Over two-thirds of the Swiss population live in rented accommodation. In Switzerland, owning property is restricted to citizens or those who have long-term residence permits. Therefore, the majority of expats will have to start their life in Switzerland in rented accommodation. When looking for a house for the first time, it is important to know what to expect from your rental contract and to know your rights when appealing a rent increase or termination.
Rental contracts in Switzerland
Rental contracts in Switzerland are a written agreement between the landlord or lady and the tenant. Typically, landlords prefer managing tenants through rental housing agencies. The contract is designed to lay out the exact rules, roles and obligations that each party has. There are two types of rental contracts in Switzerland.
Fixed-term rental contracts
Fixed-term rental contracts are agreements between a tenant and a landlord that allows you and your family to stay for a fixed amount of time. These contracts are typically used for short-term letting and furnished apartments as well as student housing. The contracts allow for landlords to seek out a new tenant while the old tenant is resident, although current tenants are usually given priority out of courtesy. It is also common for these contracts to have looser agreements around maintenance and cleaning.
Indefinite rental contracts
Indefinite rental contracts are the most common for all housing types. These allow a tenant to stay at an accommodation indefinitely if they choose to. These contracts have no end date and landlords may not terminate these contracts unless given a just cause.
What is included in a Swiss rental contract?
Before signing your rental contract, it is important to know what should be included. In Switzerland, landlords are given the freedom to determine specific rules and terms within rental contracts. Rental agreements do not have to take any specific legal form, and in some more rural counties (cantons), contracts are concluded orally. The Swiss government has created a model rental contract which will give a good idea as to what is involved.
As part of your rental contract, you will be subject to a list of general conditions. These set the terms for the financial agreement between tenant and landlord. It will also include strict definitions of what is considered to be your accommodation, as well as any additional costs such as parking. The most common things you will find in general conditions are:
- Identity of landlord and tenant
- Type of housing
- Full and detailed description of what is being leased
- Detailing whether it is a fixed or indefinite contract
- Rent and other expenses
- Details of any rent deposit
- Official move-in date as defined by your canton
The house rules section of the contract is for the landlord to outline the exact rules and requirements for living in their property. These sections vary between landlords but some of the most common rules are:
- Curfew agreements for noise and utilities such as showers
- Privileges such as laundry room access and parking
- General rules around cleanliness and maintenance of fixtures
- Rules around subletting
A unique part of Swiss rental agreements are the specific times when a lease can begin. Instead of a flexible system where you can move in at any time, different cantons have different dates for when you are able to move in. These can range from the end of every month to only three dates a year.
Permitted move-in dates
- Move in any day: Geneva, Lucerne, Valais
- End of any month: Glarus, Parts of Jura
- End of any month except December 31: Appenzell Innerrhoden, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Basel land, Basel Stadt, Schaffhausen, Schwyz, St. Gallen, Uri, parts of Thurgau
- Aargau: March 31, June 30, September 30
- Bern: April 30, October 31
- Freiburg: March 31, June 30, September 30, December 31
- Graubunden: March 31, June 30 (in some municipalities), September 30
- Jura (Parts of): March 31, June 30, September 30, December 31
- Nidwalden: March 31, June 30, September 30
- Obwalden: March 31, June 30, September 30
- Solothurn: March 31, September 30
- Ticino: March 29, September 29
- Thurgau (parts of): March 31, June 30, September 30
- Vaud: January 1, April 1, July 1, October 1
- Zug: March 31, June 30, September 30
- Canton Zurich: March 31, September 30
- City of Zurich: March 31, June 30, September 30
Cleaning and maintenance obligations in a Swiss apartment
As part of your rental contract, your landlord will detail a specific cleaning routine for when you move out of your apartment, as well as basic obligations while you are staying there. This section also details any liability for the contents of your house and any maintenance costs you might have. This can be either paid by the landlord / letting agent, private insurance or by the tenant.
What are my rights as a renter in Switzerland?
In Switzerland, the government gives tenants several rights and obligations that they can use if they believe that they are being treated unfairly. The majority of these rights relate to the cost of renting and can be used by any tenant on any contract.
If you believe that you are being charged too much by your landlord, you may consider asking for a rent deduction. You can do this if you find that you are paying significantly more than the previous tenant, your apartment or house is reduced in value due to decay or construction projects, or if interest rates increase to make your rent more expensive.
In order to apply for a rent reduction, you must write an official letter to your landlord. This must detail why you think your rent should be decreased and should contain any evidence to support your application.
Your landlord is required to respond within 30 days of your letter. If they do not respond, you are advised to attend your local council (Gemeinde) for help. This also applies if you are looking to reduce your rent because of personal hardship or due to claiming unemployment benefits or welfare.
Protesting a rent increase in Switzerland
Your landlord must inform you of any increase to your rent three months and 10 days before the official increase. There, they must detail the reasons why your rent is increasing. These can be increases due to interest rates, inflation, new maintenance costs or additional investments made in the property (such as new appliances).
If you believe that your rent is being increased unjustly, attend your local Gemeinde who will refer you to your local conciliation authority. Your landlord is unable to terminate your rental contract while your appeal is being made.
If no agreement can be reached with your landlord, your local conciliation authority will be able to offer advice and adjudicate between the two parties. If no such agreement can be concluded, matters will be taken to court where a lawyer is advised.
Terminating a rental agreement in Switzerland
If you plan to move out of Switzerland and need to terminate your contract, you must inform your landlord within three months of your departure. During this time, your landlord is free to seek out new tenants for your accommodation.
Your contract may also define a specific point in the year when you can move out, usually relating to the official move-in dates for your canton, so be sure to send in your notice as soon as possible. Please bear in mind that you cannot immediately withdraw from a rental contract once it is signed, in Switzerland there is no “cooling off period” after the contract is concluded.
Terminating an agreement without a notice period
If you would like to leave before the notice period on your contract, you can if you provide a new tenant for the accommodation who would be happy to move in earlier. This new tenant must be financially sound and must pass any relevant criteria that the landlord has. If they do pass, you will be able to hand the tenancy over at any time.
Landlords have the ability to terminate your rental agreement so long as they do so using the official process. Your landlord must notify you of the termination before the official notice period. Tenants have the right to know the reasons for the termination and can appeal to the conciliation authority if they do not believe that the termination was done for appropriate reasons.