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The Traps to Avoid as an Expat Tenant in Switzerland?

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The Traps to Avoid as an Expat Tenant in Switzerland

If you have just moved to Switzerland and are beginning a lease, don’t assume it’s the same as everywhere. There are details in Swiss tenancy law which most expats ignore. InterNations member Renuka offers you a few practical tips concerning your lease to help you avoid common traps and pitfalls.

Swiss Tenancy Law in General

Swiss law on tenancy is a federal law, which means it applies to rentals all over Switzerland. The procedural laws for tenancy matters are also identical under the Swiss federal code of civil procedure. However, the official forms used for informing a tenant of the amount of rent due, increasing the rent (because it’s never reduced), or terminating the lease vary from one canton to the other.

There is a specific court for tenancy matters and they tend to rule in favor of the tenants. However, it is the landlords who know all the loopholes and take full advantage of them.

Landlords know that expats have no idea of Swiss law and are therefore their favorite tenants. They, of course, hate having lawyers as tenants.

Your lease agreement and any notifications you may receive from the landlord for an increase in rent or termination must usually be made on the official forms if these exist in your canton of residence, otherwise they are invalid.

Keep in mind that all these rules only concern residential, non-furnished tenancies, and not commercial tenancies.

Lease Agreements

Although these are standard agreements, there are a few questions and advice you need to keep in mind:

  • Is the lease for your “rented home” for a limited time or an unlimited period? Under which circumstances can you terminate your lease agreement (when and with which notice period)? The notice period needs to be identical for both parties.
  • Is the rent excessive? According to Swiss law, there are limits that cannot be exceeded by property owners and expats are often unaware of them. Seek advice with local tenancy associations to see if your rent is excessive.
  • Your rent is invalid under Swiss law if your lease agreement does not mention the rent of the previous tenant, unless you are the first tenant.
  • You may file a request for a reduction of rent within 30 days of signing the lease agreement if your rent is excessive compared to the previous tenant. You need a copy of the lease agreement to file this request. Some property owners deliberately deliver you a copy only after 30 days to avoid this.
  • Periodic rent increases are only possible if the lease is for at least three years. In this case, the rent must not be increased more than once a year and the increase in rent must be mentioned in Swiss francs.
  • Is there a deposit to guarantee the payment of the rent? This cannot be more than three months of the rent.
  • If you are late in paying of your rent or the additional expenses, the landlord is entitled to grant you a grace period of 30 days. If the payment is not made within the deadline, the landlord can terminate your lease with a “Notice Period” of 30 days from the end of any month (i.e. if you receive the termination on 15 December, the lease will end on 30 January).

The Handover of the Rented Home

When you are given the keys of the Rented Home, the landlord or his representative is usually in a hurry to give you the keys, make you sign the handover paper, and disappear.

This is where you need to be extremely cautious and most expats are not.

  1. Is the rented home ready to be used (clean, working heat, warm water, working electrical appliances of an equipped kitchen)? If not, it needs to be requested at the cost of the landlord.
  2. Are there any holes, marks, or dents on the wooden flooring, tiles, or walls?
  3. Are there any defective window knobs or shutters?

All defects must be photographed and listed in the paper called “Etat des lieux d’entrée” which you need to sign. The photographs should be sent to the landlord preferably on the same day.

If the defects are not marked as existing at the beginning of your lease, they could be considered as damages caused by your use of the rented home and the cost of repairs could be deducted, at the end of your lease, from the security deposit.

You are entitled to ask for a copy of the “Etat des lieux de sortie” of the previous tenant, to see which defects have been listed. They may well be the same which you need to mark on your “Etat des lieux d’entrée” unless they have been repaired in the meantime by the landlord.


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