The Swedish housing market works very differently from most other countries in Europe. As for other aspects of state governance, Sweden has a very “social” approach to housing. About 22% of all housing in the country is social housing, or as the Swedes prefer to call it, public housing. Such accommodation is managed by municipal companies (local council housing associations). In theory, anyone can rent a council house, but high demand means waiting lists are very long in the major cities. In the centre of Stockholm people can sometimes wait for more than 20 years. The system also regulates private sector rents, which are usually for units within co-operative properties. Private sector rent prices are legally prohibited from being substantially higher than those of public accommodation in the same area.
This social housing system is now under strain. As the demand in major cities is incredibly high, there is a real gap between rents and market value. This means that in reality most accommodation is sub-let at much higher prices, creating a parallel ‘grey’ market.
Finding accommodation in Sweden can be very difficult. Even student housing is not guaranteed and most universities recommend their students to start looking well in advance. This is not the case if you are looking outside the major cities. In the North, it is very easy to find accommodation. Depopulation means somewhere in the region of 5,000 houses a year are demolished.
There is no legal ‘buy-to-let’ market in Swedish apartments. Private landlords exist, but they usually own whole buildings rather than individual apartments and can only rent out a part of their property directly to tenants. They must rent the rest through the Bostadsfomedlingen, a state-run body for the distribution of vacant property. The Bostadsfomedlingen charges a fee to its tenants for placing them in accommodation, something to be aware of before ruling out other options. This means that you are less likely to find private landlords renting out their apartments, as you do in other EU countries.