Whenever I go apartment hunting, somehow Lou Reed’s lyric “somewhere a landlord’s laughing till he wets his pants” ends up playing over and over in my head. Most landlords demand two or three month’s “key money” up front as a gift, and charge a deposit, which isn’t really a deposit at all because they deduct at least half of it as a cleaning fee, even if you leave the apartment spotless. Then you have to shell out another month’s rent to your chain-smoking, half-yakuza real estate agent for his useless middleman role between you and the landlord. Finally, if you want to live in your apartment for more than two years, you have to pay a contract renewal fee of one month’s rent.

Last year, I moved again, and my wife suggested that we try a UR apartment. UR (Urban Reniassance) is a semi-privatized government agency that provides reasonably-priced apartments and houses with no key money, agent’s fees, renewal fees, or guarantors. The building we moved into is kind of ugly from the outside, but the inside is comfortable, and you can find a relatively large, fairly livable apartment if you do a bit of searching.

In Tokyo, one-bedroom apartments start around 50,000 yen, two-bedroom units around 70,000 and three bedrooms at around 100,000 yen per month. There’s often a maintenance fee of between 5,000 and 10,000 per month, and you have to pay a two-month deposit, but there is no key money, no agent’s fee, and no renewal charge. Also, when you move out, the cleaning fee is usually under 10,000 yen unless there is really serious damage.

The only complaint I have about UR is that the older buildings usually don’t have screens on the balconies. I’m not a big fan of air conditioners, so in the summer we have to put up mesh over the windows making it hard to get out to the balcony. The newer buildings don’t have this problem, though.

UR apartments are quite popular, and some people say they’re hard to get into, but we had a choice of two or three buildings in the area we were interested in.

A couple of qualifiers: there is very little service in English, and all the contracts and discussions have to be done in Japanese, unless you happen to find an office where there is an English-speaking staff member. The homepage is mostly in Japanese and none of the search-functions are available in English.

Here’s the link:

http://www.ur-net.go.jp/ (Japanese site)

http://www.ur-net.go.jp/sumainoshiori/english/ (Resident’s guide in English)