Most expats choose to rent rather than buy property in Finland – it's the simple option, particularly for those staying short term. Employers usually assist and guide expats in finding a place to live, and if not, the services of an estate agent are helpful, especially as Helsinki’s rental housing market is quite competitive.
Helsinki, being Finland’s capital city, is a hub of economic and social activity, which is attractive to foreigners looking to study or find work. This appeal has made the housing market increasingly competitive, and rent prices alongside it, adding to the already high cost of living.
Types of accommodation in Helsinki
Accommodation in Helsinki's centre usually comes in the form of apartments. Freestanding houses are hard to find in the city, and those who want a larger family home with a garden will need look for it on the outskirts, and consequently have to tackle a long commute to work each day.
Furnished vs unfurnished
Expats should be able to find a range of furnished and unfurnished accommodation in the city. Furnished accommodation may be harder to find and is generally more costly, but usually contains everything a new arrival will need to feel comfortable.
New arrivals often perceive renting in Finland to be quite different from their home country. For example, basic items such as light fittings, carpets and curtains aren’t necessarily included in all rental properties but amenities such as a fridge and washing machine might be.
Municipal vs private rental accommodation
Finnish municipalities own apartments for rent and this is managed by The Housing Finance and Development Centre of Finland (ARA). Expats can find more information on this from the City of Helsinki and ARA websites where expats can make housing applications.
While privately owned flats can be found quicker, they are pricier. Expats looking for more affordable rents can look for municipal or state-subsided housing if they have citizenship or a residence permit. The catch is that the waiting lists are long, so it’s advised to start planning long in advance or to look into areas outside of Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa.
Finding accommodation in Helsinki
A good place to begin searching for a home is on established online property portals. Vuokraovi, Forenom, Kodisto and HousingAnywhere are useful portals, accessible in English. Expats can also post their own adverts looking for accommodation.
The classifieds sections in local newspapers are good sources of information. While estate agents in Helsinki will quickly be able to find a property that meets an individual’s needs, their fees are high compared to international standards.
Occupancy rates for apartments in Helsinki are high and nice rental properties are snapped up quickly. Speaking to friends and colleagues can be useful as many apartments are rented out through word of mouth before being advertised in newspapers or through estate agencies.
For expats on a budget, accommodation in surrounding neighbourhoods and even nearby cities such as Vantaa and Espoo can be more suitable. Although these areas are not in the city centre, they have an interesting mix of young, international students, working professionals and entrepreneurs. Families with children will also factor in how far the accommodation is located from schools and how easy it is to get around.
Renting accommodation in Helsinki
Once expats find a suitable property in Helsinki, they need to act fast to secure it. It’s important to fully understand what is included in the rental agreement and check with the landlord regarding how furnished the accommodation is before signing a lease. Most leases last a year, but Finland has two main types of tenancy agreements, one being on a fixed-term and the other being more flexible, set until further notice.
Tenants can sign a lease agreement to reside in an apartment up until an agreed-upon date decided by them and the landlord. Fixed-term leases (määräaikainen vuokrasopimus) are useful for expats who know how long they are due to stay in the area and how long they wish to reside in that property. If expats decide to extend their stay, they must agree with the landlord and sign a new lease.
Leases valid until further notice
For a more flexible and open-ended alternative, expats can sign a lease valid until further notice (toistaiseksi voimassa oleva vuokrasopimus). To new arrivals who don't know how long they are in Helsinki for, this option is attractive as they can end or extend their stay as required. The downside is that landlords may want to end the lease before tenants do, and so it’s recommended to agree on a notice period when signing this lease.
Tenants are expected to put down between one to three months’ rent as a security deposit. The cost of any damages to the property will be deducted from this when the contract is terminated.
Water is often included in monthly rental costs, although dwellings may have a water meter and if excessive amounts of water are used then this becomes an additional cost.
Tenants are usually expected to pay for their electricity and sign a contract with an electricity provider themselves. Landlords can give them information on this and prices between companies can be compared. Phone lines and internet connections are also rarely included in the rent.
As most apartments in Helsinki have centralised heating systems, heating is included in the rent. Sometimes, if it is oil or electricity-based heating then it is an additional expense. In detached houses, heating and waste management are generally paid by the tenant. Regarding one's normal household rubbish, tenants should be aware of how to sort it based on the type of material. Tenants can ask their municipality or landlord about this.
Some dwellings may have a laundry room, a parking space and a sauna – which new arrivals will learn is far from unusual in Finland. A fee may be charged for these facilities but can be discussed with the landlord.