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RENTING

Renting in Sweden: How to ace the apartment viewing

Foreign tenants in Sweden often face stiff competition for apartments due to a housing shortage in the big cities and a queue system that benefits those who have lived in the country longer. Here are our tips for boosting your chances in the apartment hunt.

A Swedish apartment living room
A few compliments directed at the landlord's furnishing style won't go amiss. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

Stand out in your ad

To secure a viewing, you will usually need either to respond to ads put up by landlords on sites like Blocket and Qasa, or to put up your own ad. Either way, make sure you’re making a good first impression.

Include any details that make you a desirable tenant, for example if you have a full-time job or stable income, are a non-smoker, and so on. Many sublets are from people renting out their own homes for a short period, for example if they work or study abroad, so it’s also a good idea to include a few details about you as a person, and show you’ve read the ad by referencing the neighbourhood or another detail. If you can, write in Swedish and have a Swedish speaker translate or check your template. Save your questions for the viewing itself; this initial contact is all about securing your viewing.

Get references ready

As well as proof of income or employment, many landlords in Sweden will ask for references from previous landlords. The housing process can move fast, so you’ll want to prepare these in advance, particularly since landlords in many countries will not be used to providing them.

If you’ve never rented before, consider asking a previous flatmate to provide a ‘character reference’, or you could ask your employer or university tutor if they can vouch for you. If you’ve been staying at a temporary accommodation such as an Airbnb or apartment hotel, you could also ask your host to write something. However, the really crucial thing is your proof of employment or another source of income.

Take off your shoes

Sweden is a shoes-off country when it comes to people’s homes, and this is particularly important in the autumn and winter. Your host may not always ask, but it’s expected that you remove your shoes on arrival — stamping slush into their floor will not make a good impression.

Check on the laundry room

Swedish laundry culture is a big thing. Some apartments have their own washing machines and dryers but if that’s not the case, find out where the tvättstuga (laundry room) is, usually either in a basement or outbuilding. Bear in mind that even a short outside walk could become a hassle on winter evenings.

Be positive

It’s nice to be nice, and it could also help you become the landlord’s top choice. As we mentioned, in many cases the people renting out second-hand apartments intend to return to live there after the rental, so if you’re complimentary about the apartment and their furnishings, it can help persuade them that you’re the right person to take care of their home.

Check the legality

The market may move fast, but you should still look out for scams or ‘black market’ rentals. A legitimate landlord will not have a problem proving their identity to you, and you can do your own research on websites like Hitta and Eniro where you can confirm their personal details. Of course, never hand over any money before viewing an apartment, making these checks and signing a contract, and never sign anything you don’t fully understand.

Find out why the landlord is subletting the place — do they own or rent it, and why is it available? This isn’t about being nosy, but it can affect whether and for how long they are able to sublet. For example, many housing associations have a rule that home-owners can only sublet for up to six months or a year if they are moving in with a partner, but for longer periods if they are working or studying in another location.

You should always ask to see the proof they’ve received to sublet. If your landlord hasn’t been appproved by the housing association to rent out their home, this could cause several problems for you as a tenant. Firstly, you may be unable to officially register at the address, making it hard to receive post and to be ‘in the system’ in Sweden. But if the housing association finds out about the unapproved sublet, you could also be forced to leave.  

If your landlord is renting the apartment on a first hand contract, they should be able to show you the calculation of the rental price. There are strict legal limits on how much they can charge, so check that you’re not being ripped off. Prices are also regulated if the landlord owns the property, but in that case they can base the amount on the current value — which in Sweden’s hot housing market means they can often legally charge a high rental price in the big cities.

Ask about upcoming renovations

One thing which can have a major impact on your quality of life, but which may not be obvious even from a thorough viewing of the property, is building work. Here there are two possibilities to keep in mind; works on the building itself, and in the local area.

You should be able to ask the landlord if any major renovations are planned for the building. The two which generally have the biggest impact are stambyte (replacement of pipes) which can leave you without running water for an extended period, and fasadrenovering (renovation of the outside of the building), which usually means the entire side of the building is covered up for a few months, blocking your natural light. As well as asking the landlord, you can check on the website of the housing association (BRF); you can find out which association an apartment belongs to by searching the website allabrf.se.

Planned building work in the local area will likely be described on the website for your municipality, or you may see signs in the neighbourhood if it will be starting soon.

Follow up fast

Unfortunately the rental market in Sweden means the advantage often lies with the landlord. Don’t rush into an agreement before getting all your essential questions answered, but don’t delay once you see a place you like and are confident that it’s legitimate. It’s a good idea to contact the landlord as soon as you’ve decided their apartment is the one you want, and have your proof of income and references ready immediately — you may even want to bring paper copies to each viewing.

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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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