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Do I have to varnish the floor? Why moving out in Denmark can be complicated

Even experienced renters who've lived in several countries find Denmark's rental system baffling.

Stock image of a paint roller.
There are some Danish requirements that may sound bizarre to newcomers. Photo: Malte Luk/Pexels

Renting in Denmark requires a substantial up-front investment – with as much as three months’ rent pre-paid, three months’ rent as a deposit, and the first month’s rent due before you move in, you’re out seven months’ rent before your first day in your new digs.

The Danish Rent Act, an impenetrable and oft-amended tome without an official translation to English, was last updated in 2015. It sets the standard conditions for a rental in Denmark and lays out protections for renters that can’t be changed by contract. Outside of those parameters, though, Danish landlords have leeway to ask for a lot from their tenants in a housing market where rentals are expensive and in high demand. 

READ MORE: Deposits, complaints and registration – 5 things to know about renting in Denmark

The default rental terms only require a tenant to keep the property in good condition, allowing for normal wear and tear. But a common change that landlords make in section 11 of the contract is giving the tenant responsibility for “interior maintenance” – and that unassuming phrase can cost you dearly. 

Responsibility for interior maintenance includes returning the apartment in the condition you received it. If it was newly painted and the floors were newly refinished right before you moved in, that paint and varnish needs to be fresh when you leave too. That’s regardless of how long the term of your rental was – newcomers to Denmark have been shocked to learn that their hefty deposit won’t be returned in order to repaint an apartment after a three-month stay. 

Depending on the landlord, you may be able to do the work for a “normal renovation” yourself or through a contractor you select, but sometimes the choice of labour (and the price!) is up to them. 

Immigrants to Denmark from countries with more humane terms for renters – such as the United States, where you only really have to worry about losing your full deposit if you’ve punched a hole in the wall or bred snakes in the crawlspace – the expectation that you’ll pay to have the floors stripped, sanded and revarnished seems like a lot. But it isn’t outlandish here. 

READ MORE: Cost, not availability, is source of housing difficulties in Danish cities

That said, it’s important to know your rights and reach out for advice if you suspect your landlord of asking too much. There are plenty of resources to help you wade through the Danish legalese – Lejerens Frie Retshjælp (or the Tenant’s Free Legal Aid) is a volunteer organisation of law students that helps tenants and landlords parse through contracts and settle specific disputes. (Note that LFR is on summer holiday until August 1st), and Digura is a paid service that can correspond directly with your landlord and escalate the issue to the Danish rent committee or court system if necessary. Other resources recommended by the Danish government are listed here.

Danish landlords have to follow strict procedures surrounding move-in and move-out inspections – any deviations can mean they forfeit the right to any repairs at the end of your lease. 

Read The Local’s interview with Digura co-owner Louise Song to learn how landlords can take advantage of international tenants and how to (hopefully) get your deposit back.

READ MORE: How to get your deposit back when renting in Denmark 

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EXPLAINED: Denmark’s new property tax rules from 2024

New property tax rules (boligskatteregler) take effect in Denmark in 2024. How will they affect homeowners and first-time buyers?

EXPLAINED: Denmark’s new property tax rules from 2024

The new tax rules, which will impact property value tax rates (ejendomsværdiskattesatser) and land value tax (grundskyld), were originally ratified by the previous government in a 2017 bill. In general, they mean the rates for both of the above property taxes will fall in most municipalities, according to the Danish tax ministry.

A public real estate appraisal (ejendomsvurdering) forms the basis for taxation of your property. According to the tax ministry, many homeowners will find that new appraisals issued from September 2021 are higher than preceding valuations from 2011 and 2012. That is partly due to increasing house prices in recent years.

In order to avoid much higher property taxes as a result of higher valuations in the public real estate appraisals, the 2017 political agreement secured a reduction of the two forms of property tax, effective from 2024.

Homeowners who appear to be facing higher property taxes due to the new appraisals – even though tax rates will be reduced – can be eligible for a tax subsidy. This can occur in cases where a property has seen a large increase in its valuation.

In short, the new tax rules will not result in taxes for existing homeowners in 2024 that are higher than they would have been if the current rules (still in effect in 2022 and 2023) were to remain in place.

However, the tax subsidy mentioned above does not apply to new homeowners from January 1st 2024. This is because first-time buyers will be expected to “plan their finances in accordance with the new tax rules,” the ministry states.

This could have a knock-on effect on the housing market, according to financial media Finans, which wrote in November 2021 that people buying apartments would be likely to demand reduced prices as 2024 approaches, to offset the higher taxes they are likely to pay.

READ ALSO: Danish apartment sales cool to eight-year low

An analysis by Finans and Nykredit showed that apartment prices in major cities, particularly in and around Copenhagen as well as in Aarhus and Odense, will typically have to fall by around 5-10 percent for total costs for now buyers – mortgage plus tax – to be unchanged compared to the outgoing rules.

The new rules and subsequent increased taxes will hit first-time (in 2024) buyers of apartments hardest, according to Finans. That is because many buyers will not be able to afford the same mortgage they previously could, due to the higher property taxes.

One reason apartments are more likely to get tax increases under the new rules is that the valuation appraisal system left them subject to lower property tax relative to houses.

“Apartments have been too lightly taxed for many years because the land under them is massively undervalued compared to appraisals of detached house land,” Mira Lie Nielsen, housing economist at Nykredit, one of Denmark’s major banks and the country’s largest mortgage lender, told Finans last November.

People buying apartments before 2024 could also push prices down knowing they risk making a loss if they sell shortly after the tax reform takes effect.

From 2024 onwards, the two property taxes – ejendomsværdiskattesatser and grundskyld – will be pegged to appraisals of the property and land value such that if these fall in valuation, so will the property tax.

If the valuation of the property, and thereby the property tax, increases after 2024, homeowners can fix the rate of (indefryse) their taxes by postponing payment of a part of the property tax. The frozen tax payment becomes due (and is calculated) when the property is sold. Alternatively, the increased taxes can be paid in instalments.