SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

PROPERTY

Can I rent my apartment on Airbnb in Geneva and what are the rules?

If you want to rent your flat on Airbnb in Geneva, there are a range of rules and tax requirements to be aware of. Here's what you need to know.

Apartments along the water in the Swiss city of Geneva.
What are the rules for Airbnb in the canton of Geneva? Photo by Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash

With international travel rebounding from the Covid pandemic, short-time rentals have again become popular.

Home stay sites such as Airbnb have changed travel dramatically, allowing people to put their homes up for rental for short or medium-term periods.

While this has been a welcome income stream for many, it has also led to concerns of rising rents and ghost towns in city centres.

As a result, governments and city councils across Switzerland and abroad have put in place regulations to try and get control of short-term rental markets.

Here’s what you need to know about the rules for Airbnb in Geneva – and in Switzerland as a whole. 

Is Airbnb legal in Switzerland – and what do I need to know?

Airbnb is legal in Switzerland and grew consistently in popularity up until the pandemic hit in early 2020.

In 2017, Airbnb recorded more than 900,000 guest arrivals, an increase of 300 percent over the previous three years.

There were 35,800 Airbnb flats and homes in Switzerland in 2018.

In Switzerland, short-term rentals are regulated at federal, cantonal and local level. This means that while some rules are the same nationwide, they are stricter in certain areas – particularly those popular with holidaymakers.

READ MORE: Eight things you need to know before renting in Switzerland

An effort to relax federal rules was defeated in 2019, despite widespread support by most Swiss cantons, the Swiss tenants association, the Swiss federation of trade unions and the left-wing Socialist Party and, with reservations, by the centre-right Christian Democrats.

The rules on whether you can rent out your apartment on Airbnb will not only differ from canton to canton, but they are different depending on whether you own your apartment or you are renting it.

What are the specific rules in Geneva?

In order to rent your apartment on Airbnb or other short-term sites, you need to be aware of both cantonal and federal rules, although sometimes these overlap. 

In many cases you will need to report to your cantonal authorities that you are hosting guests. For instance, the Federal Act on Foreigners and Integration (Foreigners and Integration Act, AIG) (s16) states that commercial accommodation provides need to provide details of each guest to cantonal authorities.

Cantonal, income-based and other taxes – for instance tourist taxes which tend to differ in each canton – must also be considered.

Geneva levies a tourist tax per overnight stay. This will be 3.75 francs per night whatever the category of establishment, with the exception of campsites (2.5 francs). 

EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s rules for Airbnb rentals?

In some instances Airbnb will collect the tax itself, but don’t assume that this will be done. Obviously “I thought Airbnb was going to do it” isn’t a very good excuse and the taxman is not going to buy it.

For instance, Geneva restricts rentals to 90 days per year of an entire flat, regardless of whether you own the flat or if you are renting it.

Renting for longer than 90 days will be deemed to be changing the nature of the residence from a residential apartment to one of commercial, administrative, craft, or industrial use. 

Please note that while the Geneva government’s English-language website says there is a maximum of 60 days, this is out of date following a regulation change in 2018.

The French-language government website has the correct period of 90 days – as does the Airbnb website itself

In some cases, you may be able to apply for an exemption to this rule – although the specific examples of this are unclear. 

Can I sublet my rented apartment via Airbnb in Switzerland?

The rules for Airbnb rentals fall within the federal law on subletting in Switzerland.

Swiss subletting law allows someone to sublet their apartment if they are “temporarily unable to use their rental property due to unforeseen circumstances”.

Importantly, in each case the tenant needs to get permission from the landlord in order to do so. Written consent is not a requirement, but will be helpful in the case of a dispute.

The landlord is free to refuse to consent in certain circumstances, for instance if the tenant is believed to be “abusing” the rental contract.

According to Swiss legal consultancy WEKA, this “abuse” usually means where someone is making a profit by renting their apartment.

Colourful windows in the Swiss city of Geneva.

Geneva has put in place stricter rules than those at a federal level due to concerns about rental availability. Photo by Daniel Fazio on Unsplash

The law was designed to allow tenants to offset some of the financial damage of unforeseen circumstances, meaning that landlords will be free to refuse permission if someone is regularly renting their property out as a holiday rental.

