A 53-year-old woman was recently arrested after she moved out of a 50-sq.-meter rental apartment in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture, leaving behind 26 dogs. She hadn’t paid her rent for some time and went missing in early June. By the time someone entered her apartment on July 3, one of the dogs was already dead. She was later found in a rented house with five dogs.
“I was told to get out of the apartment,” she told police. “But I couldn’t take all the dogs, so I only brought the ones I was sure would have died if I left them there.”
The apartment building where she had lived was managed by the semi-public housing corporation UR and does not allow pets. She was charged with abandoning the animals, but up to the point when she left the apartment she was not breaking any laws. UR went to court to evict her, but for non-payment of rent. Management certainly had to know she was keeping that many dogs, but all UR could do was to send her letters telling her to get rid of them or move out. Protective animal-welfare laws in Japan are weak, so even if the police had been called beforehand they probably wouldn’t have been able to do anything until she actually abandoned the dogs.
According to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, there were almost 12 million dogs being kept as pets in Japan in 2011, though the number is probably higher because many people who have dogs don’t reveal the fact because they live in places that don’t allow pets. Likewise, the statistic that says 7.8 percent of Japanese households have dogs is probably conservative. The association’s survey shows that 34.2 percent of people who don’t have dogs say they want one. This trend is certainly reflected in sales. Pet food revenues have increased by an average of 3 percent a year since the mid-2000s. The entire pet market was ¥1.37 trillion in 2010, and the association projects ¥1.4 trillion this year.
The problem is that housing has not kept up with the pet boom, or, at least, not at a comparable rate. There are no reliable statistics showing what percentage of Japanese condominiums allow pets, but a quick perusal of any real estate portal site gives a good indication. In a recent search we found one site listing 27,412 apartments for sale in the 23 wards of Tokyo. Using a filter, we found that only 4,110 of these either “allowed” pets or would consider allowing them “on consultation.” The number that do allow pets dropped to 1,235 after adding another filter for properties costing ¥25 million or less.
What’s interesting about the difference between rental apartments and condos is that the age of the building is the primary determinant for whether pets will be allowed. For condos, the older the building, the less likely it will be. When such units first went on sale, management companies probably decided to ban animals because at the time fewer Japanese had pets and it was assumed most people who bought condos didn’t want them in the building. Even though pets became more popular, these condos remained averse because it’s difficult to change the terms in a management contract without gaining consensus from current owners. Conversely, newer condos are more likely to allow pets. Some even make a point of trying to attract animal lovers.
It’s different, however, for rentals. Landlords aren’t beholden to tenant sentiment. The majority of rental properties still ban animals, usually for reasons of cleanliness or avoiding damage. As more properties remain vacant longer, however, more landlords let tenants keep pets and even advertise the fact. There are conditions, however. Based on our own research, we’ve found that about two-thirds of rental properties that allow pets only allow dogs, and even when dogs are allowed there’s usually a size limitation (down to exact length and height in centimeters), and only one is permitted. Also, many pet-friendly rentals require a higher cleaning and security deposit. Unsurprisingly, the more difficult it is to rent out a property because of its age or because of distance from the nearest station, the more likely it will be that you can keep a pet there.
These are economic considerations. The well-being of the animals is beside the point, and once the person moves in, management doesn’t want to be involved. That’s why many buildings that allow pets set up mandatory pet clubs, where the pet owners police themselves in terms of cleaning up after their animals and resolving problems, such as noise or rule violations. We’ve found, however, that these clubs are often ineffective. Members, having been forced to join, disregard their function since there’s nothing binding them to the rules except peer pressure. The building we live in now allows pets, but the pet club (which used to demand monthly dues) was dissolved because people stopped participating. It seemed to cause more inter-tenant friction than it was worth.
Pet shelters are strict about people who adopt abandoned animals, asking serious, sometimes uncomfortably probing questions about the applicant’s private life. The point is to find out if the potential adopter is going to be responsible for that animal for the rest of the animal’s life, and the biggest criterion is the applicant’s living situation. Even if that person is allowed to keep a pet, the shelter may balk. For example, an applicant’s present landlord may allow pets, but if the tenant has a history of frequently changing abodes, there’s a chance that the next landlord might not allow them. One of the most common reasons for people abandoning pets is that they are moving to a place that doesn’t allow them.
In the end, it comes down to regulation and education: Stronger animal-welfare laws would have prevented the Funabashi woman from accumulating so many dogs, and both sides of the housing interface need to be enlightened so that people who do want to keep pets can do so in a responsible manner. The latter will probably depend on the extent of the former. As Gandhi said, a nation’s greatness and moral progress can be judged by how well it treats its animals.
Philip Brasor and Masako Tsubuku blog about Japanese housing at www.catforehead.wordpress.com.
Where to look for pet-friendly housing
Japan’s semi-public housing corporation stopped selling condos some years ago, and the ones its subsidiaries still manage don’t allow pets. But UR is gradually permitting pets in more of its rental units. At present there are 13 UR apartment complexes in the Kanto area that allow pets. You can see the list at www.ur-net.go.jp/akiya/all/list_pet.html. There are also comparable lists for other regions of Japan.
Pet apartment portal sites
All real estate portal sites can be filtered to isolate those properties that allow pets, but there are some sites that specialize in residences that allow them. Three of the biggest are www.pet-adpark.jp, www.pethomeweb.com and www.pet-chintai.jp.
Cats are more problematic than dogs when looking for rentals. UR’s pet-friendly apartments take cats into consideration by using wallpaper that is easily replaced. There are a handful of apartment buildings that have been remodeled with special facilities for cats. One in Tokyo — www.tokyocatguardian.org/news/news110306.html — is connected to a shelter that provides tenants with up to three adult cats each (for a fee) if they don’t already have any.