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RENTING IN SWEDEN

How to avoid being ripped off when you’re renting in Sweden

More and more people who live in second-hand rentals in Sweden are claiming they have been illegally overcharged by landlord. The Local speaks to an expert to find out how prices have changed, why, and how renters can avoid being ripped off.

How to avoid being ripped off when you're renting in Sweden
A large number of internationals in Sweden are believed to be renting apartments on the unregulated black market. File photo: Helena Wahlman/imagebank.sweden.se

Rent controls apply to many properties in Sweden, but in the larger cities the queues for these so-called first-hand contracts are so long that many people wait more than ten years for an apartment. These leaves many people relying on sublets or ‘second-hand’ (andra hand) rentals, particularly since a tightening of requirements to get a mortgage has made it harder for Swedish residents to buy property.

And the cost of these second-hand rentals has soared over the past decade.

Find your future home on safe subletting site Samtrygg

Figures shared with The Local by the National Board of Housing (Boverket) showed a steady increase in the price of second-hand rentals when it came to houses, rooms, and sublets of both owned and rented apartments. The increase was most significant among sublets of owned apartments, and in the major cities where the housing shortage is particularly acute.

Assar Lindén, a lawyer at Boverket, told The Local that the groups most likely to need second-hand rentals were young people, students, and recent immigrants, particularly those who move for work or as an asylum seeker, rather than those who move to join family members.

“A lot of people have come to Sweden in recent years. We had a housing shortage before then, but this has made things really difficult, and we know that a lot of people are paying a lot of money to live in the places they want to live,” Lindén told The Local.

FOR MEMBERS: How to navigate Sweden’s crazy rental market


Young people and recent immigrants are the ones most likely to suffer from the housing crisis. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

The housing shortage is particularly acute in Sweden’s major cities, making second-hand rentals more common there. Lindén noted that the historic university cities of Lund and Uppsala have a large supply of student accommodation, whereas this is in shorter supply in Stockholm and Gothenburg.

“You can find people from all demographics struggling with housing, but it’s mostly the young, newly arrived people and foreign workers. In Stockholm, there is a high number of recent arrivals from Syria, and they often pay quite a lot of money, including on the black market, to live in areas where there’s a Syrian community and they can speak their own language,” he explained.

“Then there are many people being recruited to Sweden [for work]; some companies have arrangements for finding housing but if your company doesn’t offer this, you’ll have a hard time. We know there’s a substantial black market, but it’s very hard to map this.” 

FOR MEMBERS: What rights do I have as a second-hand renter in Sweden?


Knowing your rights as a second-hand renter can pay off in the end. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Second-hand rentals are more expensive than first-hand contracts because the landlord is able to charge a premium, which increases if the property is furnished. However, the Swedish law sets a limit on exactly how much extra landlords can charge, and figures suggest many are asking for much more money than they should.

The average second-hand rental is around 65 percent more expensive than an equivalent first-hand contract, according to recent statistics from Boverket. And tenants who rent from a property owner pay on average 138 percent more than an equivalent first-hand rental. 

Find your future home on safe subletting site Samtrygg

When it comes to avoiding illegal rentals, Lindén has two key pieces of advice.

The first is to make sure the landlord has permission to rent the apartment, therefore avoiding black market rentals and ensuring you have access to the proper channels in the event of any dispute.

Secondly, renters should be aware of what kind of apartment they’re renting.

“If you’re renting from someone who has a first-hand contract, they are not allowed to take more money from you than they pay themselves, unless it’s furnished and then they can add ten to 15 percent more,” he says.

“If the landlord owns the apartment, there’s a different law and it’s pretty generous [towards landlords] because they have the right not only to cover their own costs but also to cover the cost for loans and financing. This applies even if they don’t have any loans, for example if you inherited the apartment; you can still charge the tenant the amount of what the loans would be. There’s not a lot you can do about that, and in an expensive area they can charge quite a lot.”

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Make sure the person you’re renting an apartment from has permission to rent it out. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

It is possible for tenants to dispute unfairly high prices, and in fact more and more are doing so. Complaints lodged with the Swedish Rent and Tenancy Tribunal (Hyresnämden) have soared by 133 percent over the past four years, according to figures from the tribunal first reported by SVT.

In 2018 alone, more than 300 people complained about being overcharged for their rent, and Boverket has warned of a highly unregulated second-hand market.

But the true number of people being overcharged is likely to be much higher. Lindén told The Local that when cases go to court, “the price is seldom the only issue”.

“A lot of people are paying much more than they should, but the general impression is that they seem to accept this to a large extent. When people do make a fuss or go to court, it’s almost always when another conflict has arisen and they think they may as well complain about the high rent at this point as well,” he said.

Find your future home on safe subletting site Samtrygg

For members

RENTING

Five tricks Swedes use to avoid the long wait for rental apartments

The official waiting time for apartments in Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö varies between three and eleven years. But Swedes have their own tricks for jumping the queue.

Five tricks Swedes use to avoid the long wait for rental apartments

There’s no requirement for landlords or renters to use the queuing systems run by the municipalities in the big cities, but most of the big ones do, the intention being to reduce corruption and increase fairness in the rental market. 

