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How to navigate Sweden's crazy rental market

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How to navigate Sweden's crazy rental market
Accommodation in Sweden is a big talking point. Photo: Niclas Vestefjell/imagebank.sweden.se
17:49 CET+01:00
Whether you've moved to Sweden to study or are about to get kicked out of your third short sublet in a year, The Local's ultimate guide to tackling one of the trickiest rental markets in Europe will help you out.
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Sweden's rental market: the basics
Living in Sweden might be your dream, but renting often ends up a bit of a nightmare for people moving to the Nordic nation from abroad, and even for Swedes relocating to a new city. 
In theory, the market is tightly controlled. Rental companies are banned from charging tenants above a certain level, a policy designed to stop young people and low earners being driven away from urban centres. This contrasts to the unregulated market in the UK, for example, but there are similar schemes in place in Germany and some American cities. 
But in reality, rents still reach high prices in Sweden, and the exact amount varies significantly. Rural areas are typically far cheaper, but even within Stockholm's city centre, prices can range from 5,000 to 17,000 per month ($620-$2,111) for a studio apartment, and rental costs in Gothenburg and Malmö have also soared in recent years.

Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
Why are prices so varied?
There are a few reasons. The rent caps keep prices low on apartments owned and rented out by Swedish municipalities or state-regulated rental companies, but these only make up a small proportion of the total rental apartments. There just aren't enough of them to go round.
Contracts are handed out on something like a first-come, first-serve basis: you join the housing queue, and your position in that queue dictates which rental contracts you can bid for. But in Stockholm it can take as long as 20 or 30 years to reach the front of the queue, with many signing up years before they plan to leave their parents' home.
As for everyone else, they're left battling for the remaining apartments. These are also in short supply, due to Sweden's huge population growth, which has not been accompanied by home-building on the same scale. These properties are rented out 'second-hand' by residents, and the process for doing so is tough due to strict rules about subletting.
It's usually only permitted to sublet for a maximum of one or two years, and property owners (or first-hand renters) must prove to their housing authority that they have a good reason to sublet, for example a job offer or university degree abroad or elsewhere in Sweden. 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. According to classifieds site Blocket, prices for second-hand sublets have risen by 70 percent in seven years, with a significant difference between first- and second-hand prices.
In this market, competition is stiff, meaning that often landlords are able to charge disproportionately high prices.

Housing in central Gothenburg. Photo: Per Pixel Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se
So how do you find an apartment? 
The good news is: it is possible! And before you get too downcast, there are several advantages to being a renter in Sweden (no, really). The strict regulation of the housing market means most properties in Sweden are very well-maintained, with clear rules about which aspects of maintenance are the responsibility of the tenant and which of the landlord.
Of course, in the land of Ikea, most properties are cleverly designed with lots of storage, making the most of small spaces. The trend for minimalistic design means you're unlikely to be lumbered with a curtain or carpet pattern that gives you migraines. And in Sweden, you're rarely too far from a forest, lake, or park when you need to stretch your legs. 
So if you're ready to dive into the world of Swedish rentals, these are our top tips.
1. Contact everyone you know (and we mean everyone)
Networking is one of the best ways to find an apartment, which can put new arrivals in a tricky position.
Because the housing market discourages buy-to-let and means that most landlords will be renting for a couple of years at most, often as a second-hand renter you'll be living in someone's home for a relatively short period of time. This means the landlord or leaseholder is going to prioritize friends, family, or friends-of-friends – basically, someone they can vouch for – over complete strangers. 
Even if you've not yet arrived in Sweden, let everyone know, on every form of social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and anything else you can think of), that you're moving and looking for a place to stay. Don't let any connection, however tenuous, go unused. 

