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FEATURE: How to buy or rent a house in Norway

According to the IMF, Norway has the second worst housing bubble in the world, but renting can be even more expensive. Oslo-based journalist Audrey Andersen explains how to get your hands on a property.

FEATURE: How to buy or rent a house in Norway
An upmarket Oslo apartment - Lachlan Hunt
Despite the soaring cost of property, Norway has one of the highest levels of home ownership in Europe, with almost 80 per cent of Norwegians owning rather than renting. 
 
The main objective of Norwegian housing policy is to have as many people as possible become home owners. But some people do rent nonetheless in the hope that prices become more stable, or they finally build up enough funds to buy. 
 
Renting
 
A tenant in Norway has more rights than in many other countries. For example, while a lease period cannot be for less than three years, a tenant can terminate the tenancy at any time without any reason. The only stipulation is that they give notice in writing. 
 
The rights of a tenant are laid out in the lease agreement, and also in Norway's Tenancy Act. Once the lease is signed, rental costs must broadly follow the consumer price index for at least the first three years of the tenancy.
 
Rental costs in Norway can be very high, although exactly how high depends on which part of country you live in. O
 
Oslo and the neighbouring county, Bærem, are amongst the most expensive. Smaller properties have seen the sharpest increase in price as prospective renters, such as students, compete for tenancy.  
 
The average monthly rent for a two room dwelling increased by 0.8 per cent between the second and the third quarter of 2012. 
 
The average is now 9,048 NOK ($1,500), but rent varies according to the location and condition of the property. 
 
An average two-bedroomed apartment measuring 70m2 in the nicer parts of Oslo can set you back as much as NOK 16,000 ($2,600) .
 
Rent is never paid more than once a month month, and is paid in advance. Tenants are usually expected to provide a deposit against damage equivalent to three months rent, which needs to transferred into a separate account for the duration of the tenancy. 
 
In addition, the landlord should specify if the rent includes electricity and heating costs. 
 
Heating in apartment blocks is generally switched off in May for the summer month. Often is isn't switched back on again until late September, no matter how cold it gets. 
 
Leases 
 
Standard lease documents are available through the consumer agency, www.forbrukportalen.no.  A lease should always be signed and it should include a list of contents.
 
Disputes
 
Landlords can terminate a tenancy only if there are justifiable reasons for doing so. A tenant has a right to object and the termination will lapse if the landlord does not take the case to the Conciliations Board/HTU (The Rent Disputes Tribunal for Oslo and Akershus County).
 
Buying 
 
At the end of 2012, house prices were 7.0 per cent higher than 2011, with the biggest increases seen in the Oslo area, where property prices shot up nine per cent over the year. 
 
An average 84m2 apartment can set you back around 3,800,000 kroner ($632,000) or more, with prices for houses in the city out of most people’s price range.
 
Mortgages
 
The first step in buying a home in Norway begins with a mortgage application and, if successful, approval through a bank. The purchase price of a house or apartment is determined through a bidding process. 
 
An important factor to keep in mind is that the deal is made when the seller accepts your bid. You should therefore never make an offer unless you are certain that your finances are in order beforehand. 
 
Houses and apartments for sale and for rent are often advertised in local newspapers. Norwegian daily Aftenposten have a good selection on their website at www.aftenposten.no.  There are also several useful websites, the most popular being Finn.no. www.finn.no.  Other estate agents (eiendomsmegler) are www.privatmegler.no and www.dnbnoeiendom.no.  Expect to pay between 1.5 and 2.5 per cent commission.
 
Mortgage repayment periods can be long but if buying for the first time, you can avail yourself of first-time buyer mortgage.  This is a mortgage plan with the same interest rate for the full period, where you can borrow up to 100 per cent of the purchase price.
 
You will need to bring your tax return and pay slip to see how much of a loan you qualify for and the interest rate the bank offers.  At www.finansportalen.no, you can search for which banks offer the lowest interest rate. 
 
The Norwegian State Housing Bank, Husbank, also provides grants for building new houses or for the renovation of older properties. There are, however, strict guidelines and criteria which must be met. More information is the schemes available can be found at www.husbank.no.  
 
