“Thousands blacklisted” in Malmö property scandal

A newspaper has revealed that the largest residential property company in Malmö, MKB, has been systematically discriminating against thousands of would-be tenants on the basis of ethnicity, family ties, psychiatric health and previous relationships.

Individuals within the organisation stand accused of illegal discrimination and misuse of personal data and, if convicted, could face up to two years in prison.

For four days the Malmö-based Sydsvenskan has supported its allegations with increasingly damaging evidence gathered from a “secret register” in two “packed files”, which was supplied to the newspaper by an unnamed source.

The list apparently contains several thousand names, sorted alphabetically, along with personal numbers, address and “a short commentary about why they have been blacklisted”.

According to its web site, MKB has a policy of equality towards potential tenants.

“We want to emphasise that everyone has the same opportunity to get an apartment with MKB,” says the company, which is 100% owned by the city of Malmö.

But Sydsvenskan detailed numerous factors which, they allege, were reasons why MKB did not give them apartments.

One man was on the list because he was “suspected of being Bosnian”.

The paper said that there were many examples of people who were registered “simply because they happen to know someone who MKB classed as undesirable”, such as one man who “has a brother who’s a real troublemaker”.

Others seem to have fallen foul of even more subjective evaluations, such as the man described as “untalented and rather alone” or the woman who was said to give out “slightly strange signals when you meet her”.

Thousands were simply described as “someone to avoid”.

Both the Data Inspection Board and Malmö’s chief prosecutor will investigate the register, according to Aftonbladet.

“Personal details should always be treated in a correct and fair way,” said Anders Wiklund, the Data Inspection Board’s lawyer.

“They should be adequate and relevant and the main rule is that the registered person should have given his or her consent – something which doesn’t exactly seem to have happened in this case,” he told news agency TT.

Aftonbladet noted that the penalty for breaking personal data laws is fines or prison for up to two years.

Sven-Erik Alhem, the chief prosecutor, told Sydsvenskan that the information provided by the paper was enough for him to begin his own investigation.

“As a prosecutor you have to be careful with information in the mass media about suspected crimes, but these details are so concrete that we must act immediately,” he said.

Predictably, the first reaction from MKB management was to deny knowledge of the blacklist. At a press conference after Sydsvenskan’s initial revelations, MKB’s head of sales, Eva Wiberg-Sunzel – who is also in charge of the company’s information service – was asked if she had seen information about tenants’ race or religion.

“That’s not something I have noticed during the time I’ve worked here,” she replied.

But the following day, the paper published an excerpt from an email apparently sent by Wiberg-Sunzel, in which she described a potential tenant as “black with a French accent”.

“I misunderstood the question,” she explained later.

“I thought the question was put to me as head of sales. As head of sales I haven’t written this email and I sincerely apologise for the use of language. Black or white or green doesn’t make any difference.”

Another senior member of staff at MKB, head of property Michael Carlsson, allegedly told staff not to reveal why applicants for apartments were denied contracts.

Politicians have been quick to criticise the organisation for its policy.

Mona Sahlin, the minister for Sustainable Development, called for legislation to control property companies’ selection procedures, while local councillors demanded a response from MKB’s managing director, Lars Birve.

“We must be crystal clear about this,” said the Social Democrats’ Anders Rubin. “We absolutely cannot tolerate people being treated differently on the grounds of ethnic, cultural or religious persuasion or sexual orientation.”

“This communal company ought to have set an example, but obviously all property owners must adhere to the demands of equality,” added Rubin.

Birve responded defiantly on Sunday with a statement on the company’s web site.

“MKB has no secret list/register of customers or apartment-seekers,” he wrote.

“This “register” which the media is referring to is not an MKB register but a print-out of emails sent several years ago. These have been archived by a single employee.”

He went on to explain that when people looking for apartments register with the company, certain information is required as part of the standard process.

However, on Monday Sydsvenskan hit back with the headline “Abused women blacklisted”.

The paper said that a number of violent men “who risk damaging apartment interiors and disturbing neighbours” were on the blacklist.

But it also said that “women who had been systematically terrorised by husbands, fathers, brothers, partners and boyfriends” were registered. The reason was that MKB considered that there was a risk that they could be attacked by the men – and that could disturb the neighbours.

Sources: Sydsvenskan, SVT, Aftonbladet,


These are our readers’ top tips for buying a property in Sweden

Buying an apartment or house in Sweden can be a daunting process, but with rentals so hard to get, many foreigners end up taking the plunge. Here are the top tips from readers who have done it.

These are our readers' top tips for buying a property in Sweden

Get prepared! 

Most of the respondents to our survey stressed the importance of preparation. 

“Spend time on defining your requirements properly, including visits to different locations to narrow down your search,” advised Julian, a Brit living in Malmö. 

As well as working out your requirements, other participants argued, you should also get to grips with the way the bidding system works in Sweden, with one British woman recommending buyers “speak to professionals about the buying procedure”. One respondent went so far as to recommend hiring a buyers’ agent, something international employers sometimes provide for senior executives moving to Sweden. 

Elizabeth, a 26-year-old charity worker from South America, recommended that all buyers “learn to read a bostadsrättsförening årsredovisning”, the finance report for a cooperative housing block. (You can find The Local’s guide here.) 

