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.