Friday, May 08, 2009

Moving within Stockholm

There are three ways of finding a place to live in Stockholm (and other cities in Sweden): buy a place to live, make a queue for renting an apartment directly from the owner, and find someone who wants to sublet his or her apartment.

From what I hear from Swedes, the government encourages people to follow the first option. The supply of apartments for rent is severely discouraged due to the rent regulation. Rent is set according to the average cost of building an apartment in the area, nothing to do with demand for apartments.

The second option, making a queue, is infeasible for foreigners like myself. Those with their Swedish social security number or personnummer (everyone living in Sweden, Swedish nationals or not, must have one) can put themselves in a queue by paying 275 Swedish krona per year (about 26 euro), which by the way includes 25 percent VAT tax. Among those who are interested in a particular apartment for rent, the first 30 in the queue are allowed to have a look, and among those who do want to rent this apartment, the first in the queue is chosen as the tenant. On average, it takes five years to rent an apartment this way. Unless your Swedish parents put you in the queue long before you actually need to rent an apartment, it is impossible to find a place to live this way.

The last option, and effectively the only one for foreigners, is usually offered by Swedish tenants who need to go abroad for a certain period of time. It's unusual that such Swedes will stay abroad for more than a year. Therefore, the subletting contract usually lasts at most one year. So you need to move around Stockholm once in every year.

It seems like there is a political philosophy in Sweden which says that renting an apartment creates income inequality, which is nothing but evil. It is so anachronistic in the age of people moving around globally.

Anyway, the last option is what I took last weekend. There is an online real estate agency specializing in subletting, Bostad Direkt. (There appear to be many others of this kind, but only this one, it seems, has an English version of the list). The list of apartments for sublet can be viewed for free. But to find out the contact detail, you need to pay nearly 700 krona (67 euro) for the subscription lasting 45 days. I wanted to move in to an area called Hammarby Sjöstad. I've been browsing the list of apartments for sublet in this area since January, and couldn't find any with a reasonable amount of rent and a reasonable amount of contract duration (ie. at least 1 year) until early April. The first apartment that I saw was an excellent one. But the tenant, a Peruvian who broke up with his Swedish girlfriend a year ago and that is why he is subletting this spacious apartment, suddenly became out of reach on the day we would sign the contract. The second apartment that I saw is perfect but the fact that it lacks a bathtub. During the long, cold winter in Stockholm, taking a bath makes a lot of difference to someone from a country of bath culture. But there's no other option. I need to leave from my current apartment this August (because it's also a sublet), and there is absolutely no guarantee that I will find another apartment in this area by August. I may end up in a suburb of Stockholm where there is only one supermarket and nothing else (which is more or less true for all the suburbs in Stockholm). So I took this apartment in which I can stay until July 1st next year.

Since the contract with my previous apartment requires a 60-day advance notice of termination, I end up paying 2 months of rent for the apartment which I do not live in. And moving my stuff by truck costs about 2400 krona. Packing (and unpacking) all of my belongings and cleaning the apartment to leave costs two weeks. And all this will be repeated every year.

That's life in Stockholm.


alberto said...

So frustrating! I can't believe they didn't think about any exceptions for people like you. That's so not Swedish...I hope rents are reasonable at least.

shuhei said...

I feel for you. I have a same problem. While I searched for sublets on the website of SBBB, it will take at least two years (and of course more) to apply for flats since many applicants already have more than 500 credits (one day = one credit).
This is a somewhat annoying system. All stockholmers have to do is to register just after moving so that they will successfuly find a new room when the contract expires.
In contrast, a forthcomming doctoral student like me is more likely to end up in a subway station. A vicious circle, perhaps.
But anyway congrats for your new room.