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HOUSING

What’s the difference between renting first-hand or second-hand in Sweden?

There are two rental systems in Sweden, and which option you use has an impact on the price you pay and how long you can stay.

What's the difference between renting first-hand or second-hand in Sweden?
The key difference is who you rent from, but it has wider implications. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

You'll hear people talking about renting first-hand (första hand) or second-hand (i andrahand), and the key difference between the two is who you're renting from – but there are wider implications.

With a 'first-hand' rental contract, you rent directly from the landlord. That could be a municipality or a rental agency, but these properties are subject to state-regulated rent controls, which are intended to keep prices reasonable.

You can usually stay in these properties for as long as you like, provided you don't break the terms of your contract (for example by disturbing your neighbours or failing to maintain the property or pay rent). You pay bills like electricity on top of the fixed rent.

The catch is that these are generally allocated via a queue system: you sign up, in some cities pay a nominal fee each year and earn credits the longer you queue, which give you higher priority when a property becomes available. A national housing shortage means you might be waiting for many years or even decades before you're eligible for somewhere first-hand.

If you want to join the queue, it's worth shopping around. Queue times vary between municipalities, so a suburb of a large city might have a much shorter wait time, and you can sometimes find queues specifically for young people or retirees.

Second-hand renting is the Swedish term for subletting. 

In this case, you're not renting directly from the people responsible for the building, but you rent either from someone with a first-hand contract themselves (known as hyresrätt) or from someone who has bought their property (called bostadsrätt if it's an apartment).

The person you rent from needs to have the permission of the building's housing association in order to sublet (you should ask to see this) and most associations have a cap on how long the property can be rented out second-hand for – often a maximum of a year, sometimes with the possibility of extension.

Private individuals in Sweden are not allowed to rent out their accommodation solely for profit, so even though these aren't subject to rent controls there are still caps on how much your landlord charge you.

Rent must be 'reasonable', which means: basic rent (the amount the landlord pays if they are renting first-hand, a proportion of the total rent if you're lodging, or an estimate of the cost based on similar apartments if your landlord owns the apartment), an additional 10-15 percent if the apartment is furnished, fees for any other services included in the contract (internet, a parking space, electricity, TV, etc). If your landlord owns the apartment, they may also add on four percent of the home's market value to cover the 'cost of capital'.

In other words, it will cost more than a first-hand contract, especially if you rent from someone who owns their apartment in an expensive area rather than someone renting themselves. But as long as your landlord is following the law (which unfortunately isn't always the case) rent shouldn't be outrageously high.

Whether you're a first- or second-hand renter, you always have rights to certain basic standards, for example a comfortable temperature in the apartment, the right to water and heating, and the right to use the home (without your landlord entering unexpectedly) and have guests over. 

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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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