Accommodation in Sweden is a big talking point. Photo: Magnus Liam Karlsson/Image Bank Sweden
Sweden's rental market: the basics
Renting in Sweden often sounds like a dream but ends up being a nightmare for most people moving to the Nordic nation from abroad as well as Swedes relocating to different cities.
In theory, the market is tightly controlled, with rental companies banned from charging tenants above a certain level in a move designed to stop young people and low earners being driven away from urban centres. It's a policy that's currently grabbing media attention in the UK, as rents rocket in London's unregulated market
. There are also similar schemes in Germany and some US cities.
In practice, rents vary wildly in Sweden. The cost of a studio apartment in central Stockholm can range from 3,000 to 15,000 kronor per month ($355-$1,778), with maximum prices also shooting up in Gothenburg and Malmö over the past year.
Why are prices so varied?
The reason is that there simply aren't enough apartments with rent caps to go around. You can only get one if you rent directly from a municipality or state-regulated rental company. In Stockholm it can take up to 20 or 30 years to get to the front of the queue with only around 40 percent of residents lucky enough to have such an elusive first-hand contract.
This leaves thousands of people battling to get their hands on second-hand leases. These tend to be short, since there are strict rules about subletting in Sweden. Residents are usually only allowed to sublet rental properties for one or two years and need to give a valid reason to housing companies such as moving abroad, studying or working in another city or moving in with a partner. In theory, they should not charge tenants more than 15 percent extra compared with their own rent, but in practice there is a huge black market.
Housing in Stockholm. Photo: Helena Wahlman/Image Bank Sweden
Prospective tenants can also let properties from private landlords or companies that own newbuild apartments, but following a change in the law in 2013 these properties are not subject to such tight restrictions, pushing rental prices up even further.
According to Simon Safari, chairman of the Swedish Union of Tenants, it is not uncommon for foreigners to end up paying double the appropriate price for apartments, especially in the Swedish capital.
"Foreigners are most at risk because they don't always know the rules and the people advertising their homes are aware of this," he told The Local.
So how do you find an apartment in this crazily competitive market?
Don't despair, it is possible to score an apartment and the good news is that most properties in Sweden are well maintained, include plenty of clever storage and will never be too far from a beautiful forest, park, lake or beach. And by choosing carefully who you decide to rent from, you should be able to limit your costs and risks too. Below are our top tips for renters.
1. Contact everyone you know, on every form of social media
Networking is key when it comes to finding an apartment. Most Swedes would much rather rent out their homes to a friend-of-a-friend than a random foreigner. This puts new arrivals in a tricky position, but thanks to social media it is far easier than it used to be to make connections with landlords and leaseholders looking for tenants.
A British expat, 26, told The Local how her mum tracked down a Swedish journalist she had met on a trip to Paris in the 1970s via Linkedin and was soon connected with a friend of the woman's sister who was searching for a new tenant. And one of The Local's editorial team was recently offered several apartments in one week after asking friends to share her status update on Facebook.
If you're starting a new job, you could also ask your future colleagues to post a shout-out on social media or internal company message boards. David Schmidt, 36, a German scientist who works in Gothenburg, told The Local: "I got a place via someone one of my co-workers knew. It was quite basic but I soon made it feel like home."
Being well-connected can be the key to finding an apartment in Sweden. Photo: Patrick Sison/TT
2. Advertise yourself online
If you're short of connections in Sweden, try using online marketplace sites such as Blocket
. Here, you can view adverts for rental properties and contact landlords or subletters directly. But don't be surprised if no one gets back to you. Chances are they are being bombarded with hundreds of other emails from would-be renters.
Another approach is to post your own advert (ideally in Swedish and/or English) explaining what you are looking for. Sell your own credentials. Mention if you have a permanent job or a reference from a previous Swedish landlord or employer and be clear about your maximum budget. Remember not to hand over any money until you have viewed the property and met the leaseholder. Think carefully about whether you want to include your phone number. Some expats have told The Local this helped speed up their searches while several American and British women said they got calls offering them sex in return for bargain rental prices. Don't be afraid to ask your new landlord for their personal number, a copy of their passport or a work reference.
