Annals of cheap: UR apartments to die for

June 10th, 2010 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Who ya gonna call?

Who ya gonna call?

Not to keep dwelling on the morbid, but one of the inevitable consequences of a rapidly aging society is that people dying alone in their homes is becoming more of a conspicuous phenomenon. There’s a word for it in Japanese — kodokushi — and it carries a particularly depressing idea, since it’s usually used when someone dies and no one discovers the body right away.

As Japan became a more atomized society following the economic growth period of the ’60s and ’70s, more and more old people have been living in urban apartments by themselves, cut off from their communities and even from relatives. Isolated neighborhood groups often form patrols that keep an eye on elderly people living alone, checking up on them regularly to make sure they’re all right. One firm that works with UR, the nation’s public housing corporation, helps older tenants who find it difficult to move about. For ¥500 a month they take out their garbage for them, a service that doubles as a kind of patrol for obvious reasons.

UR, which reported 613 cases of kodokushi in its 750,000 nationwide units in 2008, has a stake in the issue because many of the people who moved into their residences decades ago are still living there, which means the number of kodukushi cases will only increase. The problem for UR is that Japanese people are very averse to living in places where people have died. In fact, there’s a law that says if you are selling your house and someone died there either by foul play or suicide, you have to mention it to perspective buyers. (If it was natural causes you’re off the hook.) UR, or at least the part of UR that covers Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures, has taken the bull by the horns, as it were, and is actually offering “special rental apartments” where the previous tenant died on the premises, called tokubetsu boshu jutaku, at half price for one or two years. So if you don’t believe in ghosts or aren’t otherwise superstitious, there are bargains to be had.

Most of these available units are older, less appealing places, but, for instance, a 2DK in Koto Ward in Tokyo, which would normally rent for ¥80,000 a month, is now available for ¥40,000 a month for at least a year. If you go further out to Machida, you can get a 2DK for as little as ¥30,450. And keep in mind that the security deposit (there is no key money or agent fees for UR), which is usually three months rent’s worth, is also based on this half-price. You can browse these units on the UR home page, but you have to apply for them in person at a UR sales office.

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12 Responses

  1. Last year, whenI asked UR if I could apply for one of their available units near the JR Ryogoku Station, I was refused. I am 62 years old. I speak and read Japanese. I am gainfully employed. The reason I was given is that I am not Japanese.

    My Japanese ex-wife who kindly went with me to inquire about the UR apartment unit was also disappointed by UR’s attitude.

  2. That’s terrible, and wrong. I know a number of non-Japanese who live in UR residences. Some are married to Japanese but some aren’t. There is nothing in UR’s contracts that stipulate the tenant must be Japanese. Either the person you talked to doesn’t know the rules or there was some misunderstanding. I would suggest calling the UR office and complaining.

  3. I live in a lovely peaceful neighborhood where almost all of the buildings are UR. A few of the residents are foreigners, including a good friend from Ethiopia. As far as I know, the UR system doesn’t discriminate at all against non-Japanese applicants, although it obviously helps if you can speak and read Japanese (or have a spouse who can help you with the paperwork). If you feel you were treated badly by the system then please lodge an official complaint. And please don’t judge all of Japan by this one experience!

  4. I am an English teacher working for the JET Program in Kobe and living in a UR apartment, contracted for me and 50+ foreigners.

  5. I lived in UR apartment in Shinagawa- Ku. Yashio Park Town for 7 years adn I am an Indian. And there are too many foreigners living there.

  6. Lived in UR for several years. English, was single then. Very helpful staff, no problem at all. Lovely folk.

  7. What does UR actually mean?

  8. It stands for Urban Renaissance.

  9. The last UR apartment that we rented was just a taxi meter from Tokyo Station – a 35 floors building. Its first five floors housed a Senior Home and the floors above were rental. Senior citizens had their own entrance and elevators and we could see them when they brought to the nearby matsuri-s or weekends, when their children came to see them and brought them outside. It was a daytime perfection of older citizen lining up near our entrance, taking some sun rays and greeting us. Perhaps the UR architects designed it with the idea that people can live in the same place in the above floors and enjoy their senior days downstairs.

  10. I am in the process of applying for a UR apartment. The staff are very helpful, but they do like you to take a Japanese speaker if you can’t speak that much Japanese. As far as I can tell, the only issues that might stop people getting a UR apartment would be related to your visa and your income.

    The whole system is very fair, with no key money, no guarantor, and it is open to anybody. I don’t think there are renewal fees either – most private housing has the crazy one month extra rent as a ‘renewal fee’ every two years!

  11. I also have lived many years in an Urban Renewal apartment and know of other non-Japanese renting UR units. I think any refusal to rent to non-Japanese can be ascribed to personal issues of the agent contacted rather than UR policy. As Miko suggests, lodge an official complaint.

  12. I want UR housing in Ryogoku. Go back there Lusty and try again. I’m sure you can successfully apply. I might in line behind you.

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