Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Maintenance Fees

"Wet paint" signs near the newly-painted step up to our entryway.

If you sign a rent contract in Japan, there's a good chance that a small amount of money will be added to your monthly rent as a "maintenance" fee. Often this fee is around 2000 yen ($17.43) per month. That means that you're forking over a little over $200 a year for this added service.

This fee is supposed to represent shared costs of maintaining the property by all tenants. It doesn't have anything to do with what happens inside your apartment as that is covered by your cleaning deposit. If anything needs to be repaired inside, it'll be deducted from your deposit when you leave.

The entryway to our apartment. The "ceiling" above was freshly painted as was the pipe you see slightly further back than the fire extinguisher. The closest door is our single female neighbor's. The furthest is our single male neighbor's. Our door is obscured by the pipe.

Since our apartment building is small (only 6 units - 3 on the first floor and 3 on the second), there isn't much in the way of maintenance on a regular basis. Mainly, the landlady sweeps up in front of and behind the building about once every 2-4 weeks. Since these are very narrow spaces, it takes her about 10 minutes tops to do both. Other than that, there are two fluorescent lights in the entryway which our maintenance fees are supposed to cover the electricity for and the cost of replacement bulbs. I should note, however, that the one just outside our door flickered for over a year before it was replaced.

Our landlords are nice and helpful people and I couldn't ask for any better but this fee is a complete crock for the most part. There is no way that it costs anywhere near the 12,000 yen a month our landlord's collect from the entire building for them to care for the exterior of the building. The only time when you can see a serious investment in the exterior is on the type of occasion we experienced recently.

The entryway of both the first and second floors as well as the stair railing to the second floor were painted over the last few days. I believe that this is the second full-scale repainting of these areas in the 18 years we've been in this apartment. While I'm sure it takes a bit of money for this sort of remodeling, I'm also sure it doesn't cost as much as 9 years worth of maintenance fees for 6 apartments. I guess the money may also cover certain other types of major repairs such as fixing the roof or replacing the crappy plastic floors on the verandas (they're very thin and not safe to stand on) but I've not noticed anyone making such repairs since we moved in.

The paint in the "ceiling" above the entryway had been peeling horribly over the last 5 years or so. I'm talking about huge flaking curls, not some tiny little cracks so it definitely could have used a freshening up. I'm guessing that one of the apartments above us must be due for a vacating though because I can't see why they'd choose to spiff up the place now after letting it go for so long unless another potential tenant was going to look the place over.

To be honest, I didn't really care much about the peeling paint and I don't think most people looked up and saw it. In fact, the two days of painting were by far more annoying than the peeling paint. The entrance to our place is incredibly narrow and painting the "roof" over the walkway required it to be entirely blocked off as a man had to prop up and stand on a scaffold to reach it. There were also paint fumes wafting in our front window for about 48 hours and they still haven't dissipated entirely. I'm pretty sure I'm a little dumber from brain cell death due to inhalation of these fumes so excuse any typos that get through from this point forward.

Not everything that could have used a touch up got the once over though. The glass and fence pictured above separate our apartments from the landlord's garden and the glass is cracked and the frame disintegrating but it hasn't been repaired. It gives the place a little bit of an "abandoned building" look on that side.

Despite how it may sound, I'm not really complaining about my rent or even having to pay a shared up-keep expense. I just find it slightly annoying that this "fee" is actually just a way to increase your rent by tacking on a few extra thousand yen each month but calling it something other than what it is. I guess it's a little bit like those "postage and handling" fees you pay for items you order through the mail which are a great deal more expensive than the shipping price you see on the label and would only be justified if the person doing the packing was making $50 an hour and the box cost about $2. You know you're getting overcharged for something just so that the person you're paying carries zero risk of ever spending more than you're being asked to pay.


Miko said...

Ooh, at the moment there's a huge scandal going on in my (large, publicly subsidised) apartment complex regarding embezzled maintenance fees. It's gotten to the stage that the accused are posting official notices all over the place proclaiming their innocence, etc. The local rumour mill is working overtime on this one. I'm the only one who is *not* shocked and outrage by the whole thing. Like you, I always knew it was a big scam. And by the way, I've lived in several large apartment complexes before this one, and eventually a scandal like this always turns up regarding maintenance fees. It soon dies down, and people forget the whole thing. Yes, how very Japanese.

You haven't moved around an awful lot, otherwise you'd know about the "cleaning fees" required by many landlords upon vacating a residence here. Usually they are equivalent to one month's rent. And usually they are a big crock, because most renters are required to leave a residence in perfect, pristine, spic-and-span condition upon vacating a premises, otherwise they will lose their original deposit (key money), equivalent to one or several months' rent.

