We’ve received two letters in response to our Aug. 2 Home Truths column about renewal fees, both from landlords who obviously want to relate, as Paul Harvey used to put it, the rest of the story. Both letters were sent to the Japan Times, one for the Readers in Council page and the other indirectly to us with a directive that it not be published. Moreover, the RIC letter was published anonymously, so while both of these persons hold strong opinions as to their own situations as property owners neither seems to feel that strong that they might risk exposing themselves to whatever sort of negative reaction landlords can normally expect. This is probably unavoidable. The landlord-tenant relationship is almost by definition an adversarial one; the dynamic fraught with defensiveness. Both landlords basically wanted to show the difficulties of maintaining properties for rental purposes in Japan, and in the process defended the collection of supplemental fees such as reikin (gift money), shikikin (deposits), and koshinryo (rental agreement renewal fees) as essential to their businesses.
In both cases, however, the letter writers missed the point of the column, which was not to argue that landlords do not have a right to make a profit, but rather that the supplementary fees, in particular renewal fees, are arbitrary and not transparent enough. One of the letter writers focused on gift money, which is the least opaque of the three since a tenant has to pay it before he moves in. He said that he needs this money to pay for repairs over time, which can be very expensive. Our rejoinder was to ask: Why not simply charge a monthly rent that allows him to maintain his property in a proper way? Why does he have to accumulate a reikin “fund” for such repairs, which, after all, are his responsibility? The rental contract, at least in most countries, implies that the tenant pays a certain amount of money for the privilege of living in a dwelling that is owned and maintained by the owner. If the owner is not making enough money from the rent to pay for that maintenance, then he either isn’t charging enough or there is something seriously wrong with the housing market. In this case, it’s probably the latter. As we stated in the column, vacancies are on the rise and will continue to rise. It will become more and more difficult for landlords to collect steady incomes from their properties, and therefore they probably feel justified in collecting supplemental fees because those fees can make up for income they lose due to empty units. But that doesn’t make it any less arbitrary.
The other landlord, the one whose letter appeared in the Japan Times, seemed to feel that the occasional dishonest tenant, the one every landlord fears, justifies the charging of fees to all the honest ones because that’s the only way he can ensure income. He told a dramatic story about a tenant who stopped paying rent. The lost income and legal fees to have him evicted ended up costing the landlord more money than what he had collected from the tenant. Consequently, people should understand why they pay such supplemental fees. We imagine most tenants will react even more strongly against his interests, since he’s implying that all tenants are potential scofflaws and so they should pay these fees before trouble even has a chance to rear its ugly head. There’s nothing much to add to this story except that landlords obviously have it tough and will probably have it even tougher in the future. But that doesn’t make supplemental fees justifiable. There are no laws regulating them, so if landlords want to impose them they can, and in any form or amount they want to. In that regard, any sort of defense of the practice can’t help but come across as self-pity.