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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
Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

“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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PROPERTY

These are our readers’ top tips for buying a property in Sweden

Buying an apartment or house in Sweden can be a daunting process, but with rentals so hard to get, many foreigners end up taking the plunge. Here are the top tips from readers who have done it.

These are our readers' top tips for buying a property in Sweden

Get prepared! 

Most of the respondents to our survey stressed the importance of preparation. 

“Spend time on defining your requirements properly, including visits to different locations to narrow down your search,” advised Julian, a Brit living in Malmö. 

As well as working out your requirements, other participants argued, you should also get to grips with the way the bidding system works in Sweden, with one British woman recommending buyers “speak to professionals about the buying procedure”. One respondent went so far as to recommend hiring a buyers’ agent, something international employers sometimes provide for senior executives moving to Sweden. 

Elizabeth, a 26-year-old charity worker from South America, recommended that all buyers “learn to read a bostadsrättsförening årsredovisning”, the finance report for a cooperative housing block. (You can find The Local’s guide here.) 

Get to know the market 

Maja, an anthropologist from Hungary, said it was important to take time to get a feel for the market, suggesting buyers visit different areas to find the one that they like. 

“It will take 6-12 months easily,” she predicts. “Don’t rush. Visit the neighborhoods where you are thinking of buying.”
 
Others recommended spending time surfing Sweden’s two main housing websites, Hemnet and Booli, to get a better feel for how much different types of housing in different areas typically sell for, before starting to look seriously yourself, with one even recommending going to viewings before you have any intention of buying.  
 
“Start visiting houses and monitoring bids. That will give you a sense of the process,” recommends Shubham, 31, a software engineer from India.
 

 
Think about your expectations
 
While house prices have soared in Sweden’s cities over the past decade, the same is not the case in all rural areas, something some respondents thought buyers should take advantage of. “To buy a house at a lesser price, look at areas as far from urban areas as is possible for you and your family,” wrote Simon, a 61-year-old living in rural Sweden. 
 
Julian warned bidders against areas and types of homes that “will attract tens of ‘barnfamiljer’ (families with children), meaning “bidding wars will result”, pushing up the price. 
 
On the other hand, one respondent warned people to “avoid buying apartments in vulnerable areas, even though prices will be lower there”. 
 
An Italian buyer recommended looking at newly built apartments coming up for sale. 
 
 
Get a mortgage offer before your first serious viewing 
 
Getting a lånelöfte, literally “loan promise”, can be tricky for foreigners in Sweden, as our recent survey of banks’ policies showed. 
 
Shubham warned against applying for a loan promise from multiple banks, arguing that this can affect your credit rating if your finances are not otherwise good. He suggested using an umbrella site like Ordna Bolån and Lånekoll, although he warned that the payment they take from the ultimate mortgage provider might ultimately be taken from borrowers.  
 
READ ALSO: 
 
Get to know the estate agents, but don’t necessarily trust them 
 
Gaurav, a sales manager based in Stockholm, recommended getting to know local estate agents in the area where you are planning to buy, as they might be able to direct you towards owners who are in a hurry to sell. “Those can be the best deals as you have greater chances to avoid bidding on such properties,” he argued. 
 
Maja, from Hungary, warned, however, against believing that the estate agent is on the buyer’s side. 
 
“You cannot really make friends with them, they work for commission and they will also try to raise the selling price,” she said. “It’s how they present you to the seller that matters. Seem like a serious buyer.” 

 
Should you try to make an offer before bidding starts? 
 
Morgan, a 33-year-old marketing manager from France, said it was worth studying the kommande (coming soon) section on Hemnet and Booli to spot houses and flats before they are formally put on the market. “Be alert. Book an appointment asap and get a private visit to reduce competition. If the apartment is what you’re looking for, make a reasonable offer with a condition to sign the contract in the next 24 hours,” he recommends. “You will cut the bidding frenzy and save money.”
 
Gaurav also recommended getting a private viewing and making an offer while the property was still off the market, as did Julian. 
 
“If you are lucky, you might find owners who are in a hurry to sell,” Julian said. “Those can be the best deals as you have greater chances to avoid bidding on such properties.” 
 
But other foreigners warned against bidding before a property is publicly put up for sale on housing websites, arguing that estate agents used this as a way of getting higher prices than they would expect to get at auction.  
 
“You are essentially negotiating directly with the owner, without finding out the actual market price via bidding,” argued a 31-year-old Indian business analyst. “Usually this will work only for an apartment not in top condition.” 
 
What to watch out for in the bidding process 
 
Morgan advised buyers to take what estate agents say about rival bidders with a pinch of salt. 
 
“Estate agents will play the competition card. Don’t fall for their trick and keep a cool head. Ask yourself if it really worth it before increasing a bid,” he wrote. 
 
In Sweden, it is possible to make a hidden bid, which is not disclosed to other bidders. One Indian software developer warned that estate agents would often claim that there was such a bid to pressure you. 
 
“The hidden bids are really confusing as you don’t know the bid placed,” he said. “It’s a trap to get higher bids. “
 
A 21-year-old Romanian agreed it was important to watch out for estate agents who try to rush or panic you. 
 
“[Look out for] those that try to rush you into it by saying stuff like ‘this will be gone by Monday, the owner wants to sell fast’, or if they don’t want to include a two-week period to have the property inspected as a clause in the contract,” she said. 
 
Maja recommended choosing an estate agency that required all bidders to supply their personal number, with all bids made public, “because other agencies might cheat that price rise”. 
 
“Don’t be the first bidder,” she added. “Keep your cool, and if the agent calls or messages, just hold on. There is no official end to the bidding. Only when you sign the contract. So the best game is to seem very serious but not stupid. You have a budget, and try to sign the contract the same day or the next if you are the highest bidder.” 
 
Is now a good time to buy? 
 
The respondents were, predictably, divided. 
 
“It’s risky for both sellers and buyers,” said Carl, a Swede who recently returned home from China. “The market seems to correlate pretty well with central banks raising interest rates. If that’s the case, then it’s still a sellers’ market since central bank [Riksbank] will continue to increase interest rates until 2024.” 
 
“It’s difficult to predict anything at the moment,” agreed Gaurav. “Prices should fall a bit but that’s not happening in all the areas. Avoid buying or selling if you can for a few months.” 
 
“I see there is no difference in buying in total cost. You can get a property at a lower price but end up paying more in interest and the price is the same in five to ten years,” said one Indian software engineer. “Buying is still better than renting.”

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