Finding an apartment in Japan can be a complicated business. On top of the many fees that you have to pay when moving in, you will often come across a situation when applying for a property where you need a guarantor (保証人ほしょうじん). In fact, a guarantor is required in almost any case where you apply for any rental property in Japan. So what is a guarantor and why do you need one if you’re house hunting in Japan?

What is a guarantor?

A rental guarantor is someone who not only endorses you for the property but also becomes liable for rent and expenses if you fail to make payments for any reason. This is obviously a massive financial responsibility and as such, it’s not something you can really ask any acquaintance to do as it is something of a risk for them. Most people don’t want the responsibility of being someone’s guarantor so even very close friends might be uncomfortable being asked.

There are also criteria for being a guarantor as the guarantor would also need to be approved by the real estate agency in charge of the property. The main criteria for a guarantor is that they must be a Japanese citizen who currently lives in Japan and they must also have a full time job. There can be some exceptions for this last one as long as the guarantor has some source of reliable income. Even so, there is a chance your guarantor can be rejected if their income does not meet the agent’s criteria.

Many people use their family as a guarantor but this can be a problem for non-Japanese residents of Japan without family to call on. So what can you do if you are a foreigner in Japan and looking to rent a property?

Guarantor Companies

There are many companies in Japan that provide a guarantor service. These companies will list themselves as a guarantor on a rental application for a fee. The convenience of these companies means that it’s actually also becoming increasingly common for Japanese nationals to use them rather than asking friends or family to be a guarantor.

The fees for guarantor companies vary from company to company. It usually takes the form of some percentage of your initial first month’s rent (50% – 100%) plus additional fees such as a yearly renewal fee. All things considered, its usually a small price to pay for securing the apartment of your dreams.

One problem with guarantor companies is that there are a lot of them and not all of them are above board. Sometimes a Real Estate agent will have their own preferred guarantor company which makes things easy. If you’re choosing your own guarantor company, it’s good to do as much research as possible beforehand. Generally larger companies are safer as there is a lot of information out there from people who may have used their services. Many companies also offer services in English that make things a lot easier if you don’t speak Japanese.

Another problem you might come across is that you might unexpectedly apply for a property that requires both a guarantor company and a guarantor. This is thankfully rare but in this type of situation, unless you have a guarantor already, you might have to give up on the property.

Regardless of this, guarantor companies are enormously convenient and often used by non-Japanese nationals when renting apartments in Japan.

Are the any other options?

While it is important to have a guarantor for a rental property in most cases, there are properties available that don’t require one, though they can be difficult to find. Sites like Tokyo Room Finder often list apartments that don’t require a guarantor. Rental apartment companies are also another good option. Unlike with Real Estate agencies, these companies own their buildings and often cater for non-Japanese nationals living in Japan.

Another great option for avoiding having to source a guarantor is a share house. As long as you don’t mind sharing with other people, you can find a place that doesn’t require a guarantor and can also possibly avoid many of the fees that usually go hand in hand with finding an apartment in Japan.

Why it’s important to have a rental guarantor.

If you can find a rental guarantor, it’s a huge benefit when you’re looking for a place to rent. Though there are cases where you don’t require one, having one opens up the market far more and you can have many more properties to choose from when trying to find a place to live. As we have mentioned though, it’s not easy to find someone willing to be a rental guarantor. The financial responsibility of having to pay on your behalf if you default on a rental payment can be too much for a lot of people.

All that said, it’s still very possible to find places to rent, particularly if you use a guarantor company or look for share houses. Looking for a new apartment can already be a stressful proposition and these options make it much easier to find a place, even if you don’t have a guarantor.