Living with neighbours is a challenge no matter where you’re from.A LOT OF ink has been spilled about the issues faced by foreigners in negotiating the property market in Finland, especially renting a flat. Housing is one area that often comes up in discussions of how difficult it is to integrate with Finnish society. This begs the question, though: is it really true that foreigners have particular problems in dealing with housing?

VVO is Finland’s largest housing services company. Its activities range from development and construction of property to the rent and sale of apartments – some 40,000 apartments in 45 municipalities. With its size and breadth of coverage, it has perhaps the most experience with renters foreign and domestic of any company in the country, so it made sense to ask them their views on the matter.

Marjaana Kivioja, communications officer at VVO, thinks that there is actually quite little difference between foreign and Finnish renters. “There are not so many problems,” she says. “We have people from 30 to 40 countries, and most of them are open people who want to learn how to live in Finland.”

There are some peculiarly Finnish challenges that people from different countries must learn to face, Kivioja points out: for example, finding out that it is not a good idea to open a window for ventilation when it’s -20 degrees outside. “But to live here is not difficult,” she says. “The important thing is to ask for help. It is not a difference between Finns and foreigners, but different people with different problems. We can’t help if you don’t ask. But everything is easy if you just ask for help.”

Help at hand

So whom should we ask for advice? The first line, Kivioja says, should be one’s neighbours. They are normally happy to give advice when asked. You could also contact one of VVO’s 13 home centres, which provide customers with local, personal service.

A typical renter, teacher Leija Hämäläinen, has some advice as well: it’s important to check the regulations that pertain to the building you’re renting in. Some buildings have specific rules, for example disallowing the hanging of laundry on Sundays. Failure to comply might even result in the offending laundry being confiscated by a vigilante neighbour!

More generally, it’s good to consider cultural norms. One issue that comes up quite often is noise – Finns famously value their peace and quiet, and there are a lot of (sometimes unspoken) rules to ensure it. In some buildings, it’s not acceptable to take a shower after 10 pm. Of course, not all who fall foul of these rules are foreigners – as anyone who has lived in student accommodations will testify, Finnish teenagers are as likely as anyone else to blare horrible music at ungodly hours.

In the end, it’s perhaps best not to worry too much about the larger issues. Find out the rules, keep them as well as you can, make the best of the situation you’re in and accept that just like everywhere else, people living in close proximity are going to get on each other’s nerves sometimes. Or you could move out to the countryside.