Japan’s Curious First-In, First-Served Rental Process

Going through the process of renting an apartment in Japan? You may have noticed it’s not quite the same as in the west. One of the key differences is the first-in, first-served application screening. Here’s a play-by-play of what actually happens when you want to apply for an apartment.

1. First, you must physically view the property

In 95% of cases, you must inspect the property in person before you apply. This is for the best, as it reduces the risk of unexpected surprises. However, it is understandably frustrating for people moving from overseas that would like to have an apartment ready before they arrive. It may be possible for you to have a friend or colleague view the room on your behalf. Nonetheless, unless your company is the lessee, you will need to be in Japan to complete the application.

2. Your application doesn’t count until you’ve submitted all your documents

The property manager (or “PM”) is the middle-man between the real estate agency and property owner. It’s their job to screen the applicants, and they can’t start until they’ve received your completed application. To avoid any issues, the best thing to do is have everything ready and submit it all at once. If you forget a document (or are asked for something you haven’t prepared) you will have a maximum of 2-3 days to submit it before the property is released to the next applicant. Read more about the documents you need for a rental application in Japan.

3. Once you submit your application, no one else can apply!

Rental applications are judged on a first-in, first-served basis. You may be used to the idea of owners lining up a bunch of applications and picking the person with the best offer or highest income. This is not the case in Japan. The system is surprisingly fair as there is little reason for your application to be rejected, provided you tick all the boxes (and the owner is foreigner-friendly).

If your application is not successful, the property will be released back into the market so another person can apply. Some property managers will accept two or three applicants as backups, but they will not screen the second applicant unless the first one is withdrawn, left incomplete for more than a few days, or rejected.

There are some exceptions to this rule, such as very high-end apartments where several tenants can apply at once and bid against each other. Also, some property managers, such as UR Housing, may block others from applying until you have had the chance to view the apartment, giving you a little more time to get your paperwork in order.

4. In the majority of cases, you pay before you sign the contract

After your application has been accepted, the property manager will hold the property until you transfer your initial payment and sign the contract. In the majority of cases, you will be asked to make the transfer first and then sign the contract later.

It’s natural to feel uneasy about this order of events, however, this isn’t an unusual request in Japan and it’s unlikely that anyone is trying to scam you. If you change your mind at the contract signing, the property manager must return the money to your account. If they were to refuse, they would lose their operating license, and your agency’s insurance would cover the refund.

Once receipt of the contract and initial payment have been confirmed, the process is complete! You’ll receive the keys from your agency 1-2 days before the move-in date.

5. This all means you need to be prepared!

What this all comes down to is that the most well-prepared applicant is going to have the best chance of getting the apartment they want. You need to know what you’re looking for, have your papers ready, and not dilly-dally on the decision making. It also helps to figure out ahead of time how you’re going to send your initial payment.

At Apts.jp, we make sure our clients have all their documents in order so they can be first to submit their application. If you have any questions about the process, please don’t hesitate to contact us via email or chat.

We hope you have found this article helpful!

Read our other articles about the rental process in Japan, or check out our Tokyo apartment listings.