What if I can’t pay my rent? How Japan’s Housing Security Benefit System Can Help

In this article, we go over what happens if you aren’t able to pay your rent and how you may be able to get help from the Japanese government, in the form of a Housing Security Benefit.

What if I can’t pay my rent?

If you are renting your home in Japan, whether it’s an apartment or house, of course, you have an obligation to pay your rent on time. However, it’s important to know that tenants have strong tenant rights in Japan compared to many other countries.

If you’re in a situation where you think you may not be able to pay your rent, as a first step, you should contact your landlord or property management company to see if you can work out a delayed or partial payment. However, in Japan, it is not common for landlords to accept these alternatives.

From a landlord’s perspective, rent delinquency (or in the worst case, default) is one of the biggest risks they weigh when renting out their property. That’s the reason why almost all rental agreements in Japan require that you provide the name of a guarantor (or a guarantor company) when you sign a lease. If you don’t pay your rent, the landlord will contact your guarantor to seek payment. Your guarantor is then legally obligated to pay on your behalf.

If you used a guarantor company when you signed your lease, the guarantor company will payout to the landlord then try to collect the money from you. This would be similar to the collections process that your landlord or property manager will also carry out. As explained in this article, the landlord or property manager

“will call relatives, emergency contacts and if possible, their workplace. If that doesn’t lead to a reasonable discussion, we will knock on the door and leave a notice. Officially, you are not allowed to leave a notice in public, but sometimes, people can be shamed into paying, if a letter is left sticking out of the mailbox for others to see. It is not legal to change locks, shut off utilities or force entry into the property.”

Finally, your landlord will start the eviction process (please see: What happens when a tenant is delinquent with rent in Japan?). As we mentioned above, tenants have strong rights in Japan, and the eviction process is not quick or easy for anyone involved. It’s something you should seek to avoid.

If you are in financial difficulty as a renter, where can you turn for help?

Overview of the Housing Security Benefit

The Housing Security Benefit (住居確保給付金), is a part of Japan’s “Independence Support System for the Poor” (生活困窮者自立支援制). It is meant to provide financial support for people who have lost their job (or sole proprietor business) and who may be at risk of losing their residence as a result.

The system is also meant to provide support for people who have had their working hours or number of working days reduced through no fault of their own; or when their working opportunities have been reduced because of a distressed economy (as we’re currently experiencing due to the coronavirus stay-at-home measures, for example.)

If you qualify for a Housing Service Benefit, your municipal government will pay rent on your behalf directly to your landlord for at least three months and possibly for as long as nine months.

How do I qualify for the Housing Security Benefit?

The following is an overview of the main criteria that you must meet in order to apply for the subsidy. Please note that this is a general summary. You should consult directly with the Independence Consultation Support Organization (自立相談支援機関) in your municipality to see if you qualify. Please see below for a link to a nationwide list of these offices.

  • You have lost your job within the last two years.
    • Including sole proprietors who have lost their business.
    • You’ve had your working hours or number of working days reduced due to a distressed economy and not through any fault of your own.
    • Freelancers and part-time workers are eligible to apply if you meet the eligibility criteria.
  • You were the main person supporting your household’s livelihood prior to losing your job.
  • You are currently trying to look for work through Hello Work. (*)
    • (*) Due to the expanded housing support measures implemented to help people deal with the fallout from the coronavirus, this requirement has been waived for people applying after April 30th. Hello Work is the employment service system operated by the Japanese government, and Hello Work offices around the country connect job seekers with employers.
    • As of April 30th, to apply for the housing security benefit, you do not have to be registered with Hello Work and looking for work.
  • You are not receiving other similar benefits.
  • You must meet certain income and household financial asset requirements.
  • Maximum qualifying income
    • Your total household income may not exceed the sum of your monthly rent + 1/12 (one twelfth) of the non-taxable income amount not subject to the local inhabitant’s tax amount.
    • This amount will vary depending on where you live and your household size, but as a rough estimate, if you live in the Tokyo 23 Wards, your monthly income would have to be lower than the following:
      • For a single-person household: ¥138,000
      • For a two-person household: ¥194,000
      • For a three-person household: ¥241,000
  • Household financial assets
    • Your total household financial assets may not exceed ¥1,000,000. The maximum allowable amount will also vary depending on where you live and your household size, but as a rough estimate, if you live in the Tokyo 23 Wards, it cannot exceed:
      • For a single-person household: ¥504,000
      • For a two-person household: ¥780,000
      • For a three-person household: ¥1,000,000

How much can I receive?

With the Housing Security Benefit, in principle, the government will subsidize approximately 75% of your monthly rent. The amount you can receive depends on your actual rent, where you live, and your household size, among other factors.

As a rough estimate, if you live in the Tokyo 23 Wards, you can receive approximately the following amounts per month:

  • For a single-person household: ¥53,700
  • For a two-person household: ¥64,000
  • For a three-person household: ¥69,800

It’s possible to receive these subsidies for three months and as long as nine months if you can show that you are actively looking for a job.

Where to apply

To find out more about the Housing Security Benefit system and to apply, please contact the Independence Consultation Support Organization (自立相談支援機関) for your municipality. A nationwide PDF list (in Japanese) can be found here (you will be taken to the website of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Please note that these offices are not administered as part of your municipal (city or ward) government office.

Are foreign residents eligible to apply?

Yes, in principle, foreign residents of Japan are eligible to apply for the Housing Security Benefit as long as you also meet all the eligibility criteria described above. However, please consult directly with the Support Organization in your area regarding your individual case.

If you are not proficient in Japanese, you may want to have a Japanese-speaking friend help you with the consultation and application because the individual Support Organizations are unlikely to have multilingual support services.

How does the process work?

Start your application at your local Independence Consultation Support Organization. They will go over your eligibility and send your application to your municipal (city or ward) government office. The municipal government office will notify the Support Organization of their decision, which will in turn notify you. If your application is approved, your municipal government will send the Housing Support Benefit amount directly to your landlord or property management company.

Source: Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (in Japanese)

Lead photo: iStock

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