Being an expat is never a piece of cake. There are challenges you will face sooner or later. One of the first tasks for a foreigner in Tallinn is to rent an apartment. Even though there are many ads popping up each day, securing a contract is not easy. We have recently gone through this challenging process, and we prepared the ultimate guide based on our experience. We hope it would be of help to all the expat newbies who wish to start a new life in the capital of Estonia.
Accommodation for the search period
Most importantly, we recommend looking for flats once already in the city. Landing an apartment in Tallinn online seems nearly impossible. For the first week or two of your stay, check the offer of Tallinn hotels or rent an Airbnb, as we did. This way you will not be in a rush and will have a chance to get to know the city and choose a part where you would like to live.
Where to find apartments for rent in Tallinn
As we are lucky to live in the XXI century, the Internet is the obvious place to check. It is very probable that you have just arrived in Estonia, and just like us, you don’t know anybody. Since networking is not your option, look for an apartment on one of these sites (or better, on all of them).
This seems to be the biggest website with flat rental ads. There are dozens of offers added each day, but most of them are recurrent. The site itself is very user-friendly and the navigation process is easy as pie. You just need to follow these steps:
- Change the site language to English
- Choose your options: “apartments” or “houses”
- Tick “rent”
- Type the address (if you are not focused on any specific location, just type “Tallinn”)
- Set your price range and the number of rooms (optional)
- Press the “search” button.
Voilà! You have officially started the process of renting an apartment in Tallinn. We would like to point out one important thing. We do know people from various countries count rooms in a different way. Please, keep in mind that in Estonia one DOES count a living room in the total number of rooms in the apartment. Therefore, a two-room flat in Tallinn consists of a living room and one bedroom or two bedrooms and no living room.
The navigation within this website is intuitive and at the same time very similar to city24.ee, so your steps will be similar. Many landlords and brokers post the same apartments’ ads on both sites, but some of them seem to start with kv.ee. Therefore, it is worth checking especially in the morning, when most of the ads are posted. In case you are searching for rooms for rent in Tallinn instead of the whole place, these two websites will still be helpful. In that case, you may want to sort by price and start with the cheapest positions – these will most probably be just rooms (or very dingy flats, but we will talk about those later on). If you already know the areas you would like to narrow your search to, choose map view instead of listing.
The power of social media
Apart from checking the websites, you can also find quite a few apartment rental advertisements on Facebook. You just need to know where to look for them. We recommend these three options:
- Group “Expats in Tallinn/Estonia” /in English
- Group Korterite üürimine (MAAKLERITETA!) /in Estonian, but there’s no problem with replying to ads in English
- Facebook Marketplace.
There is one main difference between social media ads and those from the designated websites. On Facebook, you will encounter way more flat owners than brokers. That means no broker fee and less bureaucracy. Once you go through the whole guide, you may come to the conclusion that this is a huge advantage. Facebook is the place where we found our apartment, eventually.
What apartment prices Tallinn has to offer?
The answer to this question is simple and you will not like it: it depends. The rent varies according to many factors, including the whim of the flat owners. Obviously, Tallinn neighborhoods matter a lot when setting up the price. We will look closer into them later on. Apart from the location, the other main factors are, of course, the size and the standard of the apartment. But, as for our experience, the offers are very inconsistent. You can, therefore, find a very nice flat with a reasonable price in a central location or a shabby one that costs a fortune and is located in the outskirts.
In the end, it’s all about being in the right place at the right time. There is, however, one important thing we would like to point out. The price you would see in the ad is not the final one. The rent in most of the cases does not include:
- The utilities – gas, water, communal costs
- Electricity (which is apparently not a part of the utilities, and this bill comes separately)
- Internet (As a tenant you shall sign a contract yourself. That might be tricky if you’re not a holder of an Estonian ID)
- Deposit (usually equivalent to 1-month rent, paid upon signing a contract).
The good news is: even though after summing all the expenses up the total rental price might double, the cost of living in Estonia is still relatively low, considering the average salaries. Tallinn is definitely a good choice for expats, and the money issue is just one of the reasons.
Types of residential buildings in Tallinn
Since the majority of the capital inhabitants live in a flat, it is most likely you will end up in one, too. However, Tallinn apartments for rent long term are by no means homogeneous. There is no particular definition of a flat and the standard differs a lot in between the dwellings. Let’s see what types of apartment buildings can be found in Tallinn.
