It is a common sight in Japan to see houses or condominiums undergoing a spruce up. Covered in tarpaulins and wrapped in a steel cage of scaffolding, this state of affairs can last from just a few weeks to several months, depending on the scale of the renovations.
It is one thing when you are the owner of the building, since you presumably chose to renovate, with the inconvenience being offset by the satisfaction of the end result. However, what about a rental property, where the occupants may have no choice in the matter?
A group of residents from a community in Motoazabu in central Tokyo recently wrote to Lifelines about their plight. Their rental properties were sold to the Tokyu Land Corporation, one of Japan’s major real estate groups. They say they were given a meager two weeks notice about renovations slated to last for many months.
Most of the residents at the Majes Motoazabu complex are foreign nationals, some of them here on company transfers and others being long-termers who now call Tokyo home. Everyone was shocked to receive the abrupt notice about major construction from Tokyu.
“They gave us only two weeks notice from the day of the general meeting until the planned construction start date. Two weeks is not enough time to look for a new apartment,” says former resident Ikuyo Feldman, whose family ended up moving when living with the construction on a daily basis became too much to bear.
Feldman says the timing of the meeting with the Tokyu representatives was set for the week after most of Tokyo’s international schools had gone on hiatus for the summer. Many residents with children had already left on their summer breaks.
“I do think Tokyu set this date on purpose, so it would be harder for the residents to get together and fight them,” Feldman says.
Jeff Daggett and his wife, Kaoru Yoneyama, chose their unit expressly because it was the ideal location for their respective careers. Yoneyama is an apparel designer who works from home, while Daggett markets olive oils in Japan. He says their unit’s spacious balcony was perfect for entertaining and conducting product photo shoots.
“Basically everything we selected the residence for was taken from us with two weeks’ notice. The peaceful environment, broad balconies, the community of friendly neighbors — everything,” Daggett says. The final straw was the constant dust, which threatened the health of Yoneyama, who suffers from asthma. The couple cut their losses and moved out.
In addition to the dust, residents cite blocked access to their units, ear-splitting noise that they believe is over the legal permissible decibel level, long periods without sunlight, and having to cope with no air conditioning in the height of the humid Tokyo summer. They also say that Tokyu made little effort to inform them of the potentially hazardous chemicals being utilized in the construction.
Lawyer Akiko Urabe has been hired by the residents to represent them. She says that way Tokyo disseminated information about the chemicals is of particular concern.
“The information was just printed on sheets and left in the lobby,” Urabe says. “While they did at least write in both Japanese and English, many residents were unaware it was even there. Considering there are young children and residents with health issues, this was problematic.”
Tokyu has provided a basic package in an attempt to compensate those who decided to move out, including paying ¥500,000 toward moving costs and covering agency fees. Those staying put have been offered one month’s free rent. However, the angry residents say it is only a token gesture, and that it has been extremely difficult to find comparable accommodation at short notice. “The construction has destroyed a friendly, lively community with strong ties. Can you put a price on that?” Urabe asks.
Among the residents who have chosen to stick it out is Masaharu Sato. “There are many residents from foreign countries here,” he says. “As a Japanese I cannot forgive Tokyu for causing this bad impression of Japan and Japanese firms.”
Sato adds that the noise from the construction has made it impossible to perform even an everyday task like talking on the phone in his unit.
Daggett, who has lived in Japan for 26 years, shares Sato’s concern about the firm’s behavior.
“We had many first time residents in Japan questioning Japan’s suitability as a destination for anyone, much less the Olympics. Is this omotenashi (the spirit of hospitality and a catchphrase for Japan’s successful 2020 Olympic bid)? Tokyu omotenashi? No, thank you.”
From a legal point of view, the Tokyu group is within their rights to undertake the renovations, Urabe notes. However, they have infringed on the rights of lease and personal rights of the tenants.
“There is a likelihood that acceptable limits for such things as noise level and vibration, along with blocking of sunlight, have been exceeded,” she states.
Tokyu’s PR Department were contacted but declined to give a comment for this article. Urabe will be taking up the residents’ cause with Tokyu in due course.
Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for the NHK Nodo Jiman show, among other things. Send comments and questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org