On the other hand, a landlord’s hands may be tied if someone needs to go abroad on short notice – for instance due to illness in the family – and wants to offer the costs.

In this case – and as long as the tenant is not making a profit – the landlord cannot refuse consent.

However, most holiday rentals will not fit within this classification.

As reported by Swiss news outlet Tages Anzeiger, the major consideration of the courts is whether or not a profit is being made on the rental when compared to the monthly rental costs.

This applies whether you are renting one room or whether you are renting your entire flat.

Of course, the landlord is free to consent to holiday rentals if he or she deems it fit. The above refers to the circumstances in which consent may be withdrawn or denied.

Reader question: Does owning a second home in Switzerland give me the right to live there?

Those who have successfully sublet their flats through holiday rental sites in Switzerland have often come to an agreement with their landlord regarding the conditions of rental, i.e. how often it will be rented, the price, specific conditions and which rules the subtenants need to follow.

Keep in mind however that landlords hold all the cards in these situations, so it’s important to keep them onside.

What if I don’t tell my landlord?

Subletting your flat without telling your landlord is contrary to almost all rental agreements, meaning that you are putting yourself at risk of termination or an expensive legal dispute.

The landlord can also demand the profits you have made with the sublet.

Tenants will also be held liable for damage caused by subtenants in almost all cases. 

I own my flat. Can I rent it on Airbnb in Switzerland?

While you might think that you are allowed to rent out your apartment if you own it, this is not true in every case.

If you own your own home outright, then you will be able to rent part or all of it as much as you like (subject to cantonal rules).

The money made will be considered income and you will be taxed on it, however you can deduct maintenance and operating costs. If you make more than 100,000CHF per year, you will need to pay VAT.

You can also deduct a flat rate of 20 percent of your rental income if the apartment or house is furnished (which it really should be as few Airbnb guests want to bring their own furniture).

If you are however part of a condominium association – i.e. a collective for owner-occupiers – there may be provisions in your contract which prevent or restrict you from renting your apartment, even if you own it outright.

The law on this is relatively unclear at the moment. Swiss housing site Houzy noted in 2020 that the law is still behind the times on this.

A court case in 2019 held that a condominium association agreement could prevent you renting your flat, however this depends on the contract and such a restriction will not be upheld in every case.

Will this change in the future?

The growing popularity of Airbnb along with rising rents has seen a growing demand for legal reform, however this has repeatedly been rejected by the Federal Council.

In addition to the Swiss Home Owner’s Association (HEV), hotel groups have also been prominent opponents of legal reform.

Given that the trend in larger cities and holiday areas has been to put in place greater restrictions rather than relaxed rules, it is unlikely that and substantial changes will take place in the near future.

Swiss hotels, restaurants and work canteens are pushing for the unvaccinated to be served in different areas, with some having already implemented separate areas for the two.

The Covid certificate requirement is prompting restaurants in Switzerland to find new ways to accommodate all customers.

Please note that this is intended as a guide only and does not constitute legal advice. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

TRAIN TRAVEL

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying – even with kids

Hoping to do his bit for the planet, perhaps save some money and avoid spending any time in airports, The Local's Ben McPartland decided to travel 2,000km with his family across Europe by train - not plane. Here's how he got on on and would he recommend it?

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying - even with kids

Summer 2022 has seen the return of people travelling across Europe en masse whether for holidays or to see family, or both.

But it’s also seen chaos in airports, airline strikes and more questions than ever about whether we should be flying at all as Europe bakes under consecutive heatwaves caused by the climate crisis.

But are there really viable alternatives to travelling 2,000 km across Europe in a short space of time – with young kids?

The predicament

We needed to get from Paris to Portugal, or to be more precise the western edge of the Algarve in southern Portugal, for a week-long family holiday.

We didn’t have that much time to spend travelling there and back so the dilemma was how could we get there, fairly quickly?

“We” in this case being a family of four including two children aged 5 and 7, one fairly easygoing mum and a dad (me) who increasingly comes out in a rash when he goes near an airport.

Normally we’d have flown – as we did when we went to the same region of Portugal in October – but the stories of airport chaos, delays, cancellations, strikes and never-ending queues around Europe at the start of the summer made the prospect of taking the plane far less appealing.

Then throw in the climate crisis and the growing feeling that we, as a family, need to make an effort for the cause.

