When you rent a non-public residence in Japan, you normally need from three to seven months worth of rent to move in. First, of course, you need the first month’s rent. Then you have to pay a security deposit that’s the equivalent of one to three months’ rent. Japanese landlords also demand something unique called key money or gift money, which is basically a non-refundable bonus. This, too, can be the equivalent of one to three months’ rent. And then there’s the realtor’s fee, which is usually one month’s rent. On top of all that, you also need a guarantor. In Japan, the guarantor is either the company you work for or a parent. In the case of the former, it has to be a full-time employer who usually also pays the rent; and while the latter is self-explanatory, it makes no difference if your father, say, is bankrupt and living on the street. If you have neither a full-time job nor a parent (either because your parents are dead or you’re a resident alien or you just don’t talk to the folks any more), then you have to hire a guarantor company, which will guarantee your rent for a fee, usually about half a month’s rent every time you renew your rental agreement, which in Japan is usually every two years.
Obviously, if you work part-time or are sporadically employed, as are an increasing number of people in today’s Japan, there’s no way you can accumulate enough money to rent an apartment, but there’s a new business that’s emerged in the past ten years called “zero-zero bukken,” which is shorthand for “zero deposit, zero gift money.” To move into these rental units you only need the first month’s/week’s rent. The apartment management provides the guarantor, and there lies the rub.
Usually, zero-zero tenants sign a contract with the guarantee company that they rarely read thoroughly. The contract states that a tenant can be evicted if he or she is late with the rent by even one day. When that happens a notice is posted on the door of the unit, and if the tenant does not respond within the short time designated, the guarantor has a right to enter the apartment, remove all the tenant’s possessions, and change the locks. In order to get back into the unit, the tenant will have to pay a penalty as well as the lock-changing charge.
This practice is actually illegal, since Japanese housing laws state that tenants cannot be evicted without first going through a court process. However, most of the people who patronize these sorts of businesses don’t know that. Because of their precarious employment status, they tend to expect that their housing situation is going to be precarious, too.
According to the Asahi Shimbun, the number of telephone calls made to legal aid organizations regarding zero-zero bukken businesses has doubled in the past year. One 51-year-old man interviewed by the newspaper who lives in the city of Nara said he’s been evicted five times from such establishments in the past two years. It’s obviously a racket that the authorities have not properly supervised, but one legal aid lawyer said that people should “not be fooled” by the relatively low cost of such rental businesses. That’s hardly advice. When the only choice you have is betweeen zero-zero bukken and the street, you’ll probably take your chances.