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PROPERTY

How does Sweden’s housing queue work, and is it worth joining?

Finding a place to live is simultaneously one of the most important steps for newcomers to Sweden and one of the most complex to get to grips with. Sweden's housing queues provide access to rental homes, where the monthly price is capped, but is it worth joining the queue, and will you ever reach the front?

How does Sweden's housing queue work, and is it worth joining?
Is joining one of Sweden's many housing queues a good way to find your home? Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Why does Sweden have a housing queue?

The housing queue, or really ‘queues’ since there are many across the country, is exactly what it sounds like: a queue for housing. The longer you are in the queue, the more points you accumulate, which you can use to get priority for renting an apartment.

The benefits of these ‘first-hand’ rentals are numerous. As well as the capped rent, tenants usually have the option to stay in the home for life, in comparison to private rentals which are strictly regulated and often have a maximum limit of one or two years.

The first queue was set up in the early 20th century, and the system was expanded during the First World War due to disruption on the housing market, when the government passed legislation that said all towns over 5,000 residents should operate a queue system.

The goal is to increase security for people who cannot or choose not to buy their homes, by giving them a stable place to live at stable prices. Unfortunately, a rising population combined with stagnation in construction of affordable construction means that the queues for the apartments have grown long in many places. 

What different kinds of queues are there?

Some queues are run by municipalities, and others by private companies, which however have to agree to certain conditions including the rent cap.

In some cases you pay a yearly fee to keep your place in the queue (this is especially common in the most sought-after locations) while others are free.

You should also be aware of some housing queues that are for specific groups, including students, young people (often defined as being under 27), and pensioners.

To find housing agencies (bostadsförmedlingar) in your area, you could search online or check your municipality’s website.

How long will it take to get an apartment through the queue?

This depends mostly on where in the country you are and what kind of queue you join, as that determines the level of competition for each apartment.

In some places, you will be eligible for apartments as they become available, whereas in Stockholm it can take more than ten years to be able to get a first-hand contract. A less densely populated area doesn’t necessarily mean a shorter queue time as it also depends on the interest in living there and availability of housing; on the island of Gotland, the main housing queue had an average waiting time of 13 years as of summer 2020.

How does it work?

Once you have joined the queue, you can search for available apartments on the housing agency’s website, and register your interest in any you like the look of.

Then the company that owns the housing will choose some applicants to attend a viewing, and will then check your eligibility. For example, you usually need proof of your annual income (to show you can afford to pay rent and bills), references from previous landlords, and you may need a credit check. They will also check that you don’t already have a first-hand apartment.

How can I boost my chances of getting an apartment through the queue?

You gain ‘points’ based on how long you have been in the queue, which means more properties are available to you, so the sooner you sign up, the greater your chance of being allocated a place.

You can also boost your chances by joining multiple queues, or being clever about the ones you join. For example, the queues in Stockholm are the longest in the country, so by joining queues in neighbouring municipalities if you’re prepared to commute, you might increase your chances.

Beyond that, it’s crucial to monitor the sites regularly and carefully, because you might get an apartment by being quick. This is especially true if you can be active at times when other people are less likely to be looking, such as during summer holidays.

What are my other options?

Unless you are ready to buy property in Sweden, you will likely need to sublet, called second-hand renting in Sweden, either from someone who rents via the housing queue or from someone who owns their home.

The other alternative is to find a private landlord who rents outside the housing queue. Some landlords allocate apartments based on time of application (first come, first served or först till kvarn in Swedish) or through a lottery.

So, should I join the queue?

There’s no right or wrong answer, as it depends on factors like how long you want to live in Sweden, whether you can afford to buy property or feel confident finding a reasonably priced sublet, and how long the queue times in your area are.

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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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