Landlords getting tough with families of suicides

October 13th, 2010 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Big sleep: Government suicide prevention campaign for salarymen

Big sleep: Government suicide prevention campaign for salarymen

The annual number of suicides in Japan has topped 30,000 for the last 12 years, and according to the Sept. 27 issue of the Yomiuri Shimbun landlords aren’t going to take it any more. The newspaper reports that an increasing number of property owners and realtors are suing families of tenants who kill themselves. Rental units where suicides occur are more difficult to rent out afterward, and in most cases landlords have to reduce the rent substantially to get someone to move in.

The situation has become so dire that a Sendai-based organization called the Japan Suicide Survivors Network has asked the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to pass some sort of law that would protect families of suicides in these instances. In one case, a young woman killed herself in an apartment in Miyazaki Prefecture, and while her funeral was taking place the landlord showed up and demanded ¥6 million so that he could hire a priest to “cleanse” the property. The family, too upset to argue, paid him.

But even when a family has the presence of mind to refute a landlord’s demand, they may have to pay. In another case, a 30-year-old company employee killed himself in a Kanagawa Prefecture apartment and the landlord asked the family to pay him ¥2 million for “repairs” and another ¥5 million for “estimated future losses due to reduced rent.” The family hired a lawyer, but in the end the lawyer suggested arbitration and the family ended up paying more than ¥2 million.

Another landlord demanded ¥120 million, saying that the entire building was “cursed” and he would have to completely rebuild it.

Is this legal? Almost all rental agreements state that the tenant must leave the property in the exact same state as it was when the tenant moved in, so according to a certain way of thinking after a person commits suicide in a rental unit it becomes a kashi bukken (defective property). Also, a landlord is required by law to inform prospective tenants that a particular property was the site of an unnatural death.

(On a related note, while researching this entry we thought about the widely held belief that railroad companies charge families of people who throw themselves in front of trains the amount of money the company loses due to the suicides. It turns out that this story may be an urban myth. Though railways do lose “tens of millions of yen” an hour after a suicide due to reduced ridership and other factors, we could not find any proof that they actually demand that families of the dead persons reimburse them.)

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11 Responses

  1. This is shocking… it sounds more like Yakuza extortion than anything else.
    I thought the US and here in the UK it was bad with a blame culture, but to demand compensation from families because of bad vibes caused by suicides…? it’s cruel!

    I really hope that someone takes a cold hard look at this and stops it.

    I can’t tell you how saddened and shocked I am.


  2. It is good that the Japan Suicide Survivors Network has asked the ruling Democratic Party of Japan to pass some sort of law that would protect families of suicides in these instances.

    I would just like to correct an error in the first sentence of this concerned article on suicide in Japan. It states that, “the annual number of suicides in Japan has topped 30,000 for the last 27 years without a break”. Actually this is not true, it is nearer to 12 years that the annual rate has exceeded 30,000 people each year.

    Mental health professionals in Japan have long known that the reason for the unnecessarily high suicide rate in Japan is due to unemployment, bankruptcies, and the increasing levels of stress on businessmen and other salaried workers who have suffered enormous hardship in Japan since the bursting of the stock market bubble here that peaked around 1997. Until that year Japan had annual suicide of rate figures between 22,000 and 24,000 each year. Following the bursting of the stock market and the long term economic downturn that has followed here since the suicide rate in 1998 increased by around 35% and since 1998 the number of people killing themselves each year in Japan has consistently remained well over 30,000 each and every year to the present day.

    I would also like to suggest that as many Japanese people have very high reading skills in English that any articles dealing with suicide in Japan could usefully provide contact details for hotlines and support services for people who are depressed and feeling suicidal. Useful telephone numbers and links for Japanese residents of Japan who speak Japanese and are feeling depressed or suicidal:

    Inochi no Denwa (Lifeline Telephone Service):
    Japan: 0120-738-556
    Tokyo: 3264 4343

    If you believe that he may be about to attempt suicide you should call the Japanese police:

    Emergency contact numbers:
    Both the police and fire/medical assistance are available 24 hours a day.
    110 is the number to the Police Headquarter Command Post, and 119 is to the Fire Department Command and Control Center. They will take your call, and arrange a police car, fire engine, or ambulance in case of emergency.
    You can dial 110 and 119 for free. Even from a public phone, you do not need a phone card or money. Hope this may be of some help to you.

