened the door.

The lady had been dead 5 months or so, her body decomposed beyond recognition. With the beautiful spring weather exacerbating the process, the neighbors finally noticed the smell. An ambulance quickly arrived to remove the remains.

Sadly, there were no relatives and no friends to contact. The rent had been paid automatically.

The apartment before it was renovated. Photo courtesy of Erik Oskamp.

The apartment was in bad condition. Social services were very helpful and came to remove all personal belongings. Then we hired a company that specializes in cleaning up a place like this. After that we had a regular contractor replace every surface in the tiny apartment. A new floor and new wallpaper cost 250,000 yen. The apartment was ready again for the next renter.

The apartment after renovation. Photo courtesy of Erik Oskamp.

Was she still there?

But not everyone thought the old lady had really left.

With the police and ambulance around all day the day we discovered the body, every neighbor had heard what happened. No one would rent the apartment.

Instead I found an operator who could rent the property to tourists via Airbnb. Guests would stay just a short time, so there wouldn’t be any issues. The owner was happy to collect rent again. The guests would love the location, too, with its proximity to Ueno.

The operator furnished the apartment and quickly found short-term tenants.

Later he told me there were some guests who couldn’t get in so he rushed over to the apartment, finding it locked from the inside with the security latch on. With a piece of cardboard he wriggled it off and managed to open the door. Inside, he checked if the latch was loose or if it could have fallen on to the lock by itself. It looked secure and couldn’t have self-locked, but he taped it up anyway.

Afterwards I told him about the history of the apartment.

We both realized in some way the old lady had tried to keep the tourists out!

It has been a few years since, and no other problems have been reported. But I am sure that a few people would still be hesitant to live there.

Erik Oskamp

Erik Oskamp came to Japan in 2004 and applied for a mortgage the first day. Within 2 months of research he bought his first property in Tokyo, a 3-bedroom house in Shirokane. By 2005 he bought his first investment property. During this process Mr. Oskamp encountered a lack of transparency in the Japanese real estate market and so proceeded to build computer models to assist with the statistical analysis. By 2006 he was able to realize his first capital gains with a 60% profit on the house in Shirokane.

This encouraged him to take a more serious look at real estate. When many friends and colleagues started asking for information he realized the need for a real estate agency specialized in helping foreigners dealing with the Japanese market.

He started Akasaka Real Estate in September 2007. He took advantage of the financial crisis by purchasing more properties in the dark days of early 2009. By 2010 many investors started following this strategy.

Before Mr. Oskamp started Akasaka Real Estate he spent over 15 years working in finance for companies such as Credit Suisse, Citibank, UBS and Barclays in New York, London and Tokyo, as well as his native Amsterdam. In his last position at Barclays he was working as a quantitative analyst, modeling the yen yield curve for swap traders.

Mr. Oskamp divides his time between Manila and Tokyo and has five daughters. He currently owns 24 properties in Japan, but rents the apartment he lives in. In his rare free time you might find him at the beach with his daughters or enjoying traveling.

Akasaka Real Estate

Akasaka Real Estate focuses on helping foreigners buy property in Tokyo, including both primary residences and investment properties. Other services include property management, help with obtaining financing, and organizing renovations.

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Photo Credit: Bukken-x