My wife and I have been looking for a condo or a house to rent in Tokyo for the past 3 weeks. Finding a place to rent is a tough process, especially when you’re a family of 5, something that’s definitely not common in Tokyo.
After visiting about a dozen places, we applied for two that we really liked. This involves some minor but non trivial paperwork, especially with a few insurance and guarantor companies, as part of a preapproval process.
We were happy to have found a place. And then it happened: both landlords rejected our applications. The first one was apparently because somebody else had applied to the house a “few hours” before us. When we asked to be put on the waiting list just in case, the landlord refused without giving any reason (we did not interact with the landlords directly in any of these cases. In both cases, it’s the real estate agencies acting as proxies and telling us there’s “nothing they can do”, which is much easier to do than manning the f… up and let us speak directly with the landlord).
In the second case, the answer was clear: “we’re sorry, the landlord does not want to rent to foreign people”.
This was a shock. Not that I wasn’t aware of the rampant xenophobia among house owners in Japan, but in the past, the real estate agencies I’ve worked with had done a good job at concealing it from me, by not even showing me places they knew I would be rejected from. (Let alone having me go through the application form for these places)
What annoys me the most is that 80% of our household is Japanese. I’m the only foreigner in the family, sadly everything needs to be done in my name: my wife doesn’t have any income and as such she cannot be the one signing the contract. In the past, when it was just the two of us and she still had a paid job, we would use her name to avoid any trouble.
I’m also not given a chance to show the landlord that I have a very stable financial situation, and that I have a perfect track record both as a tenant and as the owner of a condo in Japan myself.
I’m back to the pain I was going through back in France, trying to find a decent condo as a student. Except at the time I can understand how I represented some sort of financial risk for any landlord. Nowadays, we could probably buy the guy’s house in cash and still have a net worth above the average Japanese household. Setting aside overall wealth, my income, which both landlords have had an opportunity to see, should be proof enough that I can afford the rent.
I’ve heard multiple times that rather than racism, the problem is that landlords here are worried that foreigners won’t follow the rules and cause troubles with the neighborhood, or that communication will be difficult. None of these apply to me, as I’ve lived in Japan for a decade, speak the language reasonably well, and have a Japanese wife. Obviously, I’m not given a chance to make that case to the landlord, since the real estate agencies won’t let us speak to him.
This kind of discrimination has a real cost: this limits the choices I have in finding a place that meets our life and financial goals. Whatever we’ll have to settle with will be further from the office, or more expensive, or be less comfortable. Each of these have a direct cost or an opportunity cost. More importantly, we’ll have to live in something that’s our “backup plan”, knowing that our first choice was refused for a totally arbitrary reason.
This is one data point in favor of buying our own place sooner than later, so we don’t have to deal with this kind of crap in the future.
And of course, it’s also a good reminder that as a white male, I have it very good 99% of the time when it comes to discrimination, anywhere in the world. I can’t imagine how it is for people who have to endure racism on a regular basis.
I’ve actually asked my company to plead in my favor to the landlord. If he changes his mind, I’m not sure we’ll actually want to sign the contract though. It could be a tough decision.