Ryan Hagglund on how he successfully dealt with an exclusionary landlord


Hi Blog. Turned 43 years old today… Here’s Ryan Hagglund of Yamagata on how he successfully dealt with a very common problem in Japan–exclusionary landlords.

As you probably know, if a landlord has a “thing” about foreigners and decides not to rent to you, legally there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Racial discrimination is not illegal in Japan. But Ryan found a place he liked and wasn’t having any of it. And he managed to change the landlord’s (and realtor’s) mind.

How? Sticktoitiveness and accountability. Lessons: 1) be as polite as possible while being clear that you will not accept a denial based on being foreign, and 2) audio record everything just in case you have to go to court.

(Covert recordings are also admissible in court. I did it for the Otaru Onsens Lawsuit, and it removed any possible element of plausible deniability or misunderstanding.)

Good work Ryan. Here are the series of emails he sent to the Life in Japan List. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


From: Ryan Hagglund
Subject: [LIFE IN JAPAN] Apartment Refusal
Date: December 4, 2007 10:10:00 PM JST

I have a quick question, if anyone can help. This afternoon the school I manage was told point-blank by the real estate agent we’ve been using that the apartment we had decided on for our new teacher is not available because the landlord doesn’t rent to foreigners, even if the company acts as the official tenant. We would like a chance to talk with the landlord, but the real estate company refuses to divulge any of his information. Is there any way to find out who the owner of an apartment building is? I would imagine there has to be some kind of public record out there. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you very much.

Ryan Hagglund, Yamagata



From: Ryan Hagglund
Subject: [LIFE IN JAPAN] Apartment Refusal
Date: December 5, 2007 8:21:40 PM JST

Thanks to everyone for the comments and thoughts so far. I thought I would write with a quick update and a little more background information.

Anyway, the whole situation started with a new teacher who needs housing accepting a position at our school. My wife, who is Japanese and works for the school, went apartment hunting while I was teaching and found a really great one. The real estate agent kept telling her how wonderful it was and she was right; it is by far the best apartment we have seen in the area for the price and in a good location too. We wanted the new teacher to have a chance to look at it, so my wife called to let the real estate know that her husband, me, and a new employee would be down to look at the apartment as well. Up to this point we had not said that the occupant would be a foreigner. We weren’t purposely trying to hide that fact by any means; we just hadn’t thought to mention it. It’s legally a non-issue anyway. When I arrived with the new teacher and came in saying we wanted to look at the apartment that had been played up for my wife, the agent was hesitant. She said she would show us it, but that “special permission” is required for foreigners to rent. I mentioned that such as policy was illegal and that we would like to see it. Aside from the comment about special permission, she was quite polite and pleasant, though I had to ask for her business card as she was walking back to her car to return to the office, something I thought was unusual. This all happened Saturday, just before the office closed. (All the above conversations happened in Japanese, by the way, though our new teacher doesn’t speak much at all.)

On Monday we called to confirm the apartment, but were told this afternoon that it is not available for rent by foreigners. When my wife asked to please speak with the landlord she was told that wasn’t possible. Following the suggestions on this list, my wife went to the city hall, but was told that they could not divulge private information on the ownership of a building. We decided, then, to return to the real estate agent. We were polite, letting her know we realize she is in a difficult situation, but that denying an apartment to someone simply because they are foreign is illegal, a conclusion with which our school’s attorney agrees. We said that we would like to speak with the landlord and were willing to work with him to find a suitable compromise, such as the school renting the apartment instead of the new teacher, but that we definitely wanted that apartment and feel it is very important for the law to be followed. (We also recorded the conversation so that we have proof that we were in fact denied based on being foreign.) The real estate agent said she would talk with landlord and get back to us, so we’ll se what happens. We’ve also scheduled a consultation with an attorney tomorrow to talk about our options in case the landlord refuses. I hope that won’t be necessary. Trying to be polite, but firm.

Ryan Hagglund, Yamagata



From: Ryan Hagglund
Subject: [LIFE IN JAPAN] Re: Apartment Refusal
Date: December 17, 2007 12:07:44 AM JST

I want to thank everyone for their support, comments, and suggestions on the apartment situation we encountered. At least one person asked for updates, so I hope you don’t mind if I oblige.