I'm forking out roughly $300 a year in maintenance fees, along with more than 200 other households in this block. We share three elevators and two stairwells, and none of them are kept particularly clean. However, at rent this cheap, we can hardly complain! If I were you, I'd be extremely annoyed, though.

What is really happening to all that money?

Shari said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. When I say that my commenters add qualitatively to my posts, yours is exactly the type of thing I'm talking about!

I haven't moved at all since coming to Japan so I have never had to pay a cleaning fee though we did have to leave one month's deposit for cleaning. My husband and I long ago wrote off that money. In our case, we figure that we'll be getting our money's worth out of it as it'll be spread across a long time. In fact, at this point, our cleaning deposit would be equivalent to adding only 510 yen a month to our rent!

We've heard that, when you move, an independent evaluation service is supposed to judge the damage to your place based on how long you've been there. They're supposed to judge reasonable wear and tear and factor it into their deductions to your cleaning deposit. Since we've never moved, I haven't experienced this yet but the landlord can't take more from us than he's already gotten. He might keep the entire cleaning deposit but we wrote that off long ago.

I'd probably be more worked up about the maintenance money if we weren't in such as small complex. With 200 units, I'd think the amount of money you had to pay would be lower than what I pay (not higher). I'm sure all that money goes into the owners' pockets and I bet they don't have to prove they use it to care for the buildings.

I guess my rent being so high may have something to do with my attitude. It's 110,000 yen (108,000 + 2,000 maintenance). At that level, the extra 2,000 doesn't seem like such a big deal.

Miko said...

Your rental fees seem extraordinarily high! I've heard that it's typical for Tokyo. I don't know how I'd survive there. The Osaka/Kobe area is not exactly cheap, but it's still nowhere near as high as that. You might pay around 60-70,000 a month for an old 2DK near a station, say. You'd pay the same price for a clean, modern one-room apartment. I'm very lucky. My rent is only 30,000 yen plus 2,500 yen maintenance per month, and there was a huge flap last year when it was raised slightly - this apartment complex is largely populated by elderly singles/couples living on basic pension payments, so many people do feel the pinch, and are wary about any potential misuse of the communal funds, no wonder they were so quick to charge in with accusations of embezzlement.

I actually don't begrudge landlords the cleaning fees, but I am doubtful about the independent cleaning services that are used to justify them. For starters, most private landlords do their own cleaning anyway. And secondly, apparently the independent "evaluators" in question consist of little old ladies wearing spotless white cotton gloves - they run the gloves all over the place, and if they find so much as a speck of dust, then bang! There goes your cleaning fee. Still, I'd rather pay the price and get my original deposit back. Not that I'm planning to move any time soon, mind you! I don't think I have the strength.

CMUwriter said...

I would hate to see that cracked glass everyday I walk out of my apartment. It really does make the place feel like an abandoned building. You would think over the course of you living there that your little fee alone could have replaced all that glass.

It seems like renting in Japan is much more complicated than it is in the States. I pay a security deposit, which is one month's rent, and $50 is taken out of that for a cleaning fee when I leave. If something breaks in my apartment, the landlord fixes it. When I first moved in the place, the toilet tank, which was making crunching noise e.g. broken porcelin, and one day broke – filling the apartment with water and broken tank. The landlord was johnny on the spot fixing the thing.

Shari said...

Miko: Rent is pretty dear in Tokyo and I think ours is average. I hear wages are higher here so it may all come out in the wash. I do envy your rent though! Sheesh, we'd be saving money hand over fist on a rent like that. As it is, our rent is a little less than 1/3 of our income. You're almost certainly doing better on a percentage basis!

cmuwriter: It can be more complicated because of key money and the way in which cleaning deposits are freely taken from for the slightest problem. I have no doubt that Miko's assessment of the situation with independent contractors who assess damage is accurate almost all the time. I have a little more faith in our landlord but it's not something I've had to put to the test. ;-)

That window is not directly in front of our door. It about half covers our door. I didn't really notice how crappy it was until I started looking around at the re-painted stuff. Generally, I pay it no heed. I'm guessing it is considered part of the landlord's property (since he's our neighbor). His house is huge and well-kept and our building is generally okay but that fenced area needs help.

In the U.S., I think you get better responses because of the prospect of being sued. That being said, our landlord fixes anything in the apartment that we ask him to fix so we have no problems at all in that quarter!

Many thanks for both the comments!

tornados28 said...

In the U.S., upkeep of an apartment complex is covered in the rent. Basically your fee is just a part of the rent. They just separate this upkeep fee so the rent sounds better.

