Making room for urban home companions


Keeping a pet in the big city isn’t easy. With many urban residents living in rented housing, landlords as well as limited space can prove to be obstacles. Some tenants, unwilling to part with their companions, even at the risk of eviction and their pet’s discomfort, “smuggle” them in and keep them in secret.

This practice is actually quite common. Although accurate figures are difficult to obtain, it has been estimated that between 5 and 10 percent of residents in multiunit housing complexes keep pets against the rules.

Despite the overall obstacles, attitudes toward keeping pets indoors have greatly changed. A recent government poll of 3,000 people showed that 58 percent do not see any problem with keeping pets in apartments or condominiums, an increase of 16 percent from 10 years ago.

In response to these changes, more housing is being made available to pet owners. Some apartment buildings are even offering facilities specially designed for cats and dogs.

Saitama-based real estate agency Adhoc has been developing “pet-care” apartments throughout the country since 1994. It currently has 21 apartment buildings in its Belle Foret series, with 16 in the Kanto region.

Each apartment unit features scratch-proof floors and walls, pet doors, special showers for washing pets’ feet, “ozone deodorizers” for eliminating bad pet odors and special toilets for disposing of pet waste. The average unit is about 60 sq. meters and is available for between 93,000 yen and 98,000 yen a month. Belle Foret residents are allowed to keep both cats and dogs, but only two at any given time, with large dogs allowed only on the first floor.

Adhoc takes care to avoid problems from the beginning; prospective residents are screened in interviews with Adhoc staff as part of the application process.

“We want to see if the pet owners are good communicators,” explained Adhoc Director Kazuo Namihira. “If not, they may cause trouble with other residents. Fortunately, we have not yet had any pet-related problems.”

All 21 Belle Foret apartment complexes are full to capacity, and six more are currently under construction.

Operators of public housing are also moving toward relaxing the ban on pets. Urban Development Corp., formerly the Japan Housing Corp., is this year building its first apartment complex that would allow tenants to keep pets. It’s a test case to decide future policy.

The 11-story building, currently under construction, is located near Shiomi Station in Tokyo’s Koto Ward and will have 145 units, the entrance of each fitted with a foot-shower and a pet-waste-disposal unit. Residents will be allowed to keep dogs, cats, small rodents such as hamsters, birds and fish. Cats and dogs must be under 10 kg, with only one allowed per household. Construction is scheduled for completion in March 2002, and applications from prospective residents will be accepted starting sometime this fall.

But the project is not being welcomed by everyone. Neighbors of the site express concern that a sudden increase in the local population of animals could negatively affect the community’s environment. But the Urban Development Corp. knows how important the project is to pet lovers and is regularly holding meetings with local residents to win their understanding, according to a spokesman. “Companion animals are becoming more important in our lives,” he said. “If the Shiomi project goes well, we will build more apartments like it in the future.”

For home buyers, Asahi Kasei Corp. last year introduced customized houses designed for dog and cat owners named Hebel Haus Plus Wan (for dogs) and Plus Nyan (for cats).

Options clients can choose include scratch-proof and easy-to-clean floors and walls, an outside foot-shower, a deep, flat lavatory sink for bathing small pets, pet doors, a bathroom fitted with a litter box and “cat walks” — high beams on which cats can climb around.

“Many people who visit our model homes seem to consider their pets as part of the family,” says Noritaka Iwamoto of Asahi Kasei’s public relations department. “They care very much about how comfortably their pets can live in the house.”