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Adventures in Renting as a ‘Gaijin’ School Owner

With rental discrimination being legal, renting school locations and teacher apartments can be difficult for ‘gaijin’ (foreign) school owners in Japan. I’ll write about three of my experiences and what I learned from them.



Experience 1 –
Soon after taking over MY English School in 2008, we were looking for an apartment for our new teacher. My wife, who is Japanese, went to several realtors and found a very good place. Everything was going fine–until they found out the renter would be a foreigner. We were then told the landlord had problems in the past with foreign renters. We contacted several agencies listing the same apartment and were given the same reason for refusal. We weren’t able to discover who the main listing realtor was. The apartment was by far the best we had found, however, and I wasn’t willing to give up that easily.


Using public records, we discovered who the landlord was. The records didn’t list a phone number, but did have an address—so we paid a visit during dinner time. The landlord was home. He said he doesn’t discriminate against foreigners, but that someone else might be interested and we should check with the realtor in the morning. He called the main listing realtor on the phone (or at least pretended to) and told them we would come the next day, if the apartment was still available. My wife noticed that the same realtor had been open on our way to the landlord, so we went that night instead. The realtor didn’t know anything about our conversation with the landlord (suggesting the landlord’s phone call was a ruse), but told us that as employers of the teacher neither of us qualified as a guarantor for the apartment. My wife then called her father, a local high school teacher, who agreed to be the guarantor. Running out of excuses, the realtor relented and we were able to sign the apartment lease papers.


What I learned:
 Having a Japanese person look for the apartment first will give a better idea of what’s available.
 Rent discrimination may be legal in Japan, but many landlords don’t want to admit that as being a reason for denial. Realtors often don’t have the same reservations.
 If you are persistent, you can sometimes wear the other side down.
 I was very lucky to have a Japanese father-in-law who could step in at the end.



Experience 2 –
When moving our immersion kindergarten to its current, much larger location, we initially didn’t have any problems getting accepted by the new landlord and negotiating the rental terms. When it came time to sign the contract, however, the realtor suggested that maybe a Japanese should be the guarantor for the ¥700,000 ($6,500) in monthly rent. This is despite the fact I am the guarantor for every other MY location as well as for the ¥55 million ($510,000) bank loan being used for construction. When I pointed out that my Japanese wife being the guarantor would be essentially the same level of risk as me, the realtor suggest I ask one of my Japanese staff. (?!!!) Luckily, the landlord said he trusted me as guarantor and we were able to and sign the rental contract.


What I learned:
 Sometimes it is the realtor who is prejudiced, not the landlord. Unfortunately, the realtor is often the first barrier foreigners must navigate.
 It can be helpful to not back down, while reasonably and calmly highlighting one’s qualifications and background.



Experience 3:
Helped a teacher get into a new apartment this past spring. The realtor used a guarantor company, but that company wanted ‘responsible party’ connected to the renter to take responsibility for communication and other issues in case the renter disappeared. The realtor said that, as a foreigner, I didn’t qualify. I asked for the contact details for the guarantor company to follow up and they said I would be fine as long as I spoke Japanese and had permanent residency. They communicated with the realtor and our teacher was able to sign the contract for the new apartment.


What I learned:
 Sometimes realtors assume one being foreign will be a problem, even if it won’t be.
 When you do receive a negative response, it can be helpful to dig deeper to find out what the real situation is.


Between our ten locations and many teacher apartments, I have signed and/or been guarantor for many rental contracts in Japan. There have been no problems with the vast majority of them. These are three times when my being foreign did cause problems, though. I’m lucky each one worked out in the end. I know other ‘gaijin’ school owners who haven’t been so lucky.

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