Home comforts a civil right for Swedish renters

In New Zealand we have become far too used to substandard living when it comes to renting a home. We live with the physical costs experienced through the effect on health, and the stress of finding extra money in winter time to heat homes that are unable to be heated efficiently due to lack of minimum standards, such as adequate insulation. Hospital admissions of children due to preventable illness, many as a result of poor housing conditions, have become the norm. University students live in damp, mouldy rooms and suffer poor health because these offer the lowest boards.

Higher than normal inflation in rents means a greater proportion of our pay packet is spent on keeping a roof over our heads. We must improve the outcomes for our children and families by insisting that better policies are in place for both social housing and private rentals. Labour's Healthy Homes Bill (No 2) having passed its first reading is a step towards a brighter, and warmer future. We must look to policies that work in other parts of the world when we think about better home standards, such as those in Sweden.

For Chantelle Murley, a Kiwi now studying in Sweden, "cold" and "damp" are not words she could ever associate with the student housing in which she resides.

Chantelle writes:

After I moved to Sweden, my friends and family were confused when I Skyped them in the middle of Swedish winter. I was wearing similar clothes (indoors) to what they were wearing in the middle of their Kiwi summer. A housing Warrant of Fitness (WoF) which enforces minimum standards was behind my cosy environment.

If you are renting first-hand (not a sub-lease) in Sweden, there are lowest acceptable standards that the residence must meet by law. If these are not met the tenant can apply to the Regional Rent Tribunal in order to see that the landlord makes the necessary repairs to meet the standard.

These minimum requirements required for a residence are:

  • continuous heating, 
  • a continuous supply of hot and cold water for household and hygienic purposes, 
  • sewer drainage,
  • personal hygiene comprising a toilet, wash basin as well as bathtub or shower, 
  • electricity for normal household consumption, 
  • food preparation facilities comprising a stove, sink, refrigerator, storage space and countertops,
  • as well as storage and laundry facilities (laundries are commonly shared in an apartment building, with a booking system for use).

Finally the building is not to have deficiencies in structural integrity, fire safety or sanitary conditions.

The "continuous heating" clause gives the tenant the right to demand that indoor temperatures are maintained at a comfortable level. This is between at least 18°C in the room and 16°C on the floor as a minimum and 24°C as a maximum. There is some discretion for extreme weather where lower or higher temperatures have to be tolerated, but only temporarily.

These all lead to a warm and dry, and comfortable indoor environment. Even when I was in student accommodation it was so unbelievably dry and warm inside. I don't think my skin will ever get used to how dry it is inside! I would put my clothes to dry on a line inside, and after I got home from school the same day they were ready to be worn by the evening. By comparison, drying clothes inside in New Zealand during winter could take days!

In Stockholm, Sweden's capital city, you can expect to spend a substantial time on a waiting list for public housing (the equivalent of social housing in New Zealand only anyone can apply - not just those on low-incomes) due to undersupply. And, as in New Zealand, private rentals come at a greater cost. But even the private rentals guarantee the same minimum standards, so no-one in Sweden who has a first-hand rental contract can expect any less than a warm and cosy winter.