In the last few posts we’ve ragged a bit on UR, specifically their dodgy ties to outside providers like Tokyo Gas and local cable outfits, but that shouldn’t be interpreted as disillusionment. For all its anal bureaucratic culture and general air of mismanagement, Japan’s only national semi-public housing corporation is also the only place in Japan where renters get a fair shake. We found that out when we received the refund for our security deposit a few days ago.
We moved from a UR high-rise in Tokyo to a low-rise UR complex in northern Chiba Prefecture. UR makes it relatively easy to move from one of its buildings to another one. The tenant doesn’t have to go through the screening process again (unless he/she is moving to a decidedly more expensive residence), and the security deposit (shikikin) that was paid for the former apartment is transferred to the new one, with the difference either being made up by the tenant or refunded to him/her. In our case it was the latter. Though the new apartment is the same size as the one we rented in Tokyo, it is almost ¥70,000 cheaper per month. The security deposits for UR typically amount to the equivalent of three months’ rent, which is a bit higher at the moment than security deposits for private rentals, but the important thing to remember about UR is that they don’t charge “gift money” (reikin) or contract renewal fees (koshinryo), and also don’t require guarantors or co-signers.
Of course, security deposits being what they are and Japanese renter protection laws being what they are (i.e., virtually non-existent) you can’t expect to get your deposit back when you move out. And while we’ve heard lots of horror stories about landlords simply keeping the security deposit with no real explanation, our limited experience has been that most are up front about it. But that means the tenant should be up front as well. Unlike in the West, where tenants basically rent the right to reside in an apartment or house and the owner has the responsibility of maintaining the property, in Japan normal wear-and-tear is the “responsibility” of the tenant. So if an apartment has to be repainted or repapered after a tenant leaves–and in most cases it does because that’s what time does to an apartment–the landlord feels it is within his right to charge that expense to the tenant. Twice in the past, we’ve had landlords who tried to charge us for “damage” that had more to do with the age of the structure or poor design choices (applying kurosu, or wallpaper, directly to concrete walls) than with our neglect, and because we resisted we got out of paying for it. (In at least one of these cases, our success had something to do with the fact that one of us is a foreigner–you can bet that landlord will never rent to one again) Even normal repairs are the responsibility of the tenant. In our UR apartment in Tokyo, the toilet started leaking slightly about a year ago. It’s a common problem, but when we reported it to the building management they said we should contract with a plumber ourselves, which meant they expected us to pay for it.
It was therefore something of a shock–albeit a pleasant one–when we received the breakdown of the charges for “cleaning and repair” for the Tokyo apartment. It came to a mere ¥8,049. This was surprising because we had lived in that apartment eleven years and moved in right after the building was finished. And while we cleaned the place thoroughly when we left, there was some notable damage that was definitely our responsibility. In particular, because many of the electrical outlets were positioned in inconvenient locations (a frustrating UR habit) we attached cable tubes along the tops of the baseboards to hide electrical cables. Our mistake was attaching the tubes, which are adhesive, to the tops of the baseboards and against the wallpaper rather than to the bottom of the baseboards. Consequently, when we removed the tubing (since, according to the UR lease, the tenant must leave the apartment exactly the way he/she found it) it took a noticeable portion of wallpaper with it. We assumed they would have to replace all the wallpaper on that particular wall, but though this damage affected two rooms, they only charged us ¥3,500. The other ¥4,500 was for cleaning the hood fan in the kitchen (which we tried to do, but after 11 years you needed a sand blaster to get the grease off).
So because of the difference between the security deposit we paid for the Tokyo apartment and the nominal security deposit we owe for the new apartment, we got money back–enough to pay for the move and still have a sizable chunk left over. UR rules.