Starting February 1st, 2013, changes to Sweden's laws governing the subletting of apartments and houses go into effect.
The political debate in the run up to the changes has been heated, and since the laws were approved by the Riksdag in December, speculation has been rampant about what the effects of the changes will be. Some claimed rents for sublets could more than double in some areas.
In order to better understand the changes, The Local caught up with Linn Matic, director of housing policy at HSB, one of Sweden's largest cooperative housing associations, with nearly 450,000 member residents across the country.
What are the key changes to Sweden's subletting laws?
One key change concerns the rent that a property owner can charge a subletting tenant. Under the old rules, the rent that could legally be charged was based on the average rent charged for similar rental apartments (hyresrätter) nearby owned by public or private housing companies. Those rents are set centrally through negotiations between rental-property owners and the Swedish Union of Tenants (Hyresgästföreningen).
But starting February 1st, flat owners can charge rents based on the costs of ownership.
What exactly counts as "cost of ownership"?
According to the new rules, rent charges can cover operating costs and capital costs. Operating costs can include monthly fees paid to the cooperative housing association (bostadsrättsförening), utilities, as well as a premium for wear and tear.
While the law doesn't mention mortgages specifically, property owners are allowed to charge for the "cost of capital", which is at this time considered to be around 4 percent of the market value of the home.
How is market value determined?
If the home was recently purchased, the price paid by the owner can be used as the market value. Alternatively, one can look around at the prices of similar apartments in the neighbourhood and derive market value that way.
What are some more important changes?
The new law also changes how a property owner or the tenant can break the rental contract. Previously, property owners weren't allowed to break the contract, while tenants were required to give three months' notice.
After February 1st, tenants only have to give at least one months' notice if they want to move out of a sublet flat, while property owners who want a tenant to leave must give three months' notice.
Also, tenants can't assume that rental contracts are extended automatically and must move out at the end of the contract even if they haven't received any formal notice from the landlord.
So, tenants should make sure to check with property owners at least three months before their current lease is due to expire to avoid any misunderstandings.
What are my options if I think my rent is too high?
Now, as before, tenants who think they are paying too much can file a complaint with the Rental Tribunal (Hyresnämnden).
Previously, if the tribunal ruled in the tenant's favour, the landlord had to lower the rent and pay back up to one year's worth of the amount they had been overcharging. So, if a tenant had been paying 10,000 kronor and the tribunal found that the rent should have been 7,000 kronor, the landlord had to lower the rent to 7,000 kronor and pay back 36,000 kronor in surcharges.
After February 1st, however, landlords are no longer obliged to repay the overcharged rent, they simply have to reduce the rent to the level stipulated by the tribunal.
Do the changes affect existing rental contracts? And do they apply to both apartments and houses?
The new subletting laws apply to both houses and apartments, but only come into effect for contracts signed on February 1st and beyond. They also only apply to properties which are owned, rather than rental properites.
The subletting of rental properties (hyresrätter) is covered by Sweden's rental law (hyreslagen).
Thus, anyone currently subletting needn't worry that the conditions of their lease will suddenly change on February 1st. However, they should review their contract and see when it expires so they are prepared for changes that might take place upon renewal.
What other things should property owners interested in renting out their homes bear in mind with the new law?
Probably the most important thing to remember is that people must still get permission from their local housing association (bostadsrättsförening) before they can sublet an apartment. The government originally wanted to get rid of that condition as well, but it didn't end up as part of the final bill.
There are also some new tax deductions associated with renting out one's home. Previously, property owners could deduct 21,000 kronor from the income earned from subletting, but the new law increases that deduction to 40,000 kronor annually. Any income earned above that amount is taxed at a 30-percent tax rate.
So, the big question: how will these changes affect the rents prospective tenants can expect to pay when subletting an apartment in Sweden?
The effects will vary depending on the current difference between rents charged for rental-only apartments and the market value plus operating costs of apartments in the area. In Stockholm and the other big cities, I think it's safe to say that rents will likely go up because the market values are so high.
It will certainly be easier for property owners in Stockholm to justify charging higher rents.
Will the changes encourage more people to sublet and result in more subletting options, as the government hopes?
I think people overestimate the number of vacant apartments available for rent. In Sweden, most people live in their apartments, whereas it's more common in the United States, for example, for people to own a second investment property they own simply to rent to someone else.
It's also important to remember that the changes to the subletting laws only apply to one property. If someone wants to rent out more properties, those apartments must be sublet according to Sweden's rental law.
If anything, I think the new law may mean that people who plan to move in together may wait before selling one of their apartments and instead decide rent it out.