How do people live?

Last updated: 21 9 2021

About Sweden – an orientation about Swedish society.

This theme is about what people’s homes are like in Sweden. There are different types of housing, including a rented room, a rented flat in a block of flats and a house of one’s own.

It describes these different types of housing and how to find a home. It also describes housing shortages and homelessness.

  • The right to housing

    Everyone is entitled to housing. Your right to housing means that you can apply for help to find some form of housing if you have nowhere to stay. Municipalities have a responsibility to ensure that all of their inhabitants have housing.

    You are also entitled to move and to choose where in Sweden you want to live.

Living in Sweden

Sweden is located in northern Europe, on the eastern side of the Scandinavian peninsula. The geographical area includes Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland, which are collectively known as the Nordic countries. Sweden is a large and oblong country, and is divided into three parts from south to north: Götaland in the south, Svealand in the middle and Norrland in the north. Sweden is also divided into 25 provinces (called landscapes in Swedish), 21 counties and 290 municipalities.

About ten million people live in Sweden today. Around four million of these live in and around the country's three biggest cities: Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö. Stockholm is the capital of Sweden.

The landscapes of northern Sweden are very different from those of the south. Northern Sweden is home to mountains, forests and lakes. Many of the rivers in Norrland are used to generate hydroelectric energy. Central Sweden is densely forested, while southern Sweden has more open agricultural land and plains. The west and east coasts have deeply indented coastlines and lots of islands. The biggest islands are Gotland and Öland, borh located off the east coast, south of Stockholm. Sweden's tallest mountain, Kebnekaise, is 2,099 metres high and located in northernmost Sweden, near the Norwegian border.

Travelling in Sweden

Sweden has many roads and railways, primarily in areas where many people live. The majority of the railways are around Stockholm, Gothenburg and in southern Sweden. It is more common to travel by bus or in your own car in northern Sweden. People who are travelling a long distance in Sweden can fly. There are airports close to the majority of larger cities.

In most cities, public transport is available for everyone.

It can for instance be buses, trams, metros and ferries that run between several stations in the cities or trains and buses that run between cities and in the countryside. Domestic flights also operate between some cities. There are also ferries that operate from the mainland to Gotland.

To use public transport, you are required to purchase a ticket.

Different forms of housing

In Sweden there are different ways to have a home. You can rent or buy a flat, or you can rent or buy a house. More information about different types of housing is available here.

A street in a city, with parked cars and both tall and short residential buildings in various colours.

Photo: Misak Nalbandian

  • Rented flats

    All of Sweden's municipalities have local housing companies through which you can look for flats to rent. These companies can be owned by private individuals or by the municipality. If it is owned by the municipality it is known as a public housing company. If you live in a rented flat, you are a tenant. Tenants rent their flats from a landlord, which is the company or person that owns the flat.

    Some landlords may require a deposit when you rent a flat. This is a sum of money that you provide as security to the landlord during the rental period. When you move out of the flat, the landlord will return the money to you – but if you have damaged the flat or if you did not clean it before moving out, the landlord may be entitled to keep all or part of the money.

    When you rent a flat, you have to pay rent every month.

  • Tenant-ownership

    A tenant-owned flat is a flat that you buy the right to use. That means you buy a share of the association (also called a cooperative) of tenant-owners who own the building together. You then become a member of the association and the tenant-owner of the flat.

    Tenant-owners pay a monthly fee to the association. If you borrowed money to pay for the flat you also have to make interest and amortisation payments to the bank.

    Each municipality has local property agents and housing companies that will show you flats which are for sale. The municipalities' websites usually list the local agents and companies. You can also use the internet to look for tenant-owned flats for sale.

  • Houses

    In Sweden you can buy or rent a house. When buying a house, prices can vary greatly between big cities, smaller towns and rural areas. Each municipality has local property agents and housing agencies that will show you houses which are for sale. You can also buy a plot of land and build you own house on it.

  • Subletting

    Subletting is common in Sweden, and means that a person who has the lease on a flat (i.e. not the flat's landlord) rents the flat to you. It is also possible get a sublet from someone who is the tenant-owner of a flat or who owns a house.

    If you want to get a sublet, it is important to check that the landlord has approved the sublet.

