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HOUSING

Can they stop me renting out my flat?

I own an apartment in Stockholm, which I have been renting out since the beginning of the year, when I moved back to the UK. Now, the board of my apartment building (the bostadsrättsförening), says they will no longer permit me to rent it out from January. Do they have the right to stop me renting out my own apartment? Matt, London.

Can they stop me renting out my flat?

With a seemingly permanent shortage of rental apartments in Sweden’s large cities, apartment owners can find a ready market if they want to rent out their properties. But they might also find themselves on the wrong side of their housing association – and on the wrong side of the law.

Matt’s problem is rooted in the fact that there is no legal ‘buy-to-let’ market in Swedish apartments. Private landlords exist, but they usually own whole buildings rather than individual apartments.

The crux of the issue is that Matt doesn’t technically own his apartment. He owns a ‘bostadsrätt’ – effectively a share in the housing association (bostadsrättsförening) that owns the building. His ownership of that share is connected to the right to live in that apartment, but the housing association’s board retains a lot of power over what he can do with it.

Living in a bostadsrätt only gives you the same right to rent out your apartment as you would have if you yourself were renting. The law sees both forms of renting as a form of subletting or ‘andrahandsuthyrning’.

So, if you are going to rent out your bostadsrätt, the first thing you must do is ask the board. The board should approve your request if you are temporarily living elsewhere because you are working or studying abroad or in another part of Sweden, you are carrying out military service or you are living with your partner for a trial period.

If the board does not grant you permission, you may appeal to a regional rent tribunal (hyresnämnden). These tribunals are courts and their decisions have force of law. If Matt intends to come back to Sweden in the medium-term he should, on the face of it, have a good case for getting the decision of his housing association overturned.

Ulric Hoij, legal advisor at the Swedish Property Federation (Fastighetsägarna), which represents the interests of property owners, says that rent tribunals will usually find in favour of people who want to rent their apartments out “for a couple of years.”

If Matt has moved back to the UK for good, he will have a hard time getting the tribunal to decide in his favour. If the tribunal finds against him and he fails to come to a deal with the housing association, the association could ultimately force a sale of his apartment.

But why are Swedish housing associations so reluctant to allow apartment owners to rent their flats out? Ulric Hoij says it is usually out of a belief that tenants will be less willing to participate in the running of the building:

“It can make it hard to get enough board members or to get people along to the spring and autumn cleaning days. This makes renting a particularly sensitive topic in buildings with few apartments.”

There are other things worth thinking about before you rent out your apartment: for instance, it is your responsibility to ensure that you find a responsible tenant. If your tenant causes disturbances, the housing association could hold you responsible. It also remains your responsibility to pay your service charge and discharge other duties to the housing association.

You should also remember that you are obliged to charge a rent that is in line with rents locally. Rent tribunals may order landlords to refund rents that are substantially higher than those charged for council-owned apartments in the same area.

Renting out your apartment could become easier in the medium term. The Swedish government plans to allow owner-occupied apartments (‘ägarlägenheter’). Under proposals under consideration, people will have a greater number of rights over how they dispose of their apartments, and will be able to decide for themselves whether to rent them out. Initially, only new-build apartments will be owner-occupied. In the long-run, however, many observers expect that it will also be made possible to convert older apartments to owner-occupied status.

Do you have a question about the practicalities of living in Sweden? Then drop us a line at [email protected]

HOUSING

INTERVIEW: International students ‘vulnerable’ to Swedish housing shortages

People moving to Malmö to study now have to wait as long as a year to receive accommodation, Milena Milosavljević, the president of the Student Union in the city, has told The Local. The situation, she says, is "urgent and acute".

INTERVIEW: International students 'vulnerable' to Swedish housing shortages

The Sofa Project, run by the Student Union Malmö, received 80 applications this year from students who wanted to rent short-term accommodation, showing just how acute the current housing shortage is.

These 80 applicants were vying for one of seven spots, ranging from a spare room to a sofa bed – from hosts who sign up to offer their spaces to new arrivals.  As the programme only had seven hosts registered this year, the project had to close its application page to others, otherwise the number would have surpassed 80.

“They are ready to come to Malmö and sleep on a sofa bed at a stranger’s house before they find accommodation,” Milosavljević told The Local. 

Malmö recently received a red designation from the Swedish National Union of Students, which publishes an annual report assessing the housing situation in university towns and cities across Sweden. A red designation means that finding suitable accommodation as a student takes more than one semester. The report found that 61 percent of students live in a city that has been designated a red ranking.

READ ALSO: Sweden’s student union warns that housing shortages are back this semester

“The reality of Malmö and the reason why it became red is that to find suitable accommodation you have to wait up to a year,” Milosavljević said.

Some individuals, she said might have to wait up to three years to find their own accommodation, making do with second-hand contracts, long commutes, and living with family members in the meantime. For newly-arrived international students, who lack personal numbers when they move here and so cannot join Swedish housing queues, looking for suitable housing becomes a complex task.

“International students are more vulnerable because they don’t have a personal number to enter the system before they come to Sweden,” Milosavljević explained.

Milosavljević herself moved to Malmö as an international, fee-paying student. Because she paid tuition, she was offered housing by Malmö University. Based in part on her own experience, Milosavljević explained that the housing issue cannot be reduced to a shortage in the number of flats and rooms. There is also a shortage of appropriate housing options for different needs.

“They offered me accommodation in a student building,” she said. “Not an apartment, but a room – and I came with my husband. The room was not enough for two of us.”

Student accommodation must accommodate the different needs of different members of the student body, Milosavljević said, including those who move with partners or spouses, or even with their children.

In the past year, one new student apartment building was built in Malmö, with 94 new spaces for the city’s student body. This is inadequate, Milosavljević said. While Malmö is growing, and there is residential construction being carried out around the city, it is unclear how many of those new buildings will prioritise the city’s student population.

The city’s student population, too, is growing. As the pandemic era ended in Sweden, students returned to campus. And new students joined them. While student ranks grew, housing options remained stagnant.

“From our perspective from the Student Union, we have talked about, in the previous years, how the situation after the pandemic is going to get even worse for the students,” Milosavljević said. “There’s an increase of students coming back, new students, and already not even enough housing.”

Milosavljević has fielded calls and emails from students who say that they cannot move to Malmö because they cannot find housing.

“They are already working on it,” Milosavljević told The Local of the university’s response.

There are plans to create more housing for international students, but these proposals focus mainly on students from European Union, leaving other international students out. All international students should be given priority for student accommodation, Milosavljević said, because none of them have access to the Swedish housing market.

“I do believe strongly that the City of Malmö and Malmö University need to have urgent negotiations and start building straight away,” she said.

Because Malmö University is a public university, it must follow the lead of the Ministry of Education and Research. Milosavljević acknowledged that in the aftermath of Sweden’s recent elections, which put the right-bloc in power, student housing shortages might not rank highly on a list of national priorities.

“The Student Union Malmö considers this situation quite urgent and acute,” Milosavljević said. “We are more than prepared to sit down and talk so we can actually do something, instead of just having meetings. The students will continue to suffer if the living conditions and the bostad [housing] situation in Malmö is not improved.”

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