Housing Law in Finland

Written By: Jenna Tirkkonen, Housing Justice Project-Kent Intern

For the past six months I have interned with the Housing Justice Project (HJP) in Kent, WA and during this time I have repeatedly been asked about the differences between US and Finnish housing law with respect to tenants.  The Scandinavian social-democratic welfare state is dramatically different in comparison to landlord/tenant laws in Washington State, which are based on the US liberal welfare state model. After a brief background on the  Scandinavian system, I will talk about the biggest differences in housing law that I have found from tenant’s and landlord’s viewpoints, based on to the knowledge I have gained at the HJP clinic in past 6 months.

The social-democratic welfare system is based on the idea that society takes care of its citizens by transferring income through progressive taxation from people to government, which grants benefits and services universally based on citizenship. In Scandinavian countries this concept is called “social contract law”.  This body of law includes the most important contracts like residential lease agreements, consumer contracts and employment agreements. An important part of these contract relationships is the balance of power between the contacting parties; starting from the imbalance between the parties’ wealth, which leads to imbalance between knowledge and access to necessary legal services. The legislator has tried to balance this relationship by providing general rules and principles, which insure that the stronger party can’t use its better position to force the weaker party into unreasonable contracts.

In Finland residential lease agreements can be for a fixed term or for a non-fixed term, like in Washington State. However in Finland tenants with non-fixed term leases are provided with even more protection than a tenant than the fixed term for two different reasons. First of all, the landlord is required to provide a tenant with at least 6 months advance notice prior to terminating the tenancy. In Washington State the law requires only 20 days advance notice. Second of all, the landlord has to give a reason for terminating the tenancy of they will be required to compensate the tenant for their moving costs.

In Finland a landlord is able to terminate a tenancy immediately without notice, if tenant has not paid his rent in two months. Non-payment of rent is considered to negligence, because all low-income applicants are eligible for a housing subsidy and a general income subsidy. Thus failing to pay the rent cannot be based on actually not having the money, but spending the money to something else. A court must enter a judgment of eviction in order to actually evict a tenant. A judgment is usually obtained through summary proceedings, but tenants can dispute the allegations after receiving the summons, and convert it into a regular court proceeding. After the landlord gets the judgment the sheriff usually gives 2-3 weeks to tenant to move out before actual physical eviction. If children, elderly or other people in special need are living in the unit, the sheriff first must contact the social services before physically evicting the tenants. If family has no housing arranged after eviction, the sheriff will postpone the enforcement of the eviction up to three months. The tenant may stop the eviction process by paying the rent owed up until he is actually physically evicted. Eviction stays in tenant’s register only the three following years.  In Washington State most tenants receive only a 3 day notice to pay rent or vacate the unit.  If a judgment is entered they will be evicted within a week’s time.

One interesting detail of Finnish housing law is the fact that the tenant can transfer his rental agreement to his family members or his spouse’s family members, without asking permission from the landlord at first. The landlord can seek termination of the agreement from the court, if he is able to provide an acceptable reason for termination. The tenant can also sublet part of his apartment to his or spouse’s family members without first asking permission from the landlord. In addition the tenant can transfer his rental agreement to anyone for up to two years, if he is forced to move from another city for work, to study or for some other special reason. In this case the tenant has to give two weeks’ notice to the landlord, who can refuse the lease transfer so long as they have an acceptable reason.

In my opinion, the social-democratic system decreases inequity and creates a social safety net for its citizens. The downsides of this system are so called “free riders”, which are, in my opinion, a universal phenomenon regardless of the social system. Also some people’s viewpoint (usually ones with higher income) is that the welfare system is unfair, but some could claim the same thing about U.S. property laws, which rewards homeownership. What I have noticed working at HJP, which was confirmed through researching for this assignment, that when government takes primary responsibility for the care of its citizens, a safety net provided by family and relatives becomes unnecessary and for the need to take charity reduces, which altogether reduces communality.



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