Renting in Japan … I’ve told you about it several times, it’s not the joy. If the rents can be moderate or even reasonable in the suburbs and as long as one reasonably likes public transport, the entry fees (between deposit, gift to the owner …) are often very high. Realizing that Japanese real estate is a bit of a jungle, the government has launched a flexible housing program with no rental fees: UR for Urban Renaissance. We made the decision this summer to move into an UR apartment in Chiba.
Amélie Marie in Tokyo has… moved again and this time to an UR apartment in the city of Yachiyo, Chiba. If every two years or so I have to move, this time I did … very hard. We have changed city, prefecture and environment. The total.
Apartment UR, kezako?
Until now, all my apartments belonged to the private rental park, which is to say a bit of a scam. In the center of Tokyo where we wanted to stay, there is hardly any other choice, unless you want to share a flat. This time, we decided to try the semi-public real estate rental stock managed by an independent administrative body called UR for Urban Renaissance.
It is this expression which is preferred by its rather long title of 独立 行政 法人 都市 再生 機構 in Japanese. In 2014, UR agency managed around 750,000 properties in Japan and arguably more today.
Not only is UR flexible, but they don’t discriminate: accommodations are available to everyone, including foreign residents, as long as you are financially able to pay the rent.
The UR agency does not charge any application fees, contract renewal fees, courtesy fees (the famous 礼金 that we pay the owner in normal times) and does not ask for a guarantor.
Is it easy to rent in UR?
Yes, as long as you understand Japanese well enough to navigate it when signing the file or go through an UR agency with English speaking staff. Not knowing Japanese in itself is not a barrier, but you would be hard pressed to find your way around.
The study of the file is frankly fast. We met all the criteria so we signed the contract the same day we submitted the supporting evidence.
Is it similar to the HLM in France?
I am not sure that I can answer this question with any certainty. I am tempted to say that basically no, UR is not the equivalent of an HLM because the rents for UR apartments are indexed to the market and can be very high. Within the same building, you can have several ranges of housing, sometimes arranged in partnership with Muji or Ikea.
In form, it is a bar of buildings, often grouped together with small parks and play areas for children. Access to the space between these buildings, although uncontrolled, is in principle not allowed to outsiders. Animals are not allowed, for example, the neighborhood cannot walk their dogs there.
The creation and development of the UR agency corresponded to the post-war period during which cities developed rapidly and faced a housing shortage. The houses give way to buildings which can accommodate more people. But access remains difficult and expensive.
The concept behind UR is to compensate for the lack of housing as well as to fight against the difficulty of access to renting for certain minorities. Owners are not gentle with families, young adults, the elderly and single mothers. This “urban renaissance” aims to be community-based and inclusive, for a better society.
During my research, I therefore came across apartments indicated as being available only for certain social categories, because they were particularly suited to their needs.
First come, first served
A great advantage of finding accommodation through the UR system (on the online site or in a branch) is that the accommodation is immediately made unavailable when you book a visit. You are therefore guaranteed to visit it without anyone else being able to submit a rental file for the same accommodation. No risk that, on D-Day, the UR apartment is gone (a very common mishap in Japan).
This setting aside is also a disadvantage because it obeys the law of first come, first served. However, all UR buildings are not equal in terms of quality. The program was founded in 1955. Some buildings have aged and even if the manager takes care of them, you can find rentals without a so-called integrated kitchen system (you have to buy a plate) and with only tatami pieces (this which means: no furniture!). UR in central Tokyo and recent buildings are therefore “taken by storm” with sometimes priority waiting lists.
Why move now?
We both telecommute 100% and no longer had much interest in being in central Tokyo. Make no mistake, I love Tokyo and it remains my city of heart. But working from home in a 1DK (an apartment with one bedroom and a kitchen) was no longer possible.
Like many of you, this eventful year has made us think a lot about our living environment and what we aspire to. We wanted a change of scenery.
Why an UR apartment in Chiba ?!
We spent months going through the ads in different areas of Tokyo, always pushing our research to find a more reasonable rent. We rather wanted to be on the side of Hachioji and Mount Takao. Unfortunately, most of the accommodations we visited were quite old and shabby. To lower our rent, we would have had to go relatively far from my office in terms of transportation. But the eventuality that we are made to come back hovering, I preferred not to have more than 1 hour door to door (farewell cycling in Tokyo!)
We stumbled upon our apartment really at random, in a town we didn’t know and on a train line that we had never taken. It was the first time that I had seen an advertisement for an UR apartment with such promising photos. Located on the 14th floor, premium category (ie freshly renovated) and a large terrace. We booked our tour and went to this suburban / country town a bit in the middle of nowhere. And we absolutely fell in love with the accommodation.
You are happy ?
Absolutely. And I highly recommend considering this rental in Japan.
We had fears, particularly of noise or neighborhood. But I am amazed that in such a large building, we hardly hear anyone. The premises are very clean and maintained every day. Agents serving residents are also present every day in a reception office. At the slightest problem, you have a contact person on site. We have seen a few notices denoting certain hiccups (“no smoking on balconies please”; “do not leave your garbage in the corridors on collection days” etc.), but with 54 apartments per building, this had to happen.
People enjoying community life can join the tenants association. Cultural (calligraphy) and social (picnics, etc.) activities are also organized within the UR which also have rooms fitted out for residents’ meetings.
We are in a somewhat artificial dormitory town. It’s not very sexy. As soon as you leave the main artery of the station, the streets quickly turn to the country road and farewell to the sidewalk. The first few days, we were confused by the lack of development and maintenance of the city itself.
Where we are, the number of families has doubled in 30 years, with a population increase of around 40%. It’s a huge pressure and it goes all over the place. When we walk, we go quickly from the city to the countryside with large fields and suddenly … A group of completely new houses out of nowhere.
As for nature, we are served with landscaped riversides and parks everywhere. My only pet peeve, the golf courses everywhere which rob us of large green spaces!
In terms of commerce, there is no shortage of large supermarkets and pastry shops. Restaurants, on the other hand, are not legion. You have to walk a little more than in Tokyo.
The final word
No one told us, but our balcony gives a fantastic view of Mount Fuji.