Paid 10 000 SEK – but doesn’t count as a customer
Swedish version and more information available here.
– I’m disappointed. I definitely don’t think that we’ve gotten the value of 10 000 SEK, I had expected better service for that amount of money.
The words are Gosia Budelewska’s, and the reason for her disappointment is the way relocation companies operate in Sweden.
The background is as follows. When Swedish companies employ staff from abroad there are many things the employee may need assistance with, housing often being the most pressing issue.
The employer may then turn to a relocation company. For a charge, the company will help the employee find housing or help out with other issues.
The problem however, is that the formal customer is the employer, but it’s the employee that has to live with the result of the deal, whether good or bad.
Hem & Hyra has previously told the story of French expat Maxime, who was duped into paying double rent compared to his Swedish neighbours. With the help of the Tenants’ Union he got 50 000 SEK back.
Maxime had gotten the apartment through Nordic Relocation Group, but the company claims the rent level is not their responsibility.
Gosia Budelewska and her husband Paul also had to turn to the Tenants’ Union. Through Paul’s employer they had paid 10 000 SEK to Nordic Relocation Group.
The company put them in touch with a woman in Majorna, Göteborg, who was looking to sublet her co-operative apartment.
The trouble started when the contract was to be signed.
– The woman suddenly demanded a higher rent than we had agreed on earlier. We were pressed for time and didn’t know where else to go, so we agreed, says Gosia Budelewska.
Soon after, they took their case to the Rental Tribunal (Hyresnämnden). The tribunal decided the rent should be lower.
However, when Gosia and Paul were to move out the next year, the woman refused to return their deposit, claiming damaged furniture and insufficient cleaning.
Now the matter is to be decided in court. This is a situation Gosia and Paul claim could have been avoided, had Nordic Relocation Group participated in a final inspection.
– We asked them for this, but they only told us that the woman wanted to do the inspection herself, says Gosia Budelewska.
Åse Löfgren-Gunsten is the CEO of Nordic Relocation Group.
She won’t comment on the specific case, as it is Paul’s employer who is the billed customer of her company. Who actually pays the bill in the end is impossible for Nordic Relocation Group to know, according to her.
– We don’t do business with private individuals. If a tenant is discontented, he or she can turn to the Rental Tribunal, says Åse Löfgren-Gunsten.
She adds that Nordic Relocation Group advices parties signing a contract that deposition money should be placed in an account provided by the company, where no party can touch it before the lease is over.
This is nothing that Gosia Budelewska recognizes. She and her husband paid the money directly to the account of the woman they were subletting from. Other options were never discussed.
Sofia Ytterberg of the Tenants Union’s legal department has had contact with Gosia and Paul during the process.
In her opinion, it’s very difficult for the person subletting to understand that he or she has no legally binding deal with the relocation company.
– The company participates when the person moves in, and provides a ready-made contract for the parties to sign. The tenant gets the impression that the company provides security, but in fact one only has a contract with the landlord, says Sofia Ytterberg.
Sofia Ytterberg also thinks this makes the offer to deposit money in a Nordic Relocation Group account very strange, as there is no contract between them and the tenant.
According to her, the practices of Nordic Relocation Group may very well be in violation of Swedish rental law (see fact box below).
– They claim to circumnavigate the law by only billing other companies, but in reality it’s often a private individual that pays for their service. However, the company takes no responsibility if that individual ends up with a dishonest landlord, says Sofia Ytterberg.
She would like to have the matter tried in court, but to do that the Tenants’ Union needs a member willing to pursue the case.
– The problem is that the persons concerned are often unaware of Swedish law and regulations. They usually stay in the country only for a limited time, and normally aren’t interested in a lengthy legal process, says Sofia Ytterberg.
Immigrants duped into paying extra rent
According to §65a of Swedish rental law it is generally forbidden to charge money for the brokering of rental contracts.
Exceptions to this general rule are only made if another law or regulation specifically states so.
In Sweden, the price setting of rented homes is regulated.
(However, there are different rules regulating the subletting of co-operative or privately owned apartments, as you can read in the fact boxes here).
The rent should mirror construction costs, size of the apartment, living standard, and rent levels for similar homes in the area.
Where the house is located, however, is not a factor that should influence the rent. An apartment in the city center should generally have the same rent level as an apartment of similar size and standard in the suburbs.
If not stated otherwise in contracts, the landlord has the obligation to negotiate the rents with an organization representing the tenants, should any resident be a member of this organization.
Normally, this means negotiating with Hyresgästföreningen, the Tenants’ Union. One third of the Swedish tenant households are members, which means there are members in almost any house.
The rents negotiated should apply to all residents in the house. To suddenly charge different rents for certain individuals is a total violation of agreement.
If there is a dispute concerning rent or accomadation, this can be settled in the Rental Tribunal, Hyresnämnden. You can read more about laws and rules (in Swedish) at the tribunal’s site.