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PROPERTY

Tenant or landlord: Who pays which costs in Switzerland?

Renters in Switzerland are only liable for some of the costs associated with the property. Here's what you need to know.

A couple covered in paint after renovating a house
What costs is the landlord liable for in Switzerland - and what do you need to pay yourself? Photo by Roselyn Tirado on Unsplash

As the only European country where more than 50 percent of people rent rather than own their home, Switzerland is a nation of renters. 

As a result, many of the rental laws are more heavily in tenants’ favour than elsewhere, particularly English-speaking countries. 

READ MORE: Why do so many Swiss prefer to rent rather than buy their own home?

When paying your rent in Switzerland, you may be liable for a range of additional or associated costs in addition to your actual rent. 

If you’ve just arrived in Switzerland, many of the costs will be known to you, while some others might be surprising. 

These can include everything from heating and electricity costs, to less common fees for caretakers or doormen. 

While you will be liable for many of the costs yourself, some of them will be the responsibility of the landlord. 

What are some examples of associated costs and how are they paid? 

Associated costs, otherwise known as ancillary costs or service charges, relates to any costs associated with living in the flat. 

In German these are known as Nebenkosten, in French as frais accessoir and in Italian as costi aggiuntivi. 

Some bills will have up to 15 different line items. 

READ MORE: Can foreigners buy property in Switzerland?

These can include: heating, hot water, electricity in common areas, snow removal, garden maintenance, parking, lifts and stairwell, sweeping and cleaning common areas, laundry room costs, cable TV/TV costs, water, sewage and caretaker fees. 

Note that we have not included other costs associated with renting, such as internet, phone or electricity. Generally speaking, these will be paid separately by the tenant and will not be a part of the rental charge, although in certain instances (i.e. student accommodation) they may be included. 

Generally speaking, there are two different types of additional costs: those which are paid by the tenant and those which are the responsibility of the landlord. 

Who pays what? Which costs are tenants liable for in Switzerland?

Generally, anything related to maintaining the house or the facilities will be the responsibility of the landlord. 

Repair work will be the responsibility of the landlord, for instance the replacement of a heater or new electricity wiring. 

On the other hand, costs associated with actually living in the house will tend to be the responsibility of the tenant. 

Finding a flat in Switzerland: How to stand out from the crowd

Swiss property site Homegate.ch notes that anything the tenant actually has control over – i.e. by using more or less – should be paid by the tenant, although this will not be true in every case. 

The following lays out the costs which should be paid by tenants and landlords, although this is not an exhaustive list and there are sometimes exceptions. 

Costs that must be paid by tenants

  • Heating costs
  • Hot water
  • Sewage
  • Electricity*
  • Phone and internet costs*
  • Caretaker and doorman fees
  • Cleaning for common areas (such as stairs, hallways and lifts)
  • Electricity for common areas
  • Repair for common areas
  • Normal garden care
  • Laundry charges (i.e. shared laundries)
  • TV fees
  • Contents insurance
  • Snow removal
  • Administrative costs associated with the apartment

Anything marked with an asterisk will be the responsibility of the tenant, although these are not typically considered within the definition of ‘ancillary costs’, i.e. those which are paid to your landlord.

Instead, they will usually be part of a separate contact or agreement between the tenant and a service provider. 

READ MORE: What damage do tenants have to pay for in Switzerland?

Costs that must be paid by landlords

  • Repairs to the flat 
  • Repairs and replacement of components and parts, for instance pipes, electricity systems, wiring etc
  • Repairs to furniture or appliances which are provided by the landlord
  • Renovations (see below)
  • Property taxes
  • Other taxes and fees
  • Building insurance
  • Remodelling or significant alterations to gardens and courtyards

What about renovations?

Renovation work will also be the responsibility of the landlord, although in this case you may be liable for an increase in rent. 

While the rules are put in place at a cantonal level and some cantons like Basel City have restrictions on what landlords can charge in relation to renovations, generally speaking where the tenant will have an additional comfort or benefit then an increase in rent is justifiable. 

Swiss property broker Immoscout24 provides some examples of renovations that may lead to an increase in rent, including new windows, a new bathroom or a new kitchen. 

Other improvