Implementing common rules

Text: Mari Lähteenmäki | Pictures: Mari Mansikkamäki, Visual Friday

Almost a third of the total housing stock in Finland was built with state housing loans or subsidised loans. State housing grants, subsidies and guarantees are provided by the Housing Financing and Development Agency (ARA) under the Ministry of the Environment, with the aim of providing safe and affordable housing for all.

ARA subsidies are available for organizations such as rental housing associations, cities and municipalities. It can be granted, for example, as an investment grant for the construction of housing for special groups, such as students. Of course, rental housing built with state support should remain in its original purpose and should not generate too much profit for its owner, and ARA monitors this. Monitoring is carried out through a series of guidelines and instructions, as well as inspections.

On a typical Tuesday afternoon, a regular Soihtu tenant walking along the Village road has little need to wonder whether their house was built with the help of a state investment grant for people with special needs or which financial institution has provided the loan (and whether it was subsidised).

Instead, let’s look at where the knowledge of housing legislation, ARA regulations and the various levels of government guidance is a prerequisite: Soihtu Housing service point.

Some of Soihtu locations are ARA-subsidised

ARA-subsidised housing in Soihtu includes the buildings A-E, F-J and Q-T on the southern plot of the Kortepohja Student Village. JYY has received ARA support for construction and renovation at various stages of the life cycles of the buildings. These buildings are primarily intended for student housing.

The other Soihtu locations are either non-subsidised (financed by ordinary bank loans) or exempted from restrictions (subsidised loans have already been paid off). They are not covered by the ARA regulation, but even in these cases, JYY’s guidelines prioritize student tenants.

Careful selection of tenants

The first priority for ARA housing is always people without apartment and others in urgent need of housing, the most low-income applicants. In the case of student housing, no assessment of wealth is needed, as ARA guidelines state that student housing is temporary in nature. JYY, on the other hand, has stipulated that its members are a priority in JYY’s housing if their housing needs are otherwise equally urgent.

ARA’s Resident Selection Guide contains guidelines for the selection of tenants for student housing. Tenant selection in ARA projects is based on tenant selection criteria and a comparison between applicants, not on the date of application. In practice, applications are compared with each other, using a detailed scoring system.

Soihtu receives thousands of housing applications each year (more than 4,000 in 2022 alone). Each application is processed and scored according to the criteria set out in the ARA Resident Selection Guide.

Jenna Pigg, Soihtu’s Service Manager, is responsible for training the tenant selection team and ensuring that everyone has access to up-to-date guidelines that take into account the authority regulations and the owner’s policies.

“Understanding the ARA guidelines is essential for both the student applying for an apartrment and everyone working with the guidelines. Government-subsidised housing is built for those with the greatest need.”

Apartments for students

JYY is responsible for the proper use of its ARA properties. Soihtu checks the student status of applicants for student housing before sending an apartment offer. If the applicant has indicated that they are a member of JYY, it will be checked from the JYY membership register. Other students applying for student accommodation will be asked to attach a certificate of studies to their application.

It is also possible to check the student’s right to study during the period of residence at the Kortepohja Student Village. The terms of the tenancy agreements stipulate that the landlord has the right to check the tenants’ student records regularly and whenever necessary. In the case of Soihtu, tenant in obliged to inform the landlord of any changes in their study situation, for example, graduation.

“The tenant should inform the landlord of their graduation, find a new apartment and terminate their rental agreement with Soihtu”.

Jenna Pigg knows that sometimes tenants don’t start looking for a new apartment until the landlord notices the change in the study situation during a right of residency review.

“In the past, the student record of those living in JYY’s ARA apartments, i.e. the right of residency, was checked every year. As the demand for student housing decreased, there were enough student flats for everyone who wanted them and regular checks were not needed for a couple of years,” says Jenna Pigg.

To enable good everyday life for everybody, rules must be followed.

“When JYY has built housing specifically for students, they want to keep it for students. ARA apartments are also important for the society. People with low-income must have the same right to good housing as wealthier people.”

Regularly reviewing the right of residency

The change of 2017, when university students became eligible for general housing allowance, and the years with pandemic restrictions in the early 2020s, reduced the demand for student housing everywhere. Now, student housing is regaining popularity, as increasing prices mean that students have considerably less money to spend.

Soihtu will go back to the practice of regularly checking the tenant’s right of residency in the fall of 2023, according to an updated plan. If a tenant living in an ARA building is not a full-time student or has registered as absent for a reason other than those listed in Section 41 of the University Act, the tenancy agreement will be terminated.

If the break in studies is due to military service or taking maternity, paternity or parental leave, living with Soihtu may continue. As a landlord, Soihtu will also accept a temporary interruption of studies for health reasons if the student has a firm intention to continue their studies after the temporary interruption and can provide a medical certificate.

Notice period of six months

Soihtu always terminates tenancy agreements on the grounds of expiry of the tenancy right in writing, with 6 months’ notice, regardless of the duration of the tenancy, although the Tenancy Act would allow a 3-month notice period for tenancies of less than a year.

Reviews and possible terminations are always done well in advance, so there is no absolute rush to move out right away. If a new home is found sooner, the tenant can move out earlier, as long as they remember to give their own notice to Soihtu.

It may even be that the new apartment is not too far away, because you can live in Soihtu’s non-subsidised apartments even after graduation.

Sources:

In addition to the interviews with the persons mentioned above, the article was written using the contents of the ara.fi website and ARA’s Resident Selection Guide, the instructions for tenant selection by the Soihtu Housing team, and the University of Jyväskylä’s webpage Annual registration and duration of studies. The online sources were available at the time of writing on 19th September 2023.

“The tenant should inform the landlord of their graduation, find a new apartment and terminate their rental agreement with Soihtu”

Jenna Pigg, Service manager of Soihtu Housing

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