In a recent letter to the editor of the Asahi Shimbun a landlord told the story of an elderly tenant of his. The woman was an acquaintance of his mother who lost her apartment when the building she lived in was demolished. She was living on welfare and the letter writer’s mother offered her one of the smaller apartments in her building at a lower rent than normal, presumably as a favor to an old friend. She didn’t charge her a deposit or any gift money.
Eventually, the tenant died, and the landlord could not locate any close relatives. All her worldly possessions were in that apartment. His mother called the local authorities, who told her that when a person receiving public assistance died the cremation costs would be borne by the local government, but as far as disposing of the deceased’s possessions, that was the responsibility of the property owner. And since the mother had not asked her friend for a deposit and she had no savings, they would have to dispose of the effects and clean the apartment with their own money. (As it happens, the tenant was in the hospital for the last several months of her life and was unable to pay her rent during that time also.)
In the end, the man wrote, he paid around ¥150,000 out of pocket to clean up the apartment, which doesn’t sound like very much, but without a system to address such situations, it’s likely that landlords are not going to rent properties to elderly people of little or no means since they might get stuck with a huge cleaning bill if the tenant dies suddenly. And who can blame them?