Traditional wooden Estonian house
There are plenty of those in Tallinn, rather in the central zone than in the outskirts. They are considered national heritage and are often photographed by tourists. Surprisingly, many apartments for rent are located in this type of buildings. Being traditional means the interior is usually dated. Wooden staircases are charming and at the same time a bit scary. You may encounter a shared toilet on each floor, still being in use. Some contemporary amenities, like the heating system, may be missing. We noticed old type stoves in many pictures, which actually look adorable.
Communist block of flats
Estonia is a relatively young democracy as communism only ended in the 90s. Most of the residential buildings in Tallinn have, therefore, been erected in a completely different reality. If you’ve been to Eastern Europe before, you won’t be surprised. In case it’s your first time in a country with a communist past, these buildings may seem depressing at first, but you will get used to them. The interiors are usually spacious, with high ceilings. Most of the buildings would not have an elevator unless they are higher than 5 floors. Please, have in mind that counting the floors in Estonia may differ to your home country. 0 level is considered the first floor here.
New residential building
The pace of changes in Tallinn is fast and immediately noticeable. One can see plenty of residential buildings being erected all over the city. There are numerous apartments for rent located in modern blocks of flats, built within the past 10-20 years. The standard of the interiors is usually high as, obviously, not enough time has passed for these to look dated.
It is possible to rent the whole house or a flat arranged within one in Tallinn. It is however not as popular as in other parts of Europe, like Scandinavia. Detached houses are located mostly out of the city, in peaceful neighborhoods.
Yes, that happens. And no, we do not mean a nice-arranged basement with full kitchen, sauna and the curtains drawn on the windows (but such can be found in Tallinn, too). What we are talking about here, is the basement located in one of the residential buildings, not a detached house. No amenities, no specific rooms, no toilet. We have no idea why would anybody even try to rent something like this out as a flat, and we don’t know a single person who would like to be a tenant of such. Just skip these ads and don’t ask questions, as we did.
Living in Tallinn – which neighborhood should you choose?
There are 8 administrative Tallinn districts. The whole area occupied by the capital is relatively small, comparing to big European cities, like Berlin or Madrid. Of course, you can find apartments for rent in Tallinn Old Town and live right in the cultural (and tourist) center. This part of the city is very beautiful and most of the sights are at your fingertips. On the other hand, this may not be a good solution for a longer period, if you don’t like crowds. Other parts of the city are well-connected and public transport is free of charge once you become a resident. Let’s look closer into the neighborhoods.
- Kesklinn (City Center) – this is obviously the most convenient location if you don’t want to miss anything that happens in the city. As a result, no surprise, the apartments in Kesklinn are pricey in general.
- Kristiine – district to the west of the city center. There are numerous flats advertised here and the price range is quite wide.
- Põhja-Tallinn (Northern Tallinn) – this is the most tricky neighborhood. In the north, Tallinn seems to be very inconsistent. On one hand, we have Kopli – a subdistrict that has the worst reputation. We only drove around it once, and it did seem a bit shady, but it was a very short experience, on a rainy day. On the other hand, there is Kalamaja – the coolest part of the city, with hipster restaurants and traditional wooden houses. The rent in the latter is rather high.
- Haabersti – the westernmost part of Tallinn. There are many tall residential buildings here, most of them from the communist era. Prices are very affordable.
- Mustamäe – district very popular among students, as Tallinn University of Technology campus is here. Prices are fair and there are many buses and trolleybuses connecting Mustamäe with the center.
- Lasnamäe – very big district in the eastern part of Tallinn. There are tons of ads for flats for rent. Prices vary, based on the distance to the center. Public transport seems to be working well here, but we didn’t get the chance to verify it.
- Nõmme – southernmost district. By our experience, the cheapest rent-wise. If price matters over everything else to you, focus on Nõmme. It is, however, relatively far from the center (but remember – Tallinn is generally small)
- Pirita – this seems to be the fanciest and greenest part of the Estonian capital. It is quite far from the center but it is also very beautiful. The best beach in Tallinn is located here. Therefore, the rent is high. We saw some offers of apartments arranged in detached houses around here.
Condition of the flats for rent in Tallinn
The sad truth is, most of the apartments listed for rent at a reasonable price are not in the best condition. In other words, you need to be prepared to pay more than initially planned if you have too high expectations. The meaning of “high expectations” is, of course, arbitrary. In our case, a minimalist decor turned out to be such, and we had to re-evaluate our approach. You should definitely go through every picture attached to the ad before contacting the advertiser since you do not want to waste your time. Here are some issues that may pop up.
Renovating apartments for rent is pointless
This seems to be the motto of many flat owners. We understand that giving your property away to somebody you have just met is risky. But, there are lines landlords shouldn’t cross. We saw pictures of apartments with naked walls. No paint, no wallpaper. Or even better – ripped wallpaper. And the same applies to the floors. Another example is the toilet issue. Can you imagine living in a place where the toilet is not separated by walls from the rest of the rooms? Neither do we. But we still spotted photos of apartments with toilet bowl being placed next to a dining table!
