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HOUSING

Sweden cracks down on black market rentals: What the new laws mean for you

A number of changes to Sweden's housing law will come into effect from October. Here's what the new rules mean for anyone subletting or renting out an apartment.

Sweden cracks down on black market rentals: What the new laws mean for you
The laws should make it harder for unscrupulous landlords to rip off tenants. Photo: Niclas Vestefjell/imagebank.sweden.se

Sweden's parliament has voted through a range of regulations which will tighten up the housing market.

There are two major parts to the legislation: firstly, it will become illegal to buy or sell a rental contract, and secondly, landlords who overcharge second-hand tenants could lose their own first-hand rental contract.

In its summary of the new changes, a parliamentary statement said: “The proposal is made up of measures against trading of rental contracts and other abuse of the right to rent, with the aim of getting a better functioning rental market. The measures should lead to a better turnover of first-hand contracts, better rental conditions and healthier living environments.” 

Apartments in Sweden are rented out through a queue system, which means people join a housing queue and are offered rent-controlled apartments based on their position in that queue. Due to population growth and a housing shortage in the major cities, these queues can be long, with many residents needing to wait ten years or even longer to be able to rent in Stockholm, Gothenburg or Malmö.

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Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

People with one of these elusive first-hand contracts are able to sublet these apartments in special circumstances, usually for no more than one to two years – for example, if they have temporary employment elsewhere. But private individuals are not supposed to make a profit from subletting, and the new law changes aim to crack down on black market rentals, where some unscrupulous landlords charge second-hand tenants far more than the market value of the apartment.

Statistics from the National Board of Housing (Boverket) shared with The Local earlier this year showed that the average second-hand rental is around 65 percent more expensive than an equivalent first-hand contract.

“You can find people from all demographics struggling with housing, but it's mostly the young, newly arrived people and foreign workers. We know there's a substantial black market, but it's very hard to map this,” Assar Lindén, a lawyer at Boverket, told The Local at the time.

Under the new regulations, the punishment for selling or helping someone to sell a first-hand contract has been increased. The laws also make it a crime to buy a first-hand rental contract.

People found guilty of these offences face losing the rental contract immediately, and the typical punishment will be fines or a jail sentence of up to two years, although this could be increased to four years in serious cases.

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Photo: Björn Lindgren/TT

Landlords who charge too high a rent to second-hand tenants will also risk losing their own rental contract, even if their own landlord approved the price. In principle this means second-hand tenants should pay the same rent as first-hand tenants. Landlords can still charge extra for furniture, equipment and other items the tenant has access to, but the amount added on for this must be considered 'reasonable'.

Previously, landlords who overcharged tenants could be forced to repay the difference between the amount charged and the amount considered 'reasonable', but now the stakes have been raised as those who fall foul of the law could actually lose the apartment altogether.

The measures were based on a four-party agreement between the ruling Social Democrats and Green Party as well as the Centre and Liberal parties. The 73-point deal included proposals linked to immigration, labour law, and housing, including cracking down on black market rentals and abolishing rent controls on newly built properties.

IN DEPTH: What does Sweden's government deal mean for internationals?

These rule changes do not affect landlords who own their apartment, known as having bostadsrätt (literally 'right to the property'), rather than hyresrätt (literally 'right to rent the property', or a first-hand rental contract). 

Landlords in this category can charge rent at the cost of the property's current market value (even if they have fully paid off the mortgage) and they may also add on four percent of the home's market value to cover the 'cost of capital'.

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PROPERTY

Nudity to BBQs: What you can (and can’t) do on your balcony in Sweden

What better way to enjoy summer in your apartment than by making full use of your balcony? The Local spoke to Henric Gartz, a lawyer who specialises on issues related to housing, to find out how to stay on the right side of the law.

Nudity to BBQs: What you can (and can't) do on your balcony in Sweden

“You should look at your rental contract to see if there are any special rules in regards to what you can and cannot do on a balcony”, Henric Gartz, lawyer at Fastighetsjuristerna Göteborg, a legal firm specialising in housing issues, told The Local.

“If nothing is specified, then you should follow the general rules and be considerate towards your neighbours.”

The three common issues that arise during the summer when Swedes take to their balconies are grilling, smoking and nudity, he said.

Barbecues

The summer season is perfect for grilling, and although many residential areas in Sweden have communal grills in the garden, this is not always the case. Even if they do, some people prefer grilling on their balcony to be closer to the kitchen.

“If you grill, it will smell of meat, fish or vegetables and it could smell bad for a neighbour”, said Gartz. 

Electric grills are often more suitable for balconies. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

It’s also important to check with your housing association or your landlord to make sure they allow grilling on the balcony before you get started.

“A housing association has a lot of freedom to choose whether barbecues are allowed or not,” Maria Mati, property lawyer at HSB, Sweden’s largest cooperative housing association, wrote on their website.

“Therefore, you need to check to find out what applies in your association. But even if it’s allowed, you need to make sure that you grill in a fire-safe way.”

“And respect your neighbours,” she added.

Smoking

So, is it legal to smoke a cigarette outside on your balcony?

“You are allowed to smoke on your balcony,” Gartz said, “But if neighbours don’t like the smell of cigarette or cigar smoke, then be considerate.”

According to HSB, there’s no general ban on smoking in apartment blocks, and a housing foundation can’t ban you from smoking on your balcony or outside space.

“But you should also make sure you show consideration here,” Mati said, warning that you could end up on the wrong side of the law.

“The Residential Tenancies Act’s rules on disturbances in the property, or the Environmental Code’s rules on nuisance could be used in cases involving tobacco smoke,” she said.

“However, in one case, the district court in Falun decided that smoking on a balcony was permitted to a reasonable extent, even if irritated the neighbours,” she said.

Again, it all boils down to showing consideration for your neighbours.

“Maybe if you see that they are drinking coffee and you know smoke annoys them, wait until they finish before smoking”, Gartz said.

Just because your balcony is small doesn’t mean you can’t try your hand at growing your own vegetables. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Can I have plants on my balcony?

Flower boxes are a great way to liven up a balcony or even try your hand at growing vegetables during the summer months – just make sure they’re hanging on the inside of your balcony so they can’t fall down and injure someone, and try to avoid water and soil raining down on your neighbours below when you water your plants.

Is it legal to sunbathe naked on my balcony?

It depends how you do it.

Stripping off on your balcony isn’t necessarily forbidden. However, you do need to consider whether the neighbours might see more than they want to while you’re catching some rays. 

As is generally the case with rules for what you can and can’t do on your balcony, the law says that you’re more than entitled to take off your clothes in your own private space – but this shouldn’t impact your neighbours. 

To get around this, you may want to put up a screen between you and your neighbour’s balcony (you may have to ask permission from your housing foundation if this involves drilling any holes in the wall), or even go full Adam and Eve with a strategically placed plant or two.

Another option is position your parasol so it blocks your neighbour’s view – just watch out for any gusts of wind that may strike at an inopportune moment.

If, however, people see you from the street this could be more problematic, and in some cases end up in court depending on the gravity.

Similarly, you can’t have sex on your balcony where others could see or hear you – this could lead to a police report for förargelseväckande beteende (disorderly conduct).

In a nutshell:

Apartment living is often about compromise, and this also applies to what you do on your balcony. Speak to your neighbours and make sure they’re not irritated by your behaviour – similarly, let them know if something they’re doing is irritating you and see if you can figure out a solution which works for everyone.

“It is important to respect each other and talk about issues, if you live close to other people”, Gartz said.

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