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

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
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?

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. 

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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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