Why would tenants need a kitchen?
This is another case we just don’t understand. Renting out a place called “an apartment” that does not have a kitchen. We saw quite a few flats with no or very limited kitchen appliances. No space for food preparation or storage. If our ancestors didn’t need a fridge, then why would we do? Anyway, the refrigerator is not that big of a problem as you can buy your own. And then we get to the flats with no cooker. Like, not even a single hotplate. The sink is also missing in some properties. Unless you are planning to eat all your daily meals out, don’t go this way.
The curse of a balcony
“Oh, what a lovely apartment, there is even a balcony! I can drink my morning coffee outside, have a mini-garden and a place to hang my laundry…” And then you see the pictures. And you wish there was no balcony so that it wouldn’t disturb your window view. Balconies, especially those in older residential buildings, are considered rather a storage place, than a resting area. They are ugly and neglected. But don’t worry, there are exceptions.
Communist-style interior design
This is a nightmare. I come from Poland and I remember this design very well, as it was part of my childhood. In the 90s. Apparently, it is still in fashion in Estonia. We’re talking figured carpets, wallpapers, and furniture. All at once. Each of them with a different pattern, obviously. But my absolute favorite is mural wallpapers. A very vivid rose flower occupying the whole wall in the living room, for instance. Some may consider it a nice touch, part of the folklore. We don’t.
Shared laundry area
Some new residential buildings, especially those with very tiny apartments, have a shared laundry area. This is not an issue for us at all, we lived in such a building back in Norway. This is simply informative. We know some people consider sharing a washing machine disgusting, and we respect their point of view. On the downside, laundry service is usually paid extra in this case.
Whatever is in the house, stays in the house
We noticed landlords are in general not happy with the idea of removing some furniture. Even if it’s completely worn out and you would rather see it in the trash. As a result, many of the apartments are cluttered and one just cannot help it. We tried to politely ask for the possibility of some pieces being removed before we would move in. The usual answer was that the owner didn’t have where to store them.
Avoiding brokers is difficult
Most of the rental apartment ads are posted by the brokers. Consequently, the opportunity of contacting the owners directly is very rare. Even though on the websites we recommend it is possible to tick “only offers from regular users” during the search process, those are often brokers in disguise. By our experience, only about 5-10% of all the offers come from the landlords directly. There are two bad things about dealing with brokers. Firstly, they are not really helpful. Secondly, although the brokers are hired by the owners, it is the future tenant who pays their fee upon signing the contract.
Responding to the rental ads
There are two possible ways of responding to the rental ad. You can either call or send an e-mail. We chose the latter at first. We thought it would be more polite towards the brokers, as they could feel awkward speaking English over the phone. But most of our e-mails were never answered.
When our Airbnb accommodation period was coming to an end, and we were running out of time, we started calling. We realized there was no reason to worry, as all the brokers do speak English. Some of them claim they only speak “a little”, but that’s just coquetry. We are sorry to admit, but most of the brokers weren’t helpful at all, and some of them were simply rude. A few times, we were asked to provide our wish-list by e-mail, which was pointless, as we never heard from such brokers again. To clarify, we met ONE broker who was engaged in his job. He did research on his own and reached out to us with an apartment that fulfilled all our expectations (it was booked by somebody else in the end, but that’s a different story).
Furthermore, you need to be ready to wait to see the flat. Brokers will rarely set an appointment for the same day. Sometimes you may have to wait up to a week for a viewing possibility. And then there is this mysterious idea of “booking an apartment”. We don’t really know how it works, but some apartments we were invited to see were “booked” by somebody else for a specific period, like a week. We guess you just need to pay an extra fee for that.
Things that happen before the viewing
No matter if you contact the brokers via e-mail or by a phone call, be prepared for a detailed interview about yourself and anybody who would live with you. It feels a bit like applying for a government job. The brokers’ tone may seem aggressive, but that might as well be the result of English being their second language. When writing an e-mail, include a short note about yourself and every person you would share a flat with. That will speed up the process. These are the questions we were usually asked:
- Where are you from? (We cannot say for sure if and which nationalities would be discriminated and for what reasons)
- Why did you relocate to Tallinn?
- Do you have a job?
- Where exactly are you working? / What sector does your company belong to?
- How old are you?
- What is your girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband doing?
- Can you provide references from your former landlords?