    Tokyo Counseling Services:

    All the best from Tokyo

  3. There is a long tradition in Japan of the wealthy and powerful displacing responsibility and risk onto the less fortunate who have little choice but to take it.

    Like just about everywhere else on the planet, Japanese landlords should be forced by government legislation to properly assess potential tenants and simply accept the risks associated with renting an apartment.

    It is simply ridiculous that the “landowners” manage to get all of the benefits whilst simultaneously displacing all of the risk onto tenants.
    This behaviour/mentality is simply corrupt in every sense of the word.

    There is a misconception that the Japanese have some kind of magical inner force which drives them all to serve the common good. The Japanese themselves are sadly deluded in believing the same. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Japanese are equally inclined, if not more so, than other cultures to displace responsibility and blame onto others right from day one. Strangers are perceived with the utmost scepticism and none more so that foreigners, particularly non-Caucasian foreigners.

    Landlords in Japan are part of the wealthy “ruling class” and they simply seek to protect their own interests to the fullest extent possible. This is excused in any number of ways but, simply put, concepts like morality, fairness and balance do not enter the equation. Tenants are strangers who belong to a lower, less trustworthy class of people, and thus it is the tenants responsibility to show they are worthy of the good graces of the landlord.

    This mentality is pervasive throughout Japanese society and is also reflected in the country’s legal structure. A structure which protects the powerful with vague language and highly questionable mechanisms of legal recourse. Japanese courts have a 99% conviction rate. A court system “condemned” by international independent monitoring bodies.

    As the poor can not afford the risk of the financial burdens of loosing a legal battle, the wealthy are never challenged.

  4. OK, how about we agree with the above comments that landlords shouldn’t be able to force payment. Are you claiming that their properties are of the same value after the suicide? OK, again no problem. Then the landlords should not have to devulge the fact that a suicide happened on the property. Two way street. But of course there is considerable loss in value. If the same tenant chopped holes in the wall would you agree that they have to pay? Of course. A loss in value is a loss in value.

    Last question. Would you rent a place where a suicide had happened?

  5. Anthony, once I was given the chance to rent a place where an old man had died and his body had not been discovered for some time. Although I personally didn’t have any problem with doing so (the rent had been reduced by one-third, and the landlords were obviously desperate and willing to bargain it down even further), my Japanese family members were so vehemently against the idea that I gave up. There is a definite stigma against leasing properties where sad or violent deaths have occurred. I’ve even heard of a case where the tenants of one whole building moved out because of a murder that took place there, thereby placing the landlord in very dire financial straits.

  6. Anthony, I would rent a place where a suicide happened. Murder, maybe not, because I might be concerned that the murderer might return (paranoid).. But, I am not superstitious, so I would not have a problem renting a place of a previous suicide. Most Japanese are superstitious about violent or `sad’ deaths, because they believe the spirit of the person remains. Since my belief is not a superstitious one, no problem.

  7. I understand where the landlords are coming from, however they need to understand that there is a time and a place to get a recoup of money. Not everything has to be addressed right away. The family has gone through the tragedy of losing someone close to them, the thing that would make them less sympathetic to the landlord’s plight is coming to the funeral demanding money.

  8. James, I certainly agree with you on that. One would hope for a little tact on the part of the landlords. Andie and James, I believe your willingness to rent after a suicide, especially a recent one is the exception rather than the rule. A property almost certainly will lose value. The owner should have some recourse, IMO.

  9. Yes Anthony; The owner should have some recourse… but unless he wants to chase the dead tenant through the nine hells the plaintiff has already gone. Families shouldn’t have to pay for the acts… however thoughtless… of the a relative. If your Dad robbed a bank and vanished overseas should the bank be able to throw you in jail instead?

  10. Suicide is bad karma , this human form of life is a very rare and valuable gift because we have special intelligence which is for the purpose of self realization .

  11. I sympathize for the family, but agree the landlord should be able to recover some of the lost rent. If the rent is dropped by 1/3, say a 50,000 discount, then the landlord will lose 600,000 a year. Pretty significant for any small business person.

    The bank analogy is not really accurate, as this is a monetary situation, and the deceased has an estate from which outstanding debts should be covered (true whenever some dies for any reason).

    The real solution is that all landowners should be required have an insurance policy that covers this situation, and they can add it into the cost of the rent (wouldn’t be much).


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