Urban Renaissance – So I followed my own advice…

Nearly two years ago, I wrote an article here, listing some Japanese apartment hunting websites. One of the particular websites recommended there was the Urban Renaissance Agency (UR) site, a project in conjunction with the Japanese government. This group managed more than 750,000 rental properties across Japan back in 2014, and this number continues to increase.

As my contract in my current (private) housing lapsed, I decided to look around for a better place. With the rise of Work From Home and the fact that I had been working in a dining room chair in my 1K- which in Japan means eating, sleeping and working in the same room- meant that I was quite sick of my space. A change was in order. And that was where my journey began into using Urban Renaissance’s service.

The key point to understand about UR is that it is primarily intended for residents of Japan. Those with less than one-year visas should consider other options. See my blog post here for information on alternative sites. If you were hoping to bluff their way through the numerous processes all in Japanese without having a decent grasp of the language- don’t. There are plenty of agencies (without any fee for you), who can help you with the various procedures. Some of them even offer kickbacks to you for going through them, and they should be legitimate. This is because the UR agency offers a one-month introduction rebate to the agent who helps you secure an apartment through them.


What’s in it for me, you ask? Well, aside from paying well below market rent for an apartment in any area you’re able to secure one in- you also have extremely low move-in fees:

  • No key money. This is like a “gift” to the landlord- you won’t see that money again! (Usually around 1-2 months of rent.)
  • No guarantor. (Usually around 60,000-100,000 yen.)
  • No “key change fee”. (Usually around 20,000-40,000 yen.)
  • No agent fee. This is your fee to the real estate agency. (Usually around a month’s rent.)
  • No insurance requirement. (Usually around 12,000 yen in Tokyo.)

Well there can’t be that much difference right? Wrong.

Here is a comparison for my apartment through UR vs a similar apartment through the private market. For the sake of comparison, both apartments are 146,000 / month- though in reality UR is usually 15-30% cheaper.

  • Urban Renaissance Agency
  • Key Money 0 (zero)
  • Advance Rent 5,200 to 146,000 (depending on your move-in date)
  • Deposit 292,000
  • Guarantor 0 (zero)
  • Agency Fee 0 (zero)
  • Lock Replacement Fee 0 (zero)
  • Fire Insurance 0 (zero)
  • Initial Cost 297,200 yen-438,000 yen
  • Sunk cost 0 (zero) yen (money lost not directly related to rent or a refundable deposit)
  • Private Market
  • Key Money 146,000
  • Advance Rent 146,000
  • Deposit 292,000
  • Guarantor 78,000
  • Agency Fee 160,600
  • Lock Replacement Fee 22,000
  • Fire Insurance 15,000
  • Initial Cost 869,600 yen
  • Sunk cost 421,600 yen (money lost not directly related to rent or a refundable deposit)

As you can see, this is a dramatic difference. Some further differences include:

  • “No break fee or set move-out time” on UR vs one (1) to three (3) year minimums in the private market.
  • UR accepts requests to renovate your apartment, you can stick nails in the walls and hang things up. Private apartments are extremely strict when it comes to “restoring your apartment to the original condition”.
  • You can leave with 14 days of notice with UR vs thirty (30) to (90) days on the private market.

Okay, I’m in. How do I get this?

Luckily for me, as a non-native (and not very good) Japanese speaker, I had help going through the process of securing an apartment through UR. These steps were:

  1. Find an apartment you like on the UR official website.
  2. Press the “contact us” button on the page “ ネットで今すぐお問い合わせ ”.
  3. Say you would like to see a room, and shortly after, the local UR office will contact you via email.
  4. Make a preliminary application and get the “key paper” which allows you to go to the apartment’s management office and pick up the key to tour. Usually these tours are unattended, giving you half an hour to look around the apartment. This also “secures” you the apartment for a specific timeframe. See below.
  5. Love it? Make an application!

You have to make sure that you understand the maximum timeframes that the agency provides. This is:

  • One week between your preliminary application and your viewing of the apartment.
  • One week between your viewing and signing the contract.

Missing these timeframes results in your application being forfeit and the apartment will go back onto the market.

What documents do I need?

Things you’ll need:

  • Keep in mind that what the local office agent told me and what the UR head office where I made my application told me were different. You’ll probably be told to bring practically everything, but my recommendation is that you should phone ahead to the head office where you’ll be signing your actual contract to see what they need.
  • Things you will need from your company:
    • Confirmation of employment, stamped with the corp seal.
    • Your tax withholding document for the last year (issued in November/December/January depending on your company) and/or the tax certificate from your ward office, stamped with the corp seal. If this is troublesome, you should call the UR head office for the area. Your local UR agency should let you know where to call.
  • Things you will need from your local ward office:
    • A confirmation of your residence (residence certificate).
  • Your passport if you do not have an official stamp and want to sign.
  • Your residence card and visa (which is normally in your passport).
  • Enough cash to cover 2 months of deposit plus a prorated amount to cover the days between the first day of the next month and when you will be moving in.

How quickly should I expect to get approved?

Because of the way the Urban Renaissance Agency works, they don’t need to call your workplace or guarantors. They have a standardised process which allows them to approve your application in less than 5 minutes. This means you sign the contract on the spot, and don’t have to endure a further wait! (For me, I can definitely see this coming in handy for saving on hotel costs whilst trying to find an apartment…)

As for me? My experience overall was absolutely excellent, and I highly recommend giving UR a shot. I just signed my new lease on a 3LDK in a new city yesterday (seperate work room hurrah!) If your expectations are set right, and you find a place you like on the site, you should jump at the opportunity. Good luck!