Living in a Japanese Apartment

Living in Japan: How to Avoid Getting into A Dispute with Your Landlord Over Your Rental Deposit

Apartment rental deposits are one of the leading causes of landlord-tenant disputes in Japan. The landlord either returns a much lower amount than the tenant expects or does not return the deposit at all, claiming that the entire amount was used for repairs beyond “normal wear and tear”.

Below we explain:

  • What your landlord’s responsibilities are with respect to your deposit
  • What your responsibilities are as a tenant
  • The best way to make sure that you’ll get back as much of your deposit as possible.

Is my landlord supposed to return _all_ of my deposit when I move out?

Your landlord is obligated by law to hold your deposit throughout the term of your lease and return the balance to you after deducting:

  • Any unpaid rent
  • Cleaning fees
  • Fees for any repairs beyond normal wear-and-tear

It is important to know that you cannot  opt out of paying end-of-lease cleaning fees, whether you yourself have scrubbed the apartment clean from top to bottom. The average cleaning fee for a studio (1R or 1K) apartment is between ¥20,000 and ¥25,000, but this can vary widely, depending on the property management company and the age and original condition of the building and property itself.

What is considered “normal wear and tear”?

This is the big question.

It is such a big question (problem!) that the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, which is the government body responsible for regulating the real estate industry, has issued “Guidelines on Problems Related to Restoration to Original Condition”.

The key concept here is “restoration to original condition” (genjyou kaifuku, 原状回復). It’s important to understand exactly what “original condition” means and what it doesn’t mean.

What is “restoration to original condition”?

Under the law, the lessee (tenant) is financially responsible for restoring the property to the condition it was in prior to any use where there was

  • Willfully negligent use of the property or
  • Imprudent actions leading to damage,
  • Except for wear and tear beyond normal daily use.

In other words, as a tenant, you are not responsible for wear and tear that resulted from normal, prudent use of the property. “Restoration to original condition” does not mean that you are responsible for “restoring the property to brand new condition”.

The landlord is financially responsible for normal wear and tear; the “fee” for wear and tear is considered to be folded into your monthly rent.

A few examples of what counts and doesn’t count as “wear and tear”

In general, scuffs, marks, dents or fading of color resulting from normal daily use is counted as “wear and tear”.

Examples of what is usually counted as normal “wear and tear”

  • Faded tatami or flooring due to exposure to sunlight
  • Small dents or bumps caused by placement of furniture
  • Scuffs on the wall behind where a fridge or TV was placed
  • The tenant would not be financially responsible for the examples above.

Examples of what is not usually considered as normal “wear and tear”

  • Deep gashes, marks, and scratches caused by a falling object, pets, and so on, that would require a floorboard or wall panel to be replaced.
  • Scratches, stains, and marks caused by the tenant’s failure to clean up a spill or dropping something.
  • Mold resulting from the tenant’s failure to properly clean and ventilate a room, washstand, or bathroom.
  • Water damage caused by the tenant allowing rain water to fall on the floor or wall, by failing to close a window
  • Excessive grease build up in the kitchen caused the the tenant’s failure to regularly clean and use the exhaust fan.
  • The tenant would be financially responsible for the examples above.

Basically, as a tenant, you are responsible for common sense things: regularly cleaning your apartment, taking out the trash, ventilating your rooms, and cleaning the kitchen and bathroom to prevent grease/mold buildup and to keep the pipes from clogging.

How can I make sure I will get back as much of my deposit as possible?

The single most important thing you can do to ensure that as much as possible of our deposit will be returned is to fill out and return the property check list to the property manager (PM) as soon as possible after you move in. Documenting any pre-existing stains or damage is the best way to avoid disputes with the landlord when you move out, to avoid a situation where it is your word against your their’s.

It’s best to do this check before you move any furniture in, if possible, so you can really see the condition of the property.

In some properties, the property manager will give you a form to fill in and return usually within two weeks of moving in. The form will ask you to describe any stains, broken items/fixtures, or irregularities with the property. You should also take photos of any stains or problem items, print these out, and attach them to the form (as well as to to your copy of the lease).

Example of a room check list to be filled in, within two weeks of moving into an apartment. The best way to avoid a rental deposit dispute to document any pre-existing damage.

When you return the form to the PM, you may want to ask them to repair any existing damage and to confirm with them that you will not be held liable for the damage.

Even if you aren’t given a room check list by your property manager, you should do a room check when you move in and submit this information to your PM, with photos attached. Here are some things to look for:

  • Scratches or marks on floors/walls/ceiling
  • Scratches/cracks in lighting fixtures
  • Tears/scratches in screen doors/windows
  • Mold in bathroom/kitchen/laundry area
  • Leaking water/clogs in bathroom/kitchen/laundry area
  • All equipment (air conditioner/water heater/stove/intercom) works
  • Do the doors and windows shut properly and securely?
  • Did the previous tenant leave any items behind?
  • Check the balcony for cracks or left-behind items

Where can I get help with a dispute with my landlord?

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government operates a Foreign Residents’ Advisory Center, in English, Chinese, and Korean for consultations about daily life issues in Japan. They ordinarily take inquiries over the phone, but also welcome walk-ins.

English (Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.) 03-5320-7744
Chinese (Tuesday and Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.) 03-5320-7766
Korean (Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.) 03-5320-7700

Please visit their website for details.

Most major city and ward offices in Japan have a foreign residents’ advisory or support service. Please contact your city and ward office for more information.