Housing grants are available those experiencing permanent financial difficulties. These schemes are administered thought the local municipalities.
 
Recycling and waste collection
 
Different counties and provinces charge different waste disposal schemes. Waste is sorted into separate coloured bins. For example, blue bags for plastic. Residual waste is placed in separate bins.  There are 430 municipalities in Norway which control and manage waste, water and sewerage.
Cultural quirks
 
The “dugnad” is a typically Norwegian tradtition whereby the residents and communities gather, usually in spring, to tidy up general residential areas with assigned specific tasks handed out to individual participants. 
 
 A “dugnad” usually takes between two to three hours to complete. The work day often ends with coffee, buns and, but rarely, with cold beer. It is generally frowned upon not to partake in this work but it is also a good way to get to known Norwegians. 

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RENTING

Landlord or tenant: Who pays which costs in Norway? 

What do tenants in Norway typically need to fork out for, and which bills will the landlord cover when leasing a property? Here's what you need to know. 

Landlord or tenant: Who pays which costs in Norway? 

Norway is a nation of homeowners, with 76.4 percent of households in the country owning a home. However, just under a million people are still renting, according to the national stats agency Statistics Norway (SSB). 

The true cost of being a tenant is often considerably more than just the base rent. Other expenses such as utilities are also expected to be covered by renters. 

But when renting in Norway, who is responsible for which costs? The tenant or the landlord? 

As with most things in life, it depends, and while you will be liable for many of the costs yourself, some of them will be the landlord’s responsibility. 

READ ALSO: Eight things to know when renting an apartment in Norway

Who pays what? Which costs are tenants liable for in Norway?

To stop tenants from being hit with too many additional costs outside of the rent, the landlord must include the cost of things such as stair cleaning, porter fees, housing association costs, contents insurance, communal electricity fees (for the whole block if it is an apartment) in the overall rent price. 

The landlord can’t charge tenants for keys or to set up a deposit account either, according to rental platform husleie.no.

Outside of the rent, a landlord can charge for the tenant’s water and electricity consumption. Typically, however, the rental ad and contract outline whether electricity and water will be included. 

Electricity is rarely included, and most landlords will allow the tenant to enter an agreement with an energy provider separately from the rental agreement. 

When renting a room or living in a house share, it is more common for landlords to charge for water and electricity instead of having the tenant set up agreements themselves. 

If the landlord charges a tenant for electricity, the tenant has the right to see the meter readings. 

What about maintenance? 

Unless otherwise stated in your contract, the landlord is typically responsible for maintenance. Maintenance is considered the work to maintain the home’s standard when the tenant moved in. 

However, the tenant will have to cover some costs. These are taps, locks, power sockets, bathroom fixtures, switches and objects that aren’t fixed to the property, such as pots and pans.

Additionally, the landlord can ask the tenant to reimburse them for maintenance costs if they believe they have not used the home or furniture with sufficient care. 

Items such as cookers, washing machines, and dishwashers are the landlord’s responsibility if they belonged to them initially. Although, it’s worth pointing out that the rule about misuse or sufficient care also applies to domestic appliances.

READ MORE: How to resolve disputes with your landlord

What if the landlord renovates or makes changes to the property? 

Landlords have the right to make changes without seeking permission from the tenant, providing the work can be carried out without significant inconvenience or work that reduces the property’s value for the tenant. 

Stuff like removing walls is considered much more comprehensive than simple changes, so a tenant must approve of the most significant building work. Also, if tenants make changes to the home that improve the property, they can ask to be reimbursed at the end of the tenancy. However, the landlord must only pay to the extent they benefit from the changes financially. This means that generally, you won’t get the full cost back. 

The property owner can’t charge tenants extra for changes carried out to the home or hike the rent up. Rent can only be increased in line with the Rent Act, meaning only once a year and within inflation for those who have rented the property for a while or to bring it in line with current rental market prices for those who have lived there a while. If the contract expires and you sign a new one, the landlord can put the rent up then also. 

READ MORE: When can the landlord increase rent and by how much?

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