Do not freak out if you don’t have references. We didn’t either. It is not a common practice in countries where we previously lived. Only after this interrogation, you can proceed to your own questions, even if they are very basic, like whether there is a parking spot assigned.
Why would you not be allowed to view the place
Being an expat in Estonia is a struggle sometimes. Looking for an apartment is your first big battle. Above all, stay strong and don’t let the brokers and flat owners let you down. The most common reason for refusal is:
- You are not Estonian.
This hurts. It may be already indicated in the ad (“only locals”, “only citizens”), you may get a not-so-nice e-mail stating it, or you can hear it over the phone. We like to think that racism is not the reason here. It may have something to do with the contract that you would like to sign, and which a landlord would prefer to avoid. But we will come back to contracts a bit later. A second common reason for the refusal in our case was:
- You do not speak Russian.
And again, we want to believe this is not xenophobic. We can understand that in case the flat owner is Russian and doesn’t know any foreign language, communication may be an issue.
Hooray! You were finally invited to the viewing! You are probably excited. Keep in mind, that you are most likely one of many potential tenants, so make a good first impression. Be on time, not too early, and, definitely, not too late. Brokers usually squeeze a few appointments within one hour and you want to respect their time.
Be prepared that you would not be given the exact flat number, just the one of the main doors, or even the whole building. Broker shall wait for your phone call and meet you outside. When it first happened to us, we got suspicious. We thought brokers are afraid we would somehow contact the owner directly, behind their back. Having visited a few apartments, we would rather say the reason is more pragmatic. The majority of residential buildings doesn’t have intercom installed and opening the door in person is the only way to get in.
The interview continues
When it comes to the best apartments Tallinn has high competition. Maybe that is why the interrogation you went through while setting the appointment up turns out to be not enough. So your interview continues during the viewing. Some questions may seem ridiculous. I was once asked for my criminal record. It is, however, important to stay calm and not feel offended. Although questions may sound offensive, the intentions are probably good. It is normal to check somebody’s criminal record in Estonia. A broker can do it online if only you let him access your personal profile.
Not having a resident card is problematic
In this case, we can only speak for ourselves – immigrants from another EU country. Being such, we have the right to just show up in a country like Estonia and start a new life, without the need to file any papers. We only need the residence permit if we wish to stay for more than three months. In order to apply for this document, we ought to have an address. In order to rent an apartment, we should already have the residence permit. This is a vicious circle.
Brokers were, therefore, suspicious towards us, as they didn’t know the way of checking our background. I found myself in this weird situation when a broker tried to photograph my ID. I refused as I realize it may lead to illegal issues. Obviously, that meant losing the chance of renting this particular flat. We don’t know the solution to this problem, you will have to figure it out on your own.
A legal contract is a privilege
Not every rental agreement in Tallinn is based on a contract. And not every contract is legal. You can either accept it or try to fight it. We chose the latter and we managed to find the lawful landlord, but it was not easy. That is to say, many people in Tallinn rent a place without a contract and such an arrangement seems to be normal. Remember that even if you sign a fake contract, you will have to pay a so-called “contract fee”. It is usually equivalent to 1-month rent. This money goes to a broker and you will never see it again, don’t mistake it for a deposit. Despite paying the broker, the contract is usually signed between you and the flat owner. So there will be no help from the broker later on, you will need to solve all the issues with the landlord directly.
This is the toughest part of renting a place in Tallinn. If you abide by the law, you may get frustrated. We did a lot. Most landlords do not want to pay taxes. And that means many complications. The most important one is that all the payments, including the deposit, are done in cash. Yes, it is fishy. The reason for cash payments is simple and very obvious. And then you start questioning the contract you sign. How legal is it? If the flat owner doesn’t pay taxes, we doubt he or she would register a contract in a legal institution. Once you pay by a bank transfer, you have the proof for every transaction. There is no trace when you pay in cash. We have trust issues and, therefore, we were always asking for the possibility to pay via bank transfer, especially when it comes to the deposit. And the answer was usually negative. Instead, we were once shown a sheet with a table. The first column was “month”, and two others were “tenant” and “landlord”. Every month, an owner would write “paid” in the first column and you would both leave a signature. Brokers will try to convince you it is a legal solution. We don’t think so.
Now the funny part. Brokers do not want to pay taxes either! But they are obliged to, as they are hired legally. So they have an easy solution. You pay their taxes! This is not a joke. In most cases, you will be asked to pay the VAT of the contract fee, which is 20%. It is so not fair.
It is worth mentioning, that these two cases do not apply to every landlord and every broker. We were lucky to meet both lawful landlords and brokers. We managed to rent a flat with a legal contract, and we pay the rent with a bank transfer. However, we would probably find the apartment sooner, if we didn’t have this condition.
