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PROPERTY

Renting in Sweden: How do I know if I’m being charged fairly?

Swedish law states that if you're renting a home, you must not be charged more than a "reasonable" rent, and yet a black market exists. There are several calculations you can do to make sure you're not being ripped off.

Renting in Sweden: How do I know if I'm being charged fairly?
How do you know if you're being charged a fair rent for an apartment, room or house in Sweden? Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

This only applies if you’re sub-letting an apartment, room or house from someone else, called renting i andrahand or ‘secondhand’ in Swedish. Renting directly from the building owner or housing agency, with a so-called förstahandskontrakt (first-hand contract) means rent controls often apply, but so does a queue system which often means you have to wait years to get one of these contracts in the bigger cities.

If you sub-let, you’ll either be renting from someone who has their own first-hand contract (this is called hyresrätt), or from someone who owns the property (called bostadsrätt if it’s an apartment or house belong to a housing association).

The rules are slightly different in both situations. It’s easiest to calculate a fair rent for a hyresrätt apartment, because your landlord pays rent themselves. They can charge you more than the exact amount they pay in rent, but only enough to cover extra fees or services included in the rent (such as internet, TV, and electricity) as well as a surcharge if you’re renting the apartment furnished. 

It’s not set out in law how much extra they can charge for a furnished apartment, but around 10-15 percent is generally seen as reasonable. Note that that’s for a fully furnished home, in other words a property where the tenant can live without bringing any extra furniture.


Homes in desirable areas of large cities can often be sublet at a high price. Photo: Bertil Ericson/SCANPIX

It’s more complicated for a bostadsrätt apartment or any other privately-owned home. 

In this case, the actual amount your landlord pays for their mortgage doesn’t affect how much they can charge for rent, so even if they own the property outright they can charge you based on the property’s value.

Instead, the calculation is made based on the market value calculated at a monthly rate, which might be worked out based on recently sold similar properties. Then, four percent is usually added on to cover the “cost of capital”.

On top of that, you’ll be charged for monthly costs. That includes things like internet, TV, and electricity, but also the monthly fee paid to the bostadsrättsförening (housing association) if the property belongs to one — this is the case for most apartments and some houses. And once again, if the property is being rented out furnished, the landlord is allowed to add 10-15 percent to cover this.

Some companies that manage sublet apartments have tools for calculating out reasonable rent based on the property’s size, location, and monthly costs, for example Samtrygg and Qasa. These services are both aimed at landlords, and an alternative is Boupplysning’s calculator, although only available in Swedish.

And what if you’re not going to be using the whole property, but just part of it?

If you’re renting out part of the apartment or house as an inneboende or one of several tenants, you do the same calculations as above depending on what kind of property it is, and calculate the proportion of the total rent/market value plus cost of capital equivalent to the proportion of living space you can use. Then you add on the cost of any services or furniture in the same way as above.

Doing these calculations yourself should give you an idea of the figure you should be looking at, but your landlord should also be able to show you how they’ve calculated the rent. Don’t be afraid to ask for the breakdown of costs.

Most importantly, make sure that you sign a contract with your landlord which states the full rent amount including any deposit, and that you pay it to the bank account stated in the contract each month. Never hand over any money without first signing a contract, and never make any transfers not regulated by the contract or any payments in cash.

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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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