Two year wait for Stockholm flat: report

The wait for a rental apartment in Stockholm averages 104 weeks, rising to as much as 20 years for attractive areas. In many comparable EU cities apartments can be found immediately and often at little or no extra cost, a new survey shows.

Two year wait for Stockholm flat: report

“We have known for a long time that the waiting time for a rental apartment in Stockholm is longer than in the rest of Europe. But that the difference was this great surprised even us,” said Mia Enayatollah at the Swedish Property Federation (Fastighetsägarna), which has conducted the survey.

The federation compared the waiting lists and number of vacant apartments for rent in eight European cities of an equivalent size to Stockholm.

In Stockholm the average prospective tenant has to search for two years to put pen to paper on a rental contract. In six of the cities studied in the comparison there was no wait at all, and in the seventh, Amsterdam, the search took one to five weeks.

“This is a result of the fact that in Stockholm we have had a politically managed market for rental apartments for decades,” said Mia Enayatollah.

The survey also shows that neither long waits nor a strict political regulatory system bring rewards in the way of lower rents.

The survey in fact shows that Berlin, where an apartment can be found without delay, enjoys the lowest rents of the eight cities studied.

Furthermore Brussels, Amsterdam and Madrid all have apartments available, with little or no wait, at rental levels similar or only slightly higher than Stockholm, the only city in the comparison with a general rent control system in place.

The survey looks at the market for rental apartments in Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Brussels, Amsterdam, Madrid and Berlin. The wait times were compiled with statistics for 2009 and rents were compared according to the Bloomberg Ikea Billy bookshelf index.

The Local spoke to Anna Wennerstrand at the Swedish Union of Tenants (Hyresgästföreningen) on Monday who argued that regulated rents have nothing to do with the problem.

“The short answer is that too few apartments are built. It is quite a particular market that is difficult to compare.”

When asked what should be done about Stockholm’s problems, Wennerstrand replied:

“The government needs to offer more support. Their policies favour the construction of tenant-owner apartments and houses.”

As all longer-term visitors to Stockholm are acutely aware, there exists an informal “second-hand” rental market that allows those in possession of rental contracts, and owners of tenant-owner (bostadsrätt) apartments and houses, to sublet their homes.

This market is not directly controlled but is subject to the same regulations with regard to rents that apply to the regular rental market. In reality rents are often much higher in reflection of the relatively high costs paid for the properties.

Furthermore, “first-hand” rental contracts often change hands for significant sums of money.

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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.”