BONUS: renting an apartment in Tallinn with a pet
Having read the whole guide, do you think renting a place in Tallinn is a challenge? Let’s raise the level of difficulty. The real fun starts when you are a pet owner. We are. We have an adorable 3-year-old doggy, adopted from an animal shelter. Fabio means the world to us. Since he joined our family, we lived in 4 countries. Sadly, Estonia is the most troublesome one when it comes to renting an apartment with a dog. At some point, we thought we would have to change the country or live in our van full time. Let us point out the most common issues.
Brokers will not help you if you have a pet
We know we already stated that brokers are not helpful in general. But we don’t mean taking the initiative here. Many times we found ourselves in the situation when we called the broker to ask about the specific apartment and were informed about the no-pet-policy in this particular dwelling. In such case, we were usually asking about other flats that this broker was responsible for (one broker usually works with a few landlords). Most of the time, they were automatically saying dogs are not allowed in any flat they work with, without giving it a second thought.
Dog size matters
This news is probably even more depressing to the majority of dog owners. Size matters. We are lucky Fabio is tiny, as he weighs less than 7 kg. Most of the brokers who let us view an apartment would say the landlord only accepted small dogs. It is sometimes indicated in the ad already. We keep our fingers crossed for all the German Shepherds’ and Labradors’ human parents.
Forget about a renovated apartment if you are a pet-owner
This is another issue. It is especially annoying if you hear that you cannot live in a particular flat with a dog because it was recently renovated. I literally heard from one broker over the phone that “every dog damages the flat”. I must admit I felt totally helpless at that moment. Fabio lived with us in 6 apartments before moving to Estonia, and he has never destroyed a single item. I do more damage to the dwellings than my dog does, as I break glasses, for instance. I also shed more than he does, as I have long hair. But none of these matters. I am convinced Fabio is not special here, and every well-trained dog knows that flat equipment is not his chewing toy. But, apparently, dogs in Estonia are somehow different.
Double deposit may be the solution
If you are a wealthy pet-owner, you can always try using the money argument. We were asked to pay a double deposit a few times. Our main concern in such cases was the fact that prejudices towards pets were easily noticeable. We just didn’t want to take a risk of signing a contract with somebody who is against pets and only makes an excuse due to financial reasons.
The tough life of a cat owner
We do not have a cat, so our information may be inaccurate in this case. We would only like to mention two things. Seeing a few ads indicating “small DOG allowed”, which may mean a cat wouldn’t be acceptable, is one of them. We also had a conversation with one broker who said: “it is good you have a dog, cats are absolutely forbidden”.
One pet is already too many
We used to consider adopting another dog, but then there are these situations in life when you feel like it would be a burden. Trying to rent an apartment in Tallinn is one of them. Our landlords are animal-lovers, they have a dog and treat her like a member of their family. And even though, they indicated in our contract that only one dog is allowed.
We hope we managed to clear out all your doubts, and our experience turns out to be helpful. It all may sound depressing, but there is always the light at the end of the tunnel. After all the struggle, we managed to find the best flat we could imagine. It is spacious and well-located. It fits our budget and Fabio is not a problem for our landlords. And the most important part: the contract is legal, and we pay the rent with bank transfers! The whole process of landing the apartment took a little over two weeks. During that period, we had our ups and downs. We even started considering buying a flat of our own at some point, even though we don’t have such money, and we don’t want to stay in Estonia forever. But we are now living our awaited happy ending in Tallinn. And here are our final tips for you.
- Sort the ads by “the latest” and call the brokers immediately, landing the best apartments in Tallinn may be a matter of two minutes.
- Always try to arrange the viewing on the same day, you will have the advantage of being the first one to see the place.
- Take the decision as fast as possible, you may lose a chance of renting a nice place if you are indecisive.
- Always ask for the total monthly cost and request to see the bills from previous months. Summer utilities are lower comparing to winter ones – ask for both. Brokers should have them prepared.
- Be patient. Expect the process to take up to a few weeks. Be ready to answer personal questions.
- Smile. It is always good to be kind.
- Visit our page again. We are planning to publish more posts about living in Tallinn and traveling in Estonia.
P.S. You may have noticed we didn’t mention any specific rental prices in this guide. The reason for that is they are very inconsistent, and we don’t know your requirements. We would say an affordable price for an OK standard one-room-flat in a relatively good location would be 300 euros plus utilities, and for a two-room one – 400 euros plus utilities. Remember, that this amount may triple upon signing the contract, as you would have to add the deposit and a possible broker’s fee.