So the thought of flying, during what forecasters say was one of the hottest Julys on record in Europe and as rivers dried up and wildfires burn, just didn’t feel like an acceptable option – to me anyway – when there are alternatives.

There was the option of driving from France to Portugal, as many French and Portuguese nationals living in France do every summer. But driving nearly 2,000 km there and back for just a week’s holiday with two kids strapped in the back for hours on end would have been asking for trouble – either a breakdown or lots of meltdowns.

So that left taking the train. But would it be viable?  Would something go wrong as my colleague Richard Orange had warned on his own rail trip across Europe with kids this summer?

READ ALSO: What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

Planning the route

With the help of some really knowledgeable European rail experts like Jon Worth and information from the excellent The Man in Seat Sixty-One website we looked at the various rail routes through France and Spain to southern Portugal.

One problem was the line from southern Spain to the Algarve no longer runs which meant the best we could do was get to Seville and then hire a car.

At one point the best option looked like a night train (fairly cheap with a whole cabin reserved for the family) down to the Pyrenees (Latour-de-Carol) and then a local train to Barcelona before onwards travel to Portugal.

But in the end we settled on the direct train from Paris to Barcelona, spend the night in the Catalan city before taking the train the next day to Seville and picking up the car.

READ ALSO 6 European cities less than 7 hours from Paris by train

It would be mean Paris to Portugal in two days – or to be precise 7 hours to Barcelona, one night in a hotel, before a five-and-half-hour train journey to Seville and a three-hour car journey. It was the quickest way without flying, as far as we could see.

We were about to book the tickets when friend who was travelling by rail through Europe mentioned the Interrail option.

I did Interrailing as an 18-year- old and it was a great way to spend a month travelling around Europe (and Morocco) but had never thought it could be an option for a quickish trip to Portugal and back.

But Interrail has changed a bit since 1996 and indeed since 1972 when it was first launched for under 21s.

Now it offers passes that can be used for 4, 5 or 7 days a month – perfect for travel to a few destinations in a short space of time.

And, this was the clincher – Interrail passes for under 11s are free if they are with an adult.

Well almost free, because in certain countries like France and Spain you still need to pay for seat reservations for anyone travelling.

But the cost of the passes for two adults, plus seat reservations were cheaper than just booking direct trains and much cheaper than flying (more on costs below).

The high-speed train from Barcelona to Seville. Photo: The Local

The Upsides

Let’s start with not having to wake up at 4am and arrive at the train station three hours before the train leaves just to check in a bag and then spend the next three hours queuing in various lines – bags, passport, security, boarding etc..

We arrived at Gare de Lyon around 30 minutes before the train left and boarded without queuing and the train departed on time.

Compare this with having to get a taxi or the RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport and then still find yourself in Paris three hours later as you queue to board. (I know this is not always the case but this summer the advice was to arrive three hours before your flight to check in bags.)

Plus there was no luggage limits on the train and no having to empty your bags at security because you left an old roll-on deodorant at the bottom of your bag.

Although rail stations in Spain do have airport style x-ray machines to check all luggage, they were very rapid and didn’t result in any long queues.

Add to this comfortable seats with leg room, a bar you can walk to and spend hours watching the beautiful French and Spanish landscape whizz by.

You arrive in the centre of town – in our case Barcelona – so there’s no need to get public transport or taxis to and from out of town airports. 

Spending a night in Barcelona was a great way to break the journey – albeit a bit expensive (see below).

And it all ran pretty much on time. Over five train journeys in four days we had 15 minutes of delay. Spain’s high-speed trains were fantastic.

To sum it up: when flying your holiday only really begins when you arrive at your final destination because these days the day spent travelling is one big headache, but with the train the holiday begins as soon as you leave the station.

It’s just far, far more relaxing.

heading back to Barcelona Sants station after a night in the Catalan capital. Photo: The Local.

The Downsides

But what about the kids, you say?

Yep this can be an issue. Travelling for 7 hours on a train is not easy with two young kids but if you come prepared and can think of 75 different ways to occupy them from drawing and playing cards to I-spy and “count my freckles slowly” then it’s possible the journey will be tantrum free. (Playing hide and seek on a train with 12 carriages isn’t advisable.)

And kids adapt, so the following day’s five and half hour journey from Barcelona to Seville was a breeze because they settled into the pace of life and by that point had worked out the code to get into my mobile phone.

