24 August 2021

Moving to Switzerland - Basics of Swiss Tenancy Law

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The question of a "roof over one's head" is one of the most basic needs when moving to another country. The following information will provide an overview of the basics of Swiss tenancy law to new residents.

As a new resident, it is important to prove to the landlord that the rent payments are secured. Therefore, it can be helpful to provide the landlord with, for example, an employment contract with the new employer in Switzerland or proof of assets. A confirmation from the former landlord that the rent was always paid on time or an official confirmation that there are no debts is also helpful.

1. Lease Agreement

With the conclusion of a lease agreement, the landlord agrees that the tenant can us a specific rental object. The tenant is obliged to pay rent to the landlord in return.

According to Swiss law, lease agreements do not require a specific form. This means that a lease agreement can also be concluded orally. However, for reasons of proof, a written contract is preferable.

In addition to the contractual parties (tenant and landlord), the lease agreement must state which rental object the landlord is handing over to the tenant for use. In addition to the flat, this may also include, for example, cellar rooms or an attic compartment. Rooms to share, such as a laundry room, must also be mentioned.

Further, rent and accessory charges are important elements of the lease agreement. In Switzerland, it is common to agree on a monthly net rent, with additional costs (e.g., for heating, hot water, janitor services, etc.). If the accessory charges are not expressly regulated, they are considered to be included in the rent and do not have to be paid by the tenant additionally. If accessory costs are to be paid separately, this can be done as a lump sum or "on account" (in German “akonto”, as a down payment). In the latter case, the landlord prepares an accessory charges statement once a year and, depending on the balance, the tenant receives a refund or must pay a certain amount in addition. It is advisable to check the accessory charges statement carefully. The tenant has the right to inspect the detailed statement and the receipts from the landlord.

It is also usual for the tenant to pay a deposit (in German “Mietzinsdepot” or “Kaution”) as security. This is to be deposited in a blocked bank account in the tenant's name. For residential premises, the deposit may amount to a maximum of three months' rent. For commercial premises, the law does not set a limit. If there are no outstanding rent payments at the end of the tenancy, no damage and no excessive wear and tear to the rental object for which the tenant is liable, the security deposit must be paid back to the tenant.

2. Term of Lease And Termination

2.1 Fixed - Term and Unlimited Leases

In the lease agreement, the parties may agree on the duration of the contract. The contract can be concluded for a fixed term or unlimited period. A tenancy is fixed term if it ends without notice at the end of an agreed period or on a specific date. Ordinary notice of termination is neither necessary nor possible because the tenancy ends automatically on the expiry of the fixed duration or the agreed date. Unlimited leases, on the other hand, are concluded for a duration that is not fixed in advance. To end them, the tenant or landlord must give notice of termination to the other party.

If the parties have not agreed upon any specific provision, the lease is considered to be for an indefinite period of time.

2.2 Ordinary Notice of Termination: Deadlines and Dates

Unlimited leases may be terminated in compliance with the statutory notice periods and dates. In the case of residential premises, a notice period of three months to a customary local date applies. For business premises, the notice period is six months. The competent conciliation authority can be contacted to find out which termination dates are customary in the respective area.

The parties may conclude agreements deviating from the statutory provisions. However, the statutory notice periods (three or six months) are minimum periods which cannot be shortened.

The notice of termination is a declaration of intent that must be received by the other party and given in due time. It is is not sufficient if the notice of termination is sent on the last day before the beginning of the notice period. If the notice of termination is not submitted in due time, it will only be valid as of the next possible termination date.

2.3 Extraordinary Termination

In certain cases, extraordinary termination with shortened periods and deadlines is possible. This is the case, for example, if the tenant does not pay the rent (despite a grace period and threat of termination), in the event of breaches of the duty of care, etc. Whether the requirements for extraordinary termination are met must be examined in each individual case.

2.4 Form of Termination

Landlords and tenants of residential and commercial premises must give notice in writing. For reasons of proof, it is advisable to send the notice of termination by registered mail. In the case of a family flat, the notice of termination must also be signed by the spouse or registered partner.

The landlord must additionally use a form approved by the canton. Otherwise, the notice of termination is invalid.

2.5 Challenge of the Termination and Extension of the Lease

A termination that is contrary to good faith (e.g., if the landlord terminates because a tenant wanted to inspect the accessory charges statement or because he requested a rent reduction due to the decrease in the reference interest rate, etc.) can be challenged by the tenant within a period of 30 days.

The tenant can also demand an extension of the lease under certain circumstances. The maximum extension for residential premises is four years, for commercial premises six years.

3. Deficiencies

If the rented property suffers from a deficiency, the tenant is entitled, among other things, to have the landlord eliminate the deficiency within a reasonable period and to have the rent reduced until then. Claims for damages are also possible. If the landlord does not fulfil his obligation to eliminate the defect, it is possible to deposit the rent with a body designated by the canton. For the rent to be considered paid, certain conditions must be met. Consultation with the conciliation authority or a lawyer is recommended.

Whether a deficiency exists or not must be examined in each individual case. This may be the case, for example, if the room temperature is too low, in case of mould, or if there are noise immissions due to construction work in the neighbourhood.

The landlord must be notified immediately of any deficiencies. Written notification by registered mail is recommended for reasons of evidence.

Upon takeover of the flat, a protocol should be drawn up in which the condition of the rental object is recorded in detail (e.g., stains on the walls, hickeys in the parquet floor, defective furnishings, etc.). Otherwise, the landlord could hold the tenant liable for these damages at the end of the rental period.

4. Sublease

With the landlord's consent, the tenant may sublease the rented property in whole or in part. The landlord may only refuse consent for certain reasons. This is the case, for example, if the landlord suffers substantial disadvantages from the subletting or if the conditions of the subletting are abusive.

5. Early Return of the Leased Property

The tenant may return the rental object without observing the notice periods and dates if he proposes a reasonable substitute to the landlord. The substitute must be solvent and willing take over the rental agreement under the same conditions as the tenant. Whether the requirements are met must be examined in each individual case.

6. Challenge of the Initial Rent

If certain conditions are met, the tenant may challenge the initial rent (i.e. the rent valid at the beginning of the lease). The tenant must do so within 30 days of taking possession of the rental object. A tenant should be cautious if he pays more rent than the previous tenant without any reason. In certain cantons, including Zurich and Zug, the landlord must inform the tenant of the previous rent using an official form.

7. Litigation

In case of disputes with the landlord, the tenant has the right to apply to the authorities. The conciliation authority for tenancy and leasehold matters at the location of the rental object is the competent authority. At the conciliation hearing, the authority tries to reach an amicable solution between the parties. The conciliation board consists of a chairperson and equal representation (tenant and landlord side). The conciliation authority does not charge a fee for the conciliation procedure. If no solution can be found, the dispute can be referred to the rental court.

Our team of tenancy law experts will be happy to advise you on all tenancy law issues in connection with your move to Switzerland and any other questions you may have. We look forward to hearing from you.

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