Homegate criticised for paid fast-track service for rental apartments

Homegate criticised for paid fast-track service for rental apartments

Swiss housing platform Homegate has come under heavy criticism for its “Mieter +” or renter plus service, which allows prospective tenants to access and apply for housing three days before those who use the free service. The Zurich Tennants’ Association has condemned the practice, arguing it takes advantage of people who are desperate to find affordable homes to rent in Switzerland.

Mieter + gives tenants fast access to Swiss apartment listings

Since April 2023, those accessing Homegate - one of the largest home listing sites in Switzerland - have been able to purchase Renter + or “Mieter +”. For 39,95 francs a month on a three-month contract, subscribers will be classed as verified users on the website so that applications are responded to faster, and will be able to see how many people have already enquired about a property.

Most controversially, Mieter + users also get access to new listings for houses and apartments three whole days before free users can. They can also benefit from private viewings, booked long before free users are given access.

Homegate accused of exploiting the housing crisis

These last two features have drawn the ire of the Zurich Tenants’ Association, with co-head of legal advice Nicole Schweizer telling SRF that the “offer directly takes advantage of the distressed situation of tenants who are looking for an apartment.” “A two-class society is developing: There are people who can afford it. Others can't,” she continued, arguing that the system allows Homegate to exploit the tumultuous conditions in the Swiss housing market.

The comments come as the housing shortage continues to grip the major Swiss cities, with Zurich often seen as patient zero for the crisis. According to SRF, rental prices in the city have risen by 40 percent in the last 20 years. Today's median rental price for a new, privately owned three-room apartment is 2.799 francs a year. 

In many cases, prospective tenants apply for homes before viewing them and even offer to pay the annual rent upfront. Those who do attend viewings are in for a shock: Blick reported back in February 2024 that at one house viewing in Kolbenacker, viewers arrived up to an hour early, with the line eventually stretching for 150 metres.

In Zurich, the crisis has been blamed on a shortage of homes. According to the statistics service in the city, while 3.400 new apartments were built in Zurich in 2023, the second highest number ever and the highest since 2018, the percentage of homes available to rent in the city fell to 0,06 percent by the end of the year.

Homegate vehemently opposes allegations of exploitation

Responding to the allegations, the Swiss Marketplace Group, the firm that owns Homegate, wrote in a statement that the service did not put poorer tenants at a disadvantage. “The use of Homegate is and remains free for all users…Mieter Plus gives everyone looking for an apartment an additional option to increase their chances of finding the right rental property, especially in regions with above-average demand.” 

When asked whether the service encourages landlords to charge above and beyond, the statement said that the accusation “does not correspond to the facts.” It concluded that Homegate protects against shady rental contracts by making every listing visible to the public, in the end. 

Both landlords and tenants taking advantage of Swiss housing crisis

It isn’t just Homegate who is accused of taking advantage of the housing crisis: according to the Zurich Tenants’ Association, thanks to the shortage of affordable homes, landlords and tenants wishing to move are exploiting prospective renters. They cited the case of a three-room apartment in Zurich, advertised for 1.940 francs a month. Once contacted, the owner wrote that in order to secure the apartment, tenants would instead have to pay 3.880 francs a month.

Schweizer added that tenants are also taking advantage of the housing shortage by charging arbitrary fees. The most common is the demand to purchase furniture or pay for renovations to secure an apartment. In one case, a tenant in Dübendorf demanded that prospective tenants buy two wardrobes and curtains for 1.000 francs, or else he would not forward their rental application to the owners, an illegal practice. 

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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