One complaint was how long the TGV train took to get along the southern French coast. Does it really need to stop at Nimes, Montpellier, Beziers, Agde, Sete and Perpignan? Can’t local trains serve these stations and the TGV just head straight to Spain?

Another little gripe was the train food. Whilst buffet cars on SNCF and Renfe trains are great for a coffee or a beer they don’t really offer a selection of healthy meals, so you need to come prepared. We weren’t and spent a lot of money on crap food and drink during the trips.

But if you know this in advance you can bring whatever you like onto the train, with no nonsense about 100ml limits on liquid.

Cost comparison

Working out cost comparisons are hard and anyone looking to do a similar trip will need a calculator at hand. 

It’s hard to do a direct comparison between flying and taking the train because so much depends on what the prices are when you book, the route you want to take and how quickly you want to travel and whether to go first class or standard.

But for us at the time of booking (roughly two months in advance) flights from Paris to Faro were about €1,500 for four people, train tickets booked directly with SNCF and Renfe (not interrail) for four people were around €1,200 (this probably could have been much cheaper further in advance), whilst the Interrail option – 4 day passes plus seat reservations was around €810.

So on the face of it travelling by train, especially using Interrail passes, was cheaper – but then add on the cost of two nights in hotels in central Barcelona and there was no real financial benefit of going by train.

But then it was never all about money – what price on not having to spend three hours at Charles de Gaulle airport?

How easy is it to Interrail?

Interrail proved a great option for us, even though it was only a relatively short trip. It’s more suited to those looking to do multiple journeys through various countries, perhaps at a slower pace. But the kids being free was crucial for us, so other families should definitely explore the option.

The one downside to Interrailing through France and Spain is the requirement to book seat reservations for the high-speed trains.

Whilst this sounds fairly straightforward we couldn’t do it through the Interrail app or website so had to be done with Renfe directly. For most countries you can reserve seats through the Interrail app (more on this below).

With SNCF it required a lengthy phone call because we reserved the seats to make sure there were some available before getting the Interrail passes.

For Paris to Barcelona the reservations cost €34 for standard class seats or €48 for first class.

With Renfe it was more complicated although much cheaper (Around €10 to €12 a seat). We were told on the phone that to reserve seats with Interrail you have to do it either at a Spanish train station or by phone but only if you can pick up and pay for the reservations at a Spanish train station within a certain amount of time.

Neither of these were possible when booking from Paris back in May/June. But the helpful website Man at Seat 61 recommended going via the man behind the AndyBTravels website, who charges a small fee. A few emails were exchanged and our reservations for Barcelona to Seville arrived in the post a few days later. 

Renfe and SNCF could make it easier for Interrail passengers.

The Interrail mobile pass on the the Rail Planner app was very easy to use. It was just a case of adding the days when we were travelling and then adding the specific journeys.

This brought up a QR code for each trip but the ticket controllers were always more concerned about the seat reservations we had on paper.

But all went to plan.

 

Conclusion

Those days spent sitting drinking coffee, orange and beer (in separate cups) starring out of train windows at fields, hills, mountains, villages, beach and train platforms were part of the holiday.

I’d say that if you have a day or two to spare then travelling across Europe by train instead of plane is well worth it – yes, even with two young kids.

They might even thank you for it one day if we all help avert a climate disaster. 

Advice

It’s hard to give advice because each person has different requirements that need to be taken into account – whether number of passengers, time needed for travelling, destinations, cost etc.

But plan ahead and do the research to see what’s possible.

One bit of advice if you need to travel quickly is try keep connections to a minimum or give yourself plenty of time to make them.

My colleague Richard Orange had problems on his trip from Sweden to the UK via Denmark, Germany and Belgium because of delays and missed connections.

Useful links and extra info

You can explore Interrail pass options and prices by visiting the Interrail site here. The site offers plenty of info to help you plan your trip and reserve seats on trains if necessary.

The fantastic Man in Seat 61 guide to train travel across Europe is a must-read for anyone planning a trip. It has pages and pages of useful up to date info and can be viewed here.

It also has loads of information on how to use an Interrail pass and calculations to see whether it’s the best option – if you need help with the maths. The page can be viewed here.

SHOW COMMENTS