The Stockholm Housing Agency, or bostadsförmedlingen, has a queue between seven and eleven years long. Boplats Gothenburg has an average wait of 6.4 years, and Boplats Syd in Malmö has an average waiting time of nearly three years.

According to Kristina Wahlgren, a journalist at Hem & Hyra, Sweden’s leading rental property magazine, the system puts foreigners and recent arrivals to Sweden at a significant disadvantage. 

“It’s extremely difficult if you are from another country. You don’t have any contacts, and it’s quite difficult to understand if you haven’t grown up in this culture,” she says of the system. “There are some quite subtle aspects, and there’s vänskapskorruption [giving special advantage to friends]. ” 

Listen to a discussion about Swedish queue systems on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

Obviously, the biggest advantage faced by locals in Sweden is that they normally joined the queue the moment they turned 17, so by the time they’re looking for an apartment as a young adult, they’re already near the front. 

But even for new arrivals in Sweden, it’s possible to wait a much shorter time if you know the tricks, says Wahlgren, who has been nominated for Sweden’s Guldspaden journalism prize for an investigation into how Malmö finds housing for homeless people. 

Kristina Wahlgren, a reporter for the Hem & Hyra newspaper. Photo: Hem & Hyra

1.  Apply for more expensive new-build apartments to start off with 

If you’ve got a good enough salary, and are willing to pay high rent for your first few years in Sweden, this can make it easier to get an apartment, as there is less competition for more expensive, new-build apartments, Wahlgren says.

“If you’re willing to pay high rent, then you can get an apartment within a couple of months [in Malmö]. If you want a cheaper apartment, it can take years. So it’s quite a big difference.”

2. Rather than wait for your perfect apartment, take what’s available and then swap 

The rules recently got a little stricter, but it’s still relatively easy to swap between apartments once you have a first-hand contract. There’s even a website, Lägenhetsbyte, which acts as an interface. 

This means, if you use the method above, and decide to rent a more expensive new-build apartment with a shorter queue, you can then downgrade to a cheaper apartment with someone who is after somewhere newer and swankier.

Rental queues are also shorter in less desirable areas of Sweden’s cities. For example, the waiting list in Norra Hissingen in Gothenburg is only five years, half what it is in Majorna. It can be quicker to make do with living in a relatively dreary area, and then swap with somewhere better, than to insist from the start on an apartment in your dream location. 

“If you can’t wait for the right department, just take the one that you get, then you can keep on looking and when you do have a lease, you can change the lease with someone else,” Wahlgren says. 

To change apartment, you need to have a so-called “acceptable reason”, such as needing a bigger or smaller apartment. With any luck, your landlord should accept the swap. If they refuse you can challenge their decision at your local hyresnämnden or “rental tribunal”.  

3. Use the tricks for contacting landlords directly  

Landlords in Sweden are not required to use the municipal rental queues to find their tenants, and if a suitable tenant presents themselves just as an apartment becomes free, they may prefer to take someone they know.

This is particularly the case with the smaller, private landlords. It’s possible to find lists of private landlords online, such as here. But Wahlgren recommends putting in a bit of legwork.

“One way to find who owns an apartment block, is to just go around and check on the buildings for the names of the landlords, and look in the stairwells for the number of the landlord’s agent.” 

Once you have the number, you have to ring both regularly, at least once a month, and also strategically. 

“It’s important to call at the right time,” Wahlgren says. “Because normally apartment rentals end at the turn of the month, so that’s when you’re going to call. You don’t call on the 15th, you call on the 31st or the 1st of the month.”

4. Exploit all the friends and contacts that you have 

When someone hands in their notice on a rental agreement, they may try to shorten their notice by finding a replacement for the landlord, or they might find a replacement simply as a favour. This is why it’s important to ask your friends and work colleagues if they know of any apartments becoming free. 

“If they use the municipal queue, they have to follow the rules. This way, they can choose their own tenants,” Wahlgren says of the appeal of this to landlords. “If you’re a nice person, you might be able to just talk your way into an apartment.” 

5. Be a student 

“If you’re a student, there are special housing companies in the university cities, different foundations that rent out apartments,” Wahlgren says. But then you have to study.” 

Illegal ways of getting an apartment

All of these ways of getting a rental apartment are legal, but there are some ways of getting a rental apartment more quickly which are not.

1. Paying a fee

You may also find landlords or intermediaries on websites such as Blocket, who ask for a one-off payment to jump a rental queue, or get a rental apartment. This is illegal. “You can lose your money, you can lose the apartment, and in the worst case, you can go to prison,” warns Wahlgren.

2. Getting an illegal subtenancy 

It’s perfectly legal to rent out your rental apartment to someone else for a period, if you have a valid reason for doing so and your landlord agrees. But such is the pressure to get housing that a market has sprung up in illegal subletting. Before signing a contract for a sublet, make sure that the landlord who owns the property has agreed to it. 

3. Bribing someone running the queue 

There have been cases of people working for municipalities logging into the housing queue and altering it, either as a favour to their friends, or for money. This is fairly rare, and in the unlikely event that someone offers to do this for you, it’s best to decline. 

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