    Make sure that a contract is drawn up for the sublet. If you don't have a contract, you can be forced to move if the person who has the lease demands that you do. Before you sign a contract for a sublet, make sure you know what your rights are as a sub-lessee.

    You should not have to pay too high a rent when you rent a flat as a sublet. The rent must be reasonable, which means there are rules for how high the rent can be. If the rent for a flat is much higher than the rent for other similar flats in the same area, it may be unreasonably high.

    If you think the rent you are paying is too high, tell the landlord. If you cannot agree on the rent, you can contact the

    Regional Rent Tribunal (Hyresnämnden,). Hyresnämnden can then make an assessment of what a reasonable rent would be for your particular flat.

  • Lodging

    It is also possible to rent a room in someone's flat or house. This means you share the flat or house with the person who rents or owns it, and is known as being a lodger. There are rules and terms of notice for lodgers as well, so make sure that a contract is drawn up when you want to rent a room in someone's flat or house.

  • Collective housing

    A collective consists of several people living together. Often the people in a collective share certain things. Collective housing can be organised in different ways. Usually you have your own room, but share for example a kitchen and a bathroom with the others in the collective.

  • Social housing

    Social housing is a housing solution for people who are unable to arrange housing on their own. This might be temporary housing for recently arrived refugees or for an indebted family with children. It can also be a trial flat for a person dealing with addiction or mental problems.

    Social housing is provided by the municipality. A person often has to fulfil certain requirements in order to be granted social housing. It is only a temporary housing solution. The most common form is a sublet with a contract that contains special terms and conditions.

  • Questions to think about

    Do you know what housing companies there are in your municipality?

    Do you know what interest and amortisation are? If not, do you know where you can find information about this?

    What is important to bear in mind when you rent a sublet?

    Have you ever rented a sublet?

How to find housing

In some municipalities, it is fairly easy to find vacant flats, while in others, it is more difficult. Many municipalities have a shortage of flats to rent.

Example: Miriam is looking for a flat

Miriam is looking for a flat. Several times a week, she visits various websites that advertise vacant flats. As soon as a flat appears that matches her needs, she applies for it. She also checks her email several times a week to make sure she does not miss a flat offer – she needs to accept the offer quickly, before it passes on to someone else.

Looking for a flat

Many municipalities have a housing authority. The housing authority normally has a website where you can register and look for available apartments.

When you have registered, you must visit the website regularly in order to see if any new apartments have become available. If you see an apartment advertised, you can apply for this apartment.

When the deadline for applications for an apartment has passed, the landlord chooses who will be invited to look at the apartment. Many landlords have a queuing system in which a person who has been in the queue (really a waiting list) for a long time has a greater chance of getting the apartment. When you have looked at an apartment, you have to tell the landlord whether you want it or not. The landlord will contact you if you get the lease on the apartment.

Once you have applied for a flat, it is also important that you check your email regularly, so that you do not miss an offer for a flat you have applied for. You have to be quick to accept an offer you get for a flat. If you are not, the flat may pass to someone else who is interested in it.

  • Questions to think about

    Have you looked for a flat on the websites of different housing companies?

    What is required in order to look for a flat online?

Advice on looking for apartments

Sometimes it is not enough just to look for apartments at the housing authority. It is also a good idea to contact a landlord directly. The majority of large landlords have their own website where you can register your interest in an apartment. Make use of your own contacts, relatives and friends to get information about available apartments.

One way to find an apartment can be to put up notes in shops, libraries, stairwells or in other places where there are notice boards.

You can also find adverts for available apartments in various daily newspapers and on various websites. This is where you can also find apartments to sublet, i.e. not renting directly from the landlord, but from another tenant.

There are several websites with housing adverts on which you can find sublets to rent. You can respond to adverts and publish your own advert that you are looking for a flat. You can also look for flats on social media.

Remember that you should always sign a contract with the person you are going to rent from before you pay for the flat or the room. It is important that you do not pay a deposit to anyone before you and the landlord have signed the contract. Otherwise there is a risk you will be cheated out of your money.

  • Questions to think about

    Are there similarities between how you look for housing in Sweden and in the country or countries where you lived previously? If so, what are they?

    What should you bear in mind when you look for a flat?