Turn every fika into a house-hunting opportunity. Photo: Tove Freiij/imagebank.sweden.se
For those starting a new job, make sure to ask if assistance with house-hunting is included as part of any relocation package. Some companies will set up viewings, while others will pay for a stay in a hotel while you find your feet. If that's not an option, you could ask your future colleagues or HR manager to spread the word through social media or any internal company messaging service. It's in their best interests for you to feel settled, so they're likely to offer help where they can.
The expat community is often very supportive too, so it's worth searching on Facebook and other sites for groups relevant to your interests and asking for help there too. And once you arrive and start socializing or professional networking, make sure to keep mentioning it to all your new connections.
2. Advertise yourself online 
Take all the help you can get, but be proactive as well. Blocket or Bostaddirekt are two of the most popular online marketplaces for rental properties, while others include Qasa and MyPlejs.
Blocket is only available in Swedish but has far more listings, so if you've not tackled the language yet, download a plug-in like Google Translate that will translate the website into your native language. Bostaddirekt has an English-language option, though some property descriptions will only be available in Swedish. 
Once you've created a profile, you can contact landlords and subletters directly. Bear in mind that they'll typically receive hundreds of messages within the first hour. There are two things you can do to stand out: be quick (check the latest listings as regularly as possible), and be memorable.
To achieve the second, work on an e-mail template you can send to landlords. Ideally, you'll write this in Swedish – again, use your network if possible to find a friend, colleague, or helpful stranger to help you translate. Start with a quick introduction (name, age, why and since when you're in Sweden, and how many people will be living in the apartment) and something directly relating to the advert, for example a comment about the area, to show you've actually read it.

Photo: Simon Paulin/imagebank.sweden.se
Then, make sure to mention anything that will act in your favour: a permanent job, stable income, references from previous landlords/employers, and anything which they've mentioned in the ad, such as being a non-smoker or available to move in immediately. Save any questions or negotiation for if and when you're offered the apartment.
As well as firing off messages to anyone advertising an apartment, you can also post your own advert on both Blocket and Bostad Direkt. Again, this will ideally include a Swedish translation, and all the information listed above. You should also outline any clear requirements, such as maximum budget, preferred area, whether you're looking for something furnished or not, and so on. And add a photo – one that clearly shows your face is ideal.
Remember not to hand over any money until you have viewed the property and met the leaseholder, and trust your instinct if anything feels suspicious. Legitimate landlords should be willing to tell your their personal number and offer proof of their identity, such as a copy of their passport or a work reference, or you can confirm their identity yourself by some searching on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Swedish websites such as Hitta and Eniro.
If budget isn't an issue, private rental companies such as Residensportalen offer high-spec properties geared at business professionals. 
3. Be quick
As mentioned above, it helps to reply as quickly as possible to any adverts you're interested in. Make sure to keep up that momentum even after getting a response, since the landlord will probably have responded to several prospective tenants who met their requirements.
Organize a viewing as early as possible – if you're working, speak to your boss as soon as possible to find out if they're able to offer you some flexibility to fit these in. At the viewing, make sure to take along all your references from previous landlords, ID card or passport, employment certificate, and anything else they've requested or which might show them what a great tenant you'd be.
Before you get there, think about all the things you need to ask: access to a laundry room, move-in date and length of contract, and any questions about the area, for example. And have an idea of what requirements the apartment needs to meet in order for you to say yes. Some landlords will be keen to find a tenant they really like, while others will go with the first person who expresses an interest, so if you see somewhere you like, say so as soon as possible.
That doesn't mean you should go ahead with something you've got doubts about; make sure you've got answers to all your questions before signing anything or handing over money. Some of the biggest red flags are being asked for money before seeing the apartment or signing a contract, or being asked to pay in cash.
4. Consider renting a room rather than a whole apartment
Sweden has one of the highest proportions of single-occupancy households in the EU, but house- and flatshares are becoming increasingly common. 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. Again, reach out to your network: if someone's sharing their property they're likely to be even more picky about who they rent to than if they're merely subletting.
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.

Co-living is becoming more common. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se
5. 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. Make sure to check what your commuting options would be, and how close you are to the nearest transport hub.
Also look out for adverts for garden guest houses ('gästhus') or annexes. 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.

Typical Swedish summer houses. Photo: Ulf Lundin/imagebank.sweden.se
6. Keep calm and consider temporary solutions
Finding a long-term rental is tricky, but while you search, there are several temporary options to help tide you over.
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.
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.
And once again, someone in your network may be able to help – for example if they know somebody who's moving away for a short amount of time, but may not be bothering to advertise their property for rental.
7. 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 against the leaseholder, so even if you've already moved on, you can start proceedings.

Photo: Ann-Sofi Rosenkvist/imagebank.sweden.se
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 between 80 and 85 kronor a month to join the organization. You can also take your grievance directly to a regional rent tribunal.
8. Get in the queue for a first-hand contract, just in case
Don't get your hopes up – queues for first-hand leases are long – but you could get lucky. It's well 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 200 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 in order to join the queue.
After a few 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. This option isn't generally well-known, and many newcomers are so put off by reports of the length of the queue that they don't bother to join, so it could be a good insurance policy.
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