Bilingual Real Estate Agents Answer Your Questions on Renting an Apartment in Japan from Overseas

Real Estate Japan recently conducted an email interview with staff from Sumaino SEIKA, a multilingual real estate brokerage with offices throughout Japan.

We submitted questions to Sumaino SEIKA from people who are planning or hoping to move to Japan sometime this summer or fall. The answers have been edited for clarity and length.

If you are planning a move to Japan, the Q&A below is a great way to understand the basics of what a move will entail.

The staff at Sumaino SEIKA are friendly, experienced, multilingual professionals who can help you with more in-depth questions, including, of course, helping you get started with your home search. Please use the form at the bottom of the page to contact them if you are looking to rent an apartment in Japan!

1. I’m currently overseas but am hoping to come to Japan later this year to start a study abroad program/study at a language language school. Do you have any advice for when I should start looking for an apartment? Can you help me find an apartment from overseas?

In general, you should start searching for an apartment about two months before your desired move-in date.

It usually takes about one month for a tenant to completely vacate an apartment once they give notice, so there aren’t that many properties available three months in advance.

Another thing to know is that when you submit a rental application for a vacant apartment, most landlords will only allow you to specify a move-in date about two weeks from the application date. In order for you to hold the apartment you would have to pay rent from the specified move-in date until you can actually come to Japan to occupy the room.

So, timing the apartment search, finding a suitable property, and picking the appropriate move-in date are all important considerations when you’re planning ahead for a move from overseas.

Even in the current environment, the two-month rule continues to hold. So, for example, if you are planning to move to Japan in September, July is a good time to start looking for an apartment.

This brings up the question of whether you can lease an apartment from overseas. The answer is, yes, you can but there are many fewer properties where landlords will allow overseas applications. This is because of the difficulty of doing the required due diligence on a prospective tenant who is currently overseas, including such things as having a local contact phone number and address and verifying whether you have sufficient income to pay the monthly rent.

At Sumaino SEIKA, we do have information on properties that allow overseas applications, so we would be able to help you with an apartment search before you come to Japan. Please feel free to contact us using the contact form below.

Sumaino SEIKA Osaka branch office staff, photo courtesy of Sumaino SEIKA

2. Do I have to have a Japanese guarantor to rent an apartment in Japan? What if I don’t know anyone who can be my guarantor?

In recent years, it’s more common for landlords to require tenants to use a guarantor company, instead of asking tenants to name their own guarantor.

Guarantor companies generally charge between 50% and 100% of the monthly rent to guarantee a two-year least contract. For example, if your monthly rent is ¥60,000, a guarantor company will charge a fee of between ¥30,000 and ¥60,000 to guarantee your lease; this fee is due when you sign your lease. There is also a guarantor renewal fee of about ¥10,000, which is charged every one to two years, depending on the company.

A guarantor company will do a proper due diligence before they can be the guarantor on your lease application.

It’s also important to know that many landlords require you to provide a local (Japanese) emergency contact person and phone number on the lease application itself. If you are moving to Japan for the first time, it may actually be more difficult to provide a local emergency contact person than to find a guarantor company.

At Sumaino SEIKA, we can introduce many properties that don’t require either a guarantor or emergency contact and which are relatively easy for foreign nationals to be approved for, so please feel free to contact us.

3. I have a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) but haven’t gotten my visa yet. Can I apply for an apartment with just a COE?

The basic rule is that you cannot apply for an apartment in Japan until you at least have your Certificate of Eligibility (COE). Some landlords and property management companies will require to see your actual visa.

It really depends on the discretion of the landlord or the company managing the specific property you’re interested in. The COE/visa issue has a lot to do with the specific tenant screening standards set for a particular property.

However, there are landlords that do allow you to apply with just a COE, including some properties that Sumaino SEIKA directly owns or manages. We’d be happy to help you with your specific situation.

4. I plan to move to Japan with my pet dog/cat. Can you help me find a pet-friendly apartment? Are there extra expenses involved?

Yes, Sumaino SEIKA can help you find a pet-friendly apartment!

Here are a few points to know when looking for rental properties that accept pets.

Although the number of pet owners in Japan is increasing, the number of pet-friendly or pet-negotiable rental properties is still fairly limited. Since you have fewer possible properties to choose from, you will likely have to spend a little more time finding a suitable place. Patience is key.

When an ad says that the property is “pets negotiable” it means that we will consult with the landlord or property manager to see what kind of pet(s) are acceptable. In almost all cases, you will have to pay an additional month’s deposit in order to have a pet dog or cat.

In some cases, the pet deposit can be an additional two months’ rent or more. Some landlords, for example, may require two months’ additional deposit for you to have a cat because of the greater likelihood they will scratch doorposts, wallpaper, flooring, and tatami, compared to dogs.

A “pets negotiable” apartment may mean that the landlord only allows dogs, only allows cats, allows both, or specifies the number and size of the pet that is permitted (for example, “one dog under 20kgs”).

When you’re looking for a pet-friendly apartment don’t forget to consider the neighborhood amenities, such as whether there’s a nearby park where you can walk your dog and where the nearest vet clinic is located. Minimizing commute time could also be a factor in what property you choose, in order to limit the amount of time your pet has to spend by themselves.

Sumaino SEIKA Fukuoka branch office, with COVID-measures in place, photo courtesy of Sumaino SEIKA

5. Please tell us a little about SumainoSeika and what makes your agency different.

First, our staff is able to help clients in many languages, including English, Korean, Chinese, French, Russian, and Turkish. Of course, we can also communicate in Japanese.

Second, one of our areas of specialization is providing a wealth of information and listings for properties that are relatively easy for foreign nationals to pass the tenant screening process. Some of these properties are directly owned by Sumaino SEIKA.

Finally, we have offices throughout Japan, so we can help you search for properties nationwide. Our offices are in the Tokyo and Yokohama metropolitan areas, Osaka, and Fukuoka.

6. Are there any special promotions or discounts that you are currently running that we should let our readers know about?

Yes, there are! Depending on the monthly rent of the property, we may be able to give a rent discount to readers who mention this article when you contact us to help you with your home search. We may also be able to offer you a referral fee for introducing prospective applicants to us. Please feel free to get in touch with us!

To see a list of rental properties available through Sumaino SEIKA, please click the links below:

Sumaino SEIKA Tokyo metro area (including Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa)

Sumaino SEIKA Osaka

Sumaino SEIKA Fukuoka

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    Lead photo: Sumaino SEIKA Shinjuku Branch staff, photo courtesy of Sumaino SEIKA