As you may remember, my wife checked apartments through many realtors for a new employee for our school. We decided on the best one we could find, a nice, newer, spacious 1LDK with 9-foot ceilings; bar separating the kitchen from the dining area; three-panel, glass-inlaid sliding doors separating the kitchen and dining from the main room; outdoor storage connected to the balcony; hikari-fiber internet; and video intercom system for the front door in order to evade the NHK guy :-). All of this for 45,000 yen per month, which is a decent price in this area without all the extras. As the realtor had told my wife, “If I was looking for an apartment, I would live here.” We agreed.

When we told the realtor we wanted the apartment and it became apparent that it was for a foreigner, we were then refused since the apartment owner has apparently had problems with a foreigner in the past. We found the same apartment listed with another agent in the area who told us the same thing. We have one of the refusals recorded. Neither agent was the main listing agent for the apartment, however. We wanted to talk with the owner or main agent about the situation, but we were refused the information.

On the advice of one list member who wrote privately, I went to the houmukyoku to find the registered owner of the apartment, and my wife and I gave him a visit Thursday evening. We were very polite and asked him if we could talk to him about the problems he had previously had with foreigners, but he said he has no policy against renting to foreigners and would have no problems renting to us. He then (supposedly) called the main real estate agent and gave us the news that someone else was already interested in the apartment, though, telling us to check with them about the situation the next morning. We at least got the main listing agent’s name, however.

My wife, being the amazing woman she is, knew the agency and said the light had been on when we passed it on our way to the owner’s house. We hurried into the car and got to the agency just as they were about to close. When we told them why we were there, they said the owner had refused us and there was nothing they could do. They were extremely surprised to learn we had just spoken to the owner, leading us to believe the owner had just been pretending to be on the phone. They then said someone else was interested in the apartment, so we would have to wait for their decision. We made it very clear, however, that we had made our decision a full week-and-a-half prior and considered ourselves ahead of any other possible renters. To make an even longer story a little shorter, they kept giving us the runaround until we had countered all of their “reasons” for our not being able to rent to us and essentially trapped themselves in their own excuses and twisted logic. We recorded the exchanges with both the landlord and real estate office and I would love to post them sometime, as they are absolutely mind-boggling. In the end, though, they ran out of even semi-plausible excuses and we got the apartment.

I have to admit I’m somewhat dissatisfied with the fact that we will be giving these people money. There was definitely a concerted effort going on in the background to get rid of us. At the same time, it was definitely the best apartment available and our new teacher shouldn’t have to settle for second-best simply because she’s foreign. In the end, our polite determination won out. Next time we need an apartment, though, we’ll know to have a Japanese person look first at what’s available and then decide from there. We wouldn’t have been shown the best apartment otherwise, which is a real shame.

Ryan Hagglund
My English School
Higashine, Yamagata



From: Ryan Hagglund
Subject: RESEND: Hi Ryan. May I blog your apartment report? Anything to add?
Date: January 11, 2008 10:35:07 PM JST
To: debito@debito.org

…Of course you may blog you like that I’ve reported to the Life in Japan list. I can’t think of anything at the moment to add to what I’ve written. I guess I would just emphasize that I made sure to be as polite as possible while being clear that I would not accept a denial based on being foreign… Thanks! Ryan


6 comments on “Ryan Hagglund on how he successfully dealt with an exclusionary landlord

  • Glad they got the apartment, but the whole procedure requring this much Japanese and the availablity of a Japanese person to find the apartment is absolutely out of the question for most of the non-Japanese renters living here.

    What would be the most useful, that is the excuses given by the company, and the responses, so that others might perhaps be able to try them, or at least recognize them for what they are, has been omitted. I wish Mr Hagglund would add them.

  • @vegetablej: I dunno, this is Japan, the fact that procedures require Japanese ability should not be surprising or offensive. I have no problem with people expecting me to be able to speak the language of the country I live in; my problem is when they won’t deal with me despite the fact that i do.

  • I neither said they were surprising nor offensive. I said they were impractical for most of us without (near) native Japanese skills. I’m not saying that I think I shouldn’t have to speak some Japanese, but rather that the whole process of a lengthy “negotiation in the face of discrimination” is out of reach of most of us. It would be far better if it weren’t needed.

  • There needs to be some foreign pressure on this issue…decent housing is within human rights. This is also an issue that seems to affect every region of Japan.

  • Wow… astounding. I’ve never had a problem getting an apartment; I just found a very nice place and the staff/owner/managers were all extremely helpful. Kudos for keeping at them and getting the place you wanted.


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