The City’s Layout
Oslo was traditionally roughly divided along the Akerselva, the river that flows from the north to the south of the city. The old establishment lived to the west of the river in areas such as Frogner and Majorstuen while the city’s industry and labourers could be found along the river and to the east. Although this divide is much less significant nowadays, people still refer to “Vestkanten” and “Østkanten” (the West and East sides), and you’re likely to pay a premium for an address in areas like Frogner, Majorstuen and Bygdøy.
Other areas, however, now compete with them in price and prestige. The former working class area of Grünerløkka is now one of Oslo’s hippest and most popular, with many of the best cafés and bars around here and a short walk to the city centre. Beginning with Aker Brygge in the early 2000s, the city centre’s waterfront has been heavily transformed, and new and exciting (and pricey) apartment complexes continue to spring up, most recently at Bjørvika.
If you want to stay close to these areas, it is worth looking at neighbouring districts, such as Skillebekk in the east, Ullevål or Sagene in the north or Sofienberg, Gamlebyen, Tøyen and Grønland in the west, although these have also seen price rises in recent years. Tøyen and Grønland, which haven’t yet been gentrified to the same extent as other areas, probably offer the best city centre deals at the moment.
The Public Transport System
Because of Oslo’s small size, it is easy to get around, and even more outlying areas are usually no more than 20 minutes from the centre by tram, bus or metro. Oslo’s public transport system is extensive, frequent and usually on time, though much of it shuts down for a few hours overnight when night buses take over. Though areas such as Bislett have the advantage of being close to both the city centre and the university, it is definitely worth looking at properties anywhere on the transport lines, from Holmenkollen to Bekkelaget. Use the ruter.no travel app to work out approximate travel times and frequencies.
Before renting, you should also take into account the price of public transport when comparing locations and which zone you’re looking at. A one-month ticket costs 708 NOK for one zone, 1256 NOK for two zones and 1804 NOK for all zones for adults. Students, children, young people and seniors all have heavy discounts available on the monthly pass. Saving 400 NOK on a property in Zone 2 may not pay off against public transport costs (depending on the property and your priorities, of course). A huge added benefit of Oslo’s good public transport system and compact size is that beautiful natural sights are never far away.
When To Rent
This may seem like a strange thing to consider, and you may not have a lot of say in the matter when you’re moving for a job or studies. If you have any freedom to do so, however, and you value your sanity, you should avoid hunting for a place to rent around the start of the academic year in July and August.
A lack of student housing means that many students rent privately, and it is not unusual for 30 stressed-out students to turn up for the same chaotic and competitive 30-minute room or studio viewing, and rent may be significantly higher on properties rented out during this period. This may be less of a problem if you’re looking for a larger single flat or house, but everyone can take advantage of the similar slump in activity at the end of the academic year around May and June.
Professionals should note that a large part of Oslo’s rental market is “kollektiver”, shared housing, usually the cheapest way to rent in Oslo, and that students will be looking for these too.
What to Look Out for Before You Move In
You should always be given a written contract to sign. Make sure to check for any signs of damage, mould or other problems before signing to make sure that these cannot be blamed on you later. Alert the landlord and take pictures for documentation.
You should also always check that there are working fire alarms – in each person’s room if you live in shared housing, where you should also find a fire extinguisher, and there should be a working lock on each person’s room. (Here’s a pro tip: The tram can be incredibly loud in places, so if your room is right next to the tracks, hang around for a few minutes to make sure the volume is bearable.)
It is common to pay a deposit equal to three months’ rent though it differs from place to place, and this should be put into a separate special bank account in your name with the cost of setting it up covered by the landlord – never pay your deposit into the landlord’s own bank account.
The contract should state the length of your notice period (usually one month for shorter-term contracts and three months for three-year contracts). Always make sure to see the place before you sign the contract. If you haven’t agreed to anything else, the landlord is responsible for the upkeep of the property with the exception of day-to-day things such as changing light bulbs or the batteries in fire alarms. Except for in emergency situations, the landlord should give timely notice when they need access to the property.
Forbrukerrådet has excellent tips and information (and a good standard contract that many use). The website is only in Norwegian, unfortunately, but you can call them and ask in English.
A Note to Students
As noted above, it can be a stressful experience to find housing at the start of term in Oslo. Norwegian and international students should to apply to SiO Housing (the common student organisation for all of Oslo’s tertiary education institutions) as soon as possible. International students are prioritised for housing (though Nordics are counted as Norwegian students) so as long as you follow their and the university’s instructions, you should be reasonably sure of a place at one of the student halls or “studentbyer”.
Good luck to everyone looking to rent in Oslo!