I suppose it may actually be better for you to have an actual amount of monthly fees for upkeep. That way you can say to the landlord, "Hey, since we're paying this fee, can you please fix this broken step or railing or whatever".

Overthinker said...

The legal requirement for cleaning is to return it to the situation it was in MINUS "normal" wear and tear - you cannot be made to pay for things that the landlord can reasonably expect to deteriorate over time - there should be any number of sites on the web that discuss this in greater detail. However your cleaning fees are not bound by your deposit - they can take more if needed, either as additional money from you, or from your guarantor.

I have only moved once in 15 years, and was told that because I had been in the place more than ten years, there would be no cleaning fee (in other words, it was beyond the point of "cleaning" and everything would fall under "wear and tear"). However since the landlord decided to pull the place down, I not only didn't have to pay any moving money, but got the last month back as compensation for being forced to move (since I was planning on moving anyway, all this did was make us leave a month earlier).

\110,000 a month? Either your apartment is much bigger on the inside, or you live in a really good location.

Shari said...


Hi there and thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

Some of the points you mention were addressed in previous comments/posts on my apartment (how such fees are calculated, for instance). However, I didn't know that more than 15 years in the same place might get us off the hook on the cleaning deposit. Given that the landlord has all the power, I'm not too sure that we could fight it if he decided to take it all anyway. At any rate, we long ago wrote off the deposit so it'll be a pleasant surprise if we get any or all of it back (we've been in the same place for 18 years).

Our location is very good (8 min. from Shinjuku by subway and on the Chuo line) and I'm not sure you can determine anything about the size from the exterior but I've posted a layout and pictures in other posts. It's a 2DK (6 mat kitchen, 6 mat bedroom, 4.5 mat living room). Pricing other apartments in our area shows that it's pretty average for this location. We might be able to find a place moderately cheaper (10,000-15,000 yen less) if we really tried but the layout would likely be less appealing. We're incredibly happy not to live in one of those tunnel places which waste a lot of space on hallways and claim it's a bigger apartment.

Overthinker said...

After reading the more recent entries, I looked down at the perennial favourites and took the "tour". My old apartment used to have that stuff on the walls - an American friend named it "drip" for its tendency to drip off the walls. Ghastly stuff if you have furniture that rubs up against it, but you can buy the stuff (basically shredded paper pulp stuff) in home handyman stores and fix up the damaged bits yourself.

Also, my experiences with moving after 10 years were my experiences: that is, I cannot guarantee that your landlord will act the same. I can only offer anecdotes. You might want to check with your landlord just in case.

8 mins from Shinjuku is pretty good. I'm over four hours, including using the Shinkansen, but then I do pay about half your rent (for a 2DK: 7 mat kitchen, 6 mat washitsu, 7 mat youshitsu; a bit bigger than yours perhaps but far more cluttered). My apartment is one of those narrow ones with a front passage, but it was not quoted in the agent's area so I can't complain about that. My old place was like yours in that you stepped directly into the kitchen, but I do think the corridor is classier (my wife was basically sold on this place as soon as she stepped inside). And we use one wall for storage anyway. And windows - who needs 'em?

Oh, and my wife is very vocal when something goes wrong - when we moved in, there was a flickering entryway light in the public area, and she hassled the agent quite a bit about replacing it. Same with a water leakage issue we had from the apartment upstairs. So I guess we get our maintenance fee's worth.... Actually I just looked up the contract to see what mine is, but it's "komi" in the rent (which is \56,000 including one "free" parking spot - this is one reason I don't live in Tokyo (^_^)). My old place was 2,000 a month, and we had regular (every three to four years) repainting of the concrete floored common areas and a local old lady to do the sweeping and stuff.

Shari said...

It's interesting how different people are concerned about different things. My husband and I just aren't all that bothered by flickering lights or crumbling walls. We could complain and have them fixed but that's more effort than we generally care to go to, oddly enough. Our landlord is so helpful when we really need something that I guess we just "save" their assistance for things higher on our priority list.

Also, we couldn't live without windows. We like that "fresh" (well, smoggy) air! ;-)

We've also considered moving a bit further from center to get lower rent but the bigger equation keeps us here. Primarily, my husband and I are addicted to each other and want to spend as much time together as possible and keeping his commute as short as possible is really important to us (he works in Shinjuku). Also, being on the Chuo line gets me more referrals for private students from the agency I work with. If I moved further out, I think I'd probably get about 1/3 the business that I do now. If these weren't concerns for us, we'd probably have moved further out long ago to reduce our rent.

By the way, my apartment tour is outdated. It's cleaner and less cluttered now. ;-) I've been ditching furniture to make more space.