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Thursday, May 20, 2010


Customary obfuscation of ethics


In Mizuho Aoki's May 15 article, "Housing glut opens door to foreign tenants," Takahide Ezoe of the Shinjuku Japanese Language Institute is quoted as saying that the Japanese know they "don't usually get the amount of deposit back" when they move out of a rental property. Thus, according to Ezoe, potential foreign renters have to be made to understand this point since they consider a deposit "something that will be returned fully."

In principle, the purpose of a security deposit, or shikikin, is to provide reserve funds in the event that the tenant is delinquent with his or her rent. However, many landlords consider it money that can be used after the tenant moves out for repairs and maintenance. In most developed countries, landlords are legally responsible for normal wear and tear on a rental property, not the tenant. Foreigners who have not caused any unusual damage to their residences should by all rights expect to receive their security deposits in full when they leave, as should Japanese tenants.

In fact, many Japanese have sued landlords to recover their security deposits and won. As the article points out, potential renters should read their contracts. If they don't understand the security deposit issue, they should have it clarified by the landlord or agent. When they move out and do not receive their deposits back, they should confront the landlord and demand an explanation. Many landlords use security deposits, key money (reikin) and contract renewal fees as tools to gouge tenants, whose rights in these matters are not clearly defined by Japanese law. To call these conditions "customs," which is what landlords and realtors tend to do, is to obfuscate their questionable legality. They are certainly unethical.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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