Get to know the market 

Maja, an anthropologist from Hungary, said it was important to take time to get a feel for the market, suggesting buyers visit different areas to find the one that they like. 

“It will take 6-12 months easily,” she predicts. “Don’t rush. Visit the neighborhoods where you are thinking of buying.”
Others recommended spending time surfing Sweden’s two main housing websites, Hemnet and Booli, to get a better feel for how much different types of housing in different areas typically sell for, before starting to look seriously yourself, with one even recommending going to viewings before you have any intention of buying.  
“Start visiting houses and monitoring bids. That will give you a sense of the process,” recommends Shubham, 31, a software engineer from India.

Think about your expectations
While house prices have soared in Sweden’s cities over the past decade, the same is not the case in all rural areas, something some respondents thought buyers should take advantage of. “To buy a house at a lesser price, look at areas as far from urban areas as is possible for you and your family,” wrote Simon, a 61-year-old living in rural Sweden. 
Julian warned bidders against areas and types of homes that “will attract tens of ‘barnfamiljer’ (families with children), meaning “bidding wars will result”, pushing up the price. 
On the other hand, one respondent warned people to “avoid buying apartments in vulnerable areas, even though prices will be lower there”. 
An Italian buyer recommended looking at newly built apartments coming up for sale. 
Get a mortgage offer before your first serious viewing 
Getting a lånelöfte, literally “loan promise”, can be tricky for foreigners in Sweden, as our recent survey of banks’ policies showed. 
Shubham warned against applying for a loan promise from multiple banks, arguing that this can affect your credit rating if your finances are not otherwise good. He suggested using an umbrella site like Ordna Bolån and Lånekoll, although he warned that the payment they take from the ultimate mortgage provider might ultimately be taken from borrowers.  
Get to know the estate agents, but don’t necessarily trust them 
Gaurav, a sales manager based in Stockholm, recommended getting to know local estate agents in the area where you are planning to buy, as they might be able to direct you towards owners who are in a hurry to sell. “Those can be the best deals as you have greater chances to avoid bidding on such properties,” he argued. 
Maja, from Hungary, warned, however, against believing that the estate agent is on the buyer’s side. 
“You cannot really make friends with them, they work for commission and they will also try to raise the selling price,” she said. “It’s how they present you to the seller that matters. Seem like a serious buyer.” 

Should you try to make an offer before bidding starts? 
Morgan, a 33-year-old marketing manager from France, said it was worth studying the kommande (coming soon) section on Hemnet and Booli to spot houses and flats before they are formally put on the market. “Be alert. Book an appointment asap and get a private visit to reduce competition. If the apartment is what you’re looking for, make a reasonable offer with a condition to sign the contract in the next 24 hours,” he recommends. “You will cut the bidding frenzy and save money.”
Gaurav also recommended getting a private viewing and making an offer while the property was still off the market, as did Julian. 
“If you are lucky, you might find owners who are in a hurry to sell,” Julian said. “Those can be the best deals as you have greater chances to avoid bidding on such properties.” 
But other foreigners warned against bidding before a property is publicly put up for sale on housing websites, arguing that estate agents used this as a way of getting higher prices than they would expect to get at auction.  
“You are essentially negotiating directly with the owner, without finding out the actual market price via bidding,” argued a 31-year-old Indian business analyst. “Usually this will work only for an apartment not in top condition.” 
What to watch out for in the bidding process 
Morgan advised buyers to take what estate agents say about rival bidders with a pinch of salt. 
“Estate agents will play the competition card. Don’t fall for their trick and keep a cool head. Ask yourself if it really worth it before increasing a bid,” he wrote. 
In Sweden, it is possible to make a hidden bid, which is not disclosed to other bidders. One Indian software developer warned that estate agents would often claim that there was such a bid to pressure you. 
“The hidden bids are really confusing as you don’t know the bid placed,” he said. “It’s a trap to get higher bids. “
A 21-year-old Romanian agreed it was important to watch out for estate agents who try to rush or panic you. 
“[Look out for] those that try to rush you into it by saying stuff like ‘this will be gone by Monday, the owner wants to sell fast’, or if they don’t want to include a two-week period to have the property inspected as a clause in the contract,” she said. 
Maja recommended choosing an estate agency that required all bidders to supply their personal number, with all bids made public, “because other agencies might cheat that price rise”. 
“Don’t be the first bidder,” she added. “Keep your cool, and if the agent calls or messages, just hold on. There is no official end to the bidding. Only when you sign the contract. So the best game is to seem very serious but not stupid. You have a budget, and try to sign the contract the same day or the next if you are the highest bidder.” 
Is now a good time to buy? 
The respondents were, predictably, divided. 
“It’s risky for both sellers and buyers,” said Carl, a Swede who recently returned home from China. “The market seems to correlate pretty well with central banks raising interest rates. If that’s the case, then it’s still a sellers’ market since central bank [Riksbank] will continue to increase interest rates until 2024.” 
“It’s difficult to predict anything at the moment,” agreed Gaurav. “Prices should fall a bit but that’s not happening in all the areas. Avoid buying or selling if you can for a few months.” 
“I see there is no difference in buying in total cost. You can get a property at a lower price but end up paying more in interest and the price is the same in five to ten years,” said one Indian software engineer. “Buying is still better than renting.”