Unveiled: worst areas of Skellefteå rental housing hell

The five communities in Skellefteå municipality, where authorities have visited suspected unfit housing.
The five communities in Skellefteå municipality, where authorities have visited suspected unfit housing.

Rental accommodation costing 5,000 kronor a month, with rat droppings, overflowing sewage and no smoke alarms. The authorities in Skellefteå have seen it all. And as the demand for rental housing in Skellefteå builds, so will their workload. Are they ready for it? Lars Andersson reports.

Skellefteå 16 november 2023 11:11

Norran has reported several times during the past year on the ongoing investigations into suspected unfit housing in Skellefteå municipality.

"This is an ongoing effort for us, not a one-time operation," says Elisabeth Berggren, verksamhetschef (operations manager) for Miljö/hälsoskydd/livsmedel (environment/health/food) at Skellefteå municipality).

– This is an ongoing effort for us, not a one-off operation, says Elisabeth Berggren, municipality director of environment/health/food, who expects the inspections to continue for many years.

Skellefteå is currently one of the fastest-growing municipalities in the country following the establishment of Northvolt Ett.

Several of those interviewed by Norran for this article used the same phrase: "Everyone needs a place to live."

This means that there is a great demand for housing, which opens the door to "creative" solutions for additional housing, with all the risks that this entails - such creativity sometimes stems from good intentions, sometimes with the aim of making a quick buck.

The authorities primarily involved in assessing rental housing in Skellefteå municipality are environment, building, and the fire department.
The police are often involved and may receive a request for assistance from the other authorities.

"Our aim is to have proper housing rental practices and to reduce the opportunities for those who do it improperly," says Pär Lindberg, district police chief in Skellefteå.

– There have also been instances where we have discovered suspected criminal activity at a site. There is a lot of work to be done. We want apartments to be rented properly, and we want to reduce the opportunities for those who are doing it wrong, says Pär Lindberg, chief of the district police in Skellefteå.

In order to further increase the knowledge of the various agencies dealing with this issue on a daily basis, a training day on so-called welfare crime was held, in which both Skatteverket (the tax agency) and the border police took part.

The environmental department of Skellefteå municipality notes during the visit: "It is possible that sewage has been forced up through the floor drain. It appears that sewage has leaked outside the sewer pipe".

All four agencies in Skellefteå have dedicated resources to combat with unfit housing. This is evident, for example, in the building department, where the number of staff working on outreach activities such as inspecting potential illegal construction, unsuitable housing, and disorderly properties has increased from one to three.

– We now have a different approach to how we allocate staff than we did before.  In addition, our operations out in the field help us keep an eye on things, says Enar Nordvik, director of building at Skellefteå municipality.

"We learn a lot from firefighters in the surrounding areas," says Daniel Haarala from the Skellefteå fire department.

Daniel Haarala of the fire department also mentions that, in addition to tips from the public, internal tips are also valuable.

– We learn a lot from firefighters in the local areas, says Daniel Haarala.

– We get tips all the time about new properties to investigate.  Properties with known problems are of interest to us, says environmental inspector Emil Arvidsson..

A toilet in one of the homes visited. According to the owner, it was not being used, and the environmental agency noted that it was "not cleaned, had moisture damage, and smelled of mold."

Both internal and public tips have led to a total of nine sites being visited by the joint authorities. In some areas, several sites have been visited. The five major urban areas where investigations have taken place are Skellefteå, Skelleftehamn, Boliden, Lövånger and Burträsk.  In addition, checks have been carried out in four smaller municipalities/villages.

– On average, we have been out every two weeks this year, says fire chief, Haarala.

Among other things, the visits led to the closure of two dwellings that were being used without permission. Other issues that have been addressed include deficiencies in evacuation routes, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, mold, moisture, and rodent droppings.

In addition to these visits, regular follow-up visits are made to properties that are deemed of interest. In some cases, the landlords exhibit a willingness to make changes. In some cases, the visits have produced a clear result and a desire for improvement. Two homeowners whose homes were visited in the early stages of being extended or renovated later applied for building permits to renovate their homes.

A common sight, says Daniel Haarala of the fire department. An apartment rental where the smoke alarm is not in place.

The number of temporary housing units in Skellefteå municipality has increased significantly over the past five years. In some cases it is the employer who rents, in others it is the employee. Daniel Haarala's concern is that the fire brigade often has to deal with the fact that property owners have no regard for the safety of the people who will be living there.

– There are people who charge 5,000 kronor and rent out a storage room in the attic - and they haven't even installed a smoke detector. It's completely insane. We constantly come across apartments where there are no smoke detectors, says Haarala.

The authorities' roles

The authorities have diverse approaches during inspections: the Planning and Building Act, Environmental Code, and Act on Protection against Accidents. For instance, the environmental agency emphasizes health-friendly dwelling design. Building checks ensure compliance with regulations, and the fire department assesses fire safety measures.

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