In this article, we go over the key things you should know in order to have a chance at successfully negotiating your monthly rent in Japan. There are no guarantees, but these tips will give you a better idea of how and when to approach a landlord or property manager to start a negotiation.
Is the advertised monthly rent actually negotiable?
Yes, it’s possible to negotiate the monthly rent when you’re renting an apartment in Japan. It’s also possible to negotiate the fees associated with renting an apartment (for example, the agency fee or key money), even in cases where the advertisement doesn’t specifically say “rent negotiable”.
But it’s important to keep some things in mind.
First, a landlord or real estate agent is under no obligation to negotiate the monthly rent or any of the other fees. So, how you approach a potential negotiation is a critical factor in whether you might be successful.
Second, there are some properties for which the characteristics of the room, building or the surrounding neighborhood itself will make it easier to negotiate.
Third, timing is a key factor. From the perspective of a renter, there are three times when you might think, “Hmmm, the rent seems a little high. I wonder if there’s anything I can do about it.” More precisely, you might think about negotiating right before you sign a lease, when you’re in the middle of a lease, and when you’re renewing a lease.
Spoiler alert: it is very difficult to negotiate the monthly rent when you’re in the middle of a lease. This is because the landlord or property management company has already projected a set level of income (your rent) into their business model and barring extraordinary circumstances, are not likely to agree to a lower revenue stream.
What if my income has unexpectedly dropped?
If you’re in a situation where you’re in the middle of a lease and your income has unexpectedly fallen such that you can’t cover your rent, you should approach your landlord or property management company immediately. You should not just stop paying your rent.
Japan has very strong tenant protections compared to many other countries. This is especially true if you have been a responsible tenant over the course of an entire lease agreement (usually two years) and have always paid your rent on time.
A landlord is not under obligation to lower your rent because your income has dropped but they may be willing to work out a payment plan with you rather than not receiving any rent at all. However, it’s good to know ahead of time that it is not common in Japan for a landlord to agree to partial or delayed rent payment.
If you stop paying your rent all together, the landlord will first try to collect rent from the person or company you designated as your guarantor. They may also start the eviction process, as explained in depth in this article (What happens when a tenant is delinquent with rent in Japan?).
Where can I go for help?
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 has happened due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
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.
For an in-depth explanation of the Housing Security Benefit, who is eligible, and how to apply, please see this article: What if I can’t pay my rent? How Japan’s Housing Security Benefit can help.
Now let’s loop back to negotiating lower rent in a situation where you have not yet signed a lease or are about to renew a lease.
1. Have the right attitude and approach
When a landlord or property management company is evaluating you as a potential tenant, they are basically trying to make an educated guess as to whether you will be a responsible tenant: someone who pays your rent on time, who keeps the property clean, and who is respectful of your neighbors.
So, if you approach a potential rent negotiation with too forceful or arrogant an attitude, the impression you may project is of someone who may cause trouble if and when you actually become a tenant. This could cause the landlord to pass over your application all together.
A better approach would be to say something along the lines of this: “I really like this property, but my budget is a little tight. Is there anyway you can lower the rent a little?” This softer attitude may tip the scales in a situation where the landlord or agent actually does have wiggle room (but not want to reveal it to you initially).
For example, there are some properties that may have been on the market for several months already and are unlikely to be leased out because the peak rental season has passed (more on this below!). In this case, the landlord may be willing to lower the monthly rent slightly in order to prevent the apartment from sitting vacant; and asking in the right way may actually get you a slight reduction.
Especially when you’re renewing a lease
This softer approach may also help when you’re renewing a lease and are trying to lower your rent. This is because it is expensive for a landlord or property management company to turn over a property. They may lose at least one month’s rent and may have to spend money renovating the property or for advertising in order to find the right tenant. It is much more efficient for them to simply renew the lease with you. If you’ve been a good tenant, with the right approach you may be able to negotiate a lower monthly rent. But again, there are no guarantees.
2. Know how to leverage “less desirable” property features
In general, certain features of a property or building will make it less desirable from a renter’s perspective.
These are the main ones:
- Older properties
- Units on the first floor or lower floors of buildings
- Properties far from the station (for example, 20-minute walk or more)
- Buildings with multiple vacant apartments
- Non-standard or oddly shaped floor plans
- Apartments with older appliances and fixtures
However, because landlords (and tenants) are aware of these factors, the advertised monthly rent likely already reflects these “less desirable” features. For this reason, even if you’re looking at a less desirable apartment, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can easily negotiate the rent.
The point is to balance these factors against price by looking at comparable properties or buildings in the neighborhood. Of course, this is easier said than done. Here are some things to consider:
- If you look at two relatively similar properties in the same neighborhood, you may find that one has slightly lower rent than the other. This could due to any number of things, but you can certainly use it as a negotiating point by mentioning the comparable property.
- Some buildings may have multiple vacant units, which from the landlord’s perspective is usually not a good thing (it means loss of potential income). When you are doing a property viewing , you may want to ask, “Are there any other vacant units in the building?” or “When did the last tenant move out?” The property manager may end up showing you a less expensive unit. You can also use the answer to these questions to open up a rent negotiation, knowing that one of the key jobs of a property manager is to keep a building leased up.
- Be aware that the position of an apartment in a building does affect the rent level. In general, the top-floor units in a building will have slightly higher rent than those on the first or second floor. Corner units also usually have higher rent, as well as those with better views. For this reason, you may not be able to negotiate rent for might at first seem to be a “comparable” unit.
3. Timing is key
Know when the off-peak season is
The peak rental season in Japan is from January to March because the business and school year in Japan start on April 1st. Employees and students moving to another city or within a city all need to have their homes in order before they start their new job or school year.
The slowest part of the year is from May to October. This means that if a property manager hasn’t rented out a unit by around April, it may stay vacant until the fall.
You can use seasonality to your advantage as a renter. If you are looking to sign a new lease over the summer, you’re basically looking during the best time of the year from a renter’s perspective. Landlords and property managers are much more amenable during this time to being a little flexible because, as mentioned above, they do not want their properties sitting vacant.
When you’re renewing a lease
Lease renewal time is the best time to possibly negotiate the terms of a lease. A few months before your lease is set to expire, take a good look at your lease conditions and consider how happy you are in your current place. If you like where you are living but think that the rent is a little too high, you have the opportunity to negotiate the monthly rent before you sign the lease renewal.
If you would like to try to negotiate your rent, contact your property manager or landlord and tell them that you really want to stay in the property but would like to ask whether they would be open to lowering the rent. There are no guarantees, but as mentioned above, if you have been a good tenant, your landlord may be open to negotiation. However, you also need to be prepared for them to say “no”. For this reason, you also need to balance whether you think it’s worth it to possibly cause ill will with your property manager or landlord.
When the building has been sold or inherited
When a property has been sold or inherited the new owner may be open to re-negotiating lease terms, so this is another time when you be able to approach your landlord or property manager.
When there has been a substantial change in the surrounding environment
One of the factors affecting how rent levels are set is the surrounding environment, including nearby shopping, dining, and entertainment venues. So, for example, if a large supermarket in your neighborhood has closed, you may consider approaching the property manager (at lease renewal time) to ask whether they would considering lowering the monthly rent.
Conversely, there are also negative environmental factors. For example, what if a large (and noisy) pachinko parlor were to be built right next to your building? This would likely detract from the quality of life and may make it more difficult for empty apartment units to be leased out. You may be able to use this as a reason to ask for a lower monthly rent; but again, timing is important, so it may not be possible to bring up the issue until your lease renewal.
Lead photo: iStock 1205213679