Does everyone have a home?
  • Finding housing in and around major cities

    It's very difficult to find flats to rent in and around big cities. Some parts of cities are particularly popular, which often makes it even more difficult to find flats to rent there. Many people choose to live in the bigger cities, and in these cities there, are many other people who also need housing, which creates a lot of competition for housing. It is common for people to become lodgers or to rent sublets. It may be easier to find a flat outside of the big cities. In most areas, there will be good bus and train links for people who want to be able to travel to the big cities.

  • Housing shortage

    The state, or the central public administration, used to be more involved in housing construction. Nowadays, it is the municipalities that plan where and when to build housing. Both private and municipal companies build housing.

    The municipality has a responsibility to ensure that all its inhabitants have housing. This responsibility is greater for certain groups of people: some elderly people, some people with functional impairments, some new arrivals who have been granted residence permits, and asylum-seeking children who have arrived without their parents.

    Many places in Sweden have a housing shortage. The reason for this is that not enough housing is being built even though the population has been growing for a long time. Many things influence housing construction, including if land is available and if the companies that construct housing can make money from it.

    New housing is often expensive to rent, which means that many people cannot afford it. As a result, many people who need housing have to look for older housing with a lower rent or try to find a sublet. Finding housing is particularly difficult for people who do not have a lot of money, who have only been in the housing queue a short while, or who do not know a lot of people who can help them with direct contacts for rentals.

    The housing shortage leads to segregation, crowding, and homelessness. It can also mean that people are forced to stay longer in temporary housing.

    The number of people who need help from the municipality or state to find housing has increased in recent years. For the same reason, the number of social housing contracts in housing rented out by the municipalities has increased.

  • Segregation

    Segregation means that groups of people live and work separately from each other, with little or no interaction between them. It might be that people are divided according to their income, their ethnicity, or their gender. It also means that people with similar backgrounds often live and work together or attend the same schools.

    Two different types of segregation are housing segmentation and residential segregation.

    Housing segmentation means that there are different types of housing in different areas, such as flats to rent in one area and detached houses in another. Residential segregation means that different groups of people live in different areas. For example, people who earn a lot of money may live in one area and those who earn little money in another. The area where people live can influence their opportunities in life. It might affect their chances of getting a job or attending a good school. There can also be considerable differences in longevity between people who live in different areas.

    A collage of several big blocks of flats in concrete on one side and detached wooden houses on the other.
  • Crowded living conditions

    The housing shortage means that some people are forced to live in crowded conditions. Most often, such crowded conditions are limited to certain areas. Living in crowded conditions is most common among young people, people born abroad, and above all among people who do not have a lot of money. Crowded living affects people in different ways – one example is that it can make it difficult for children to do their homework in a calm and quiet setting.

  • Homelessness

    Homelessness can occur for many different reasons. Some people become homeless because of addiction problems. Others become homeless due to mental illness, divorce, having left a violent partner, or having been evicted from their home.

    But there are also completely different reasons for homelessness, such as a lack of housing with reasonable rents or landlords imposing high income requirements.

    In Sweden, the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) is responsible for monitoring homelessness. Socialstyrelsen is a government agency. It considers as homeless anyone who sleeps in the street, as well as those who live temporarily, without a contract, with family or acquaintances.

    The municipality's social services help homeless people in various ways, such as by arranging temporary housing, places in emergency housing, or an allowance for staying in youth hostel.

  • Avoiding homelessness

    If you do not pay your rent, your landlord can terminate your contract. If that happens, you will not be allowed to stay in the flat. This is called being evicted. If you are evicted from your flat, it may be very difficult to get another flat. The Swedish Enforcement Authority (Kronofogdemyndigheten) is in charge of evicting people from their flats. Kronofogdemyndigheten is often called Kronofogden for short.

    As a tenant, you have a responsibility to seek help if you are unable to pay the rent. If you are unable to pay your rent or are at risk being evicted, you can contact the social services. They can give you advice and support to increase your chances of keeping your flat.

    The public services have a responsibility to help people who are at risk of being evicted. The social services, the landlord, and Kronofogden have to work together to prevent people being evicted. For example, the social services can contact the tenant at an early stage to offer support. It is also important that you as the tenant are given information by the landlord about the rights and obligations that apply when you rent a flat.