Blocket is a popular place to find apartments, but beware of scams. Photo: Bertil Ericsson/TT
3. Consider renting a room rather than a whole apartment
While most Swedes choose to live alone until they meet a partner, some do rent out their spare rooms to lodgers. So, if you're willing to live with a stranger, you could get lucky by searching for a flatshare or including this option in your online advert.
Anna Gustafsson, 32, a Swedish engineer who recently relocated to Stockholm from Gothenburg, explained how she found a place by joining an online community for French expats who might be interested in a language exchange.
"I soon found an apartment sharing with a French intern working at the French embassy in Stockholm. He was in his early 20s and it worked out well until I got my own place," she told The Local.
You could also try searching for a multi-room apartment with friends, which can often work out cheaper than renting separately, although not all landlords will be open to this idea.
Sharing with friends is less common in Sweden than in many other European countries, but it is becoming increasingly popular as rents rise. Photo: Helena Wahlman/Image Bank Sweden
4. Head for the suburbs
Consider expanding your search to the suburbs in order to get more space for your money. You may also find the market slightly less competitive here. Since all of Sweden's major towns and cities have excellent transport connections, you can usually still guarantee a comfortable train to get you into work or university and 24-hour buses to help you get home after a night out.
Also look out for adverts for garden guest houses ('gästhus') or granny flats. Many Swedish homeowners rent out small, separate houses in their garden or remodel part of their property, for example a converted garage, into small apartments. Although beware of the pros and cons of living so close to your landlord.
"We live in a gorgeous little place that feels like it is in the countryside," one Scottish couple told The Local, describing their home in Täby, just outside Stockholm.
"Most of our friends think we live quite far out but we have really enjoyed it so far."
A small Swedish guest house. Photo: Elizabeth Eden/Image Bank Sweden
5. Keep calm and consider temporary solutions
While finding a long-term rental may be tricky, there are plenty of temporary options that could help tide you over while you continue your search. Couchsurfing
is a global network of people who are prepared to open their homes to travellers for short periods for free. The community also arranges events such as language exchanges, hikes, drinks and dinners where you can make new friends in your adopted new home. Be sure to read through the company's safety guidelines before signing up though.
Also think about using sharing economy sites such as Airbnb
to find short term apartment or room rentals, although you will find prices aimed at visiting tourists rather than new locals on a budget.
6. Know your rights
If you think you are being mistreated by your landlord, try contacting the Swedish Union of Tenants
(Hyresgästföreningen), which offers advice on what to do if you feel you've been overcharged or told to leave a property without enough notice. Under Swedish law, you have up to three months after leaving a property to start a dispute, so even if you've already moved on, you could start proceedings against the property owner or leaseholder.
The association can help look up what those with first-hand contracts in similar neighbouring properties pay for their homes and use this as a basis for your case, and provides legal help to members for free. It costs 75 kronor a month to join the organization or 85 kronor if you live in Stockholm. You can also take your grievance directly to a regional rent tribunal
Hyresgästföreningen is happy to advise foreigners. Photo: Bertil Ericsson/TT
7. Get in the queue for a first-hand contract, just in case
While queues for first-hand rental leases remain incredibly long in most Swedish cities, it could still be worth signing up to your local housing service (usually known as 'bostadsförmedlingen' or something similar) if you plan to stay in Sweden for the longer term. In many towns this is free, but in Stockholm you will be asked to pay 210 kronor a year. However, if you work in the capital and are willing to commute, many of the nearby municipalities (for example Upplands Väsby, Nynäshamn or Tyresö) offer free spots on their first-hand rental lists. You need a Swedish personal identity number.
After a more than a certain number of years in the queue you may also be eligible to apply for first-hand short-term contracts, which sometimes become available, for example when residents move away temporarily.
One French freelancer, 36, who works in the music industry in the Swedish capital told The Local how he secured a two-and-a-half year first-hand lease on a studio apartment on the hipster island of Södermalm after living in Sweden for four years.
"It is not well known that you can get these short contracts, but you can get lucky. Even as a freelancer I managed it, the most important thing they wanted to check was that I didn't have any debts," he said.
"Almost everyone I talk here to just doesn't bother to join the queue because it is so long. But all the time I am living here [with a short term lease] I am also staying in the queue for a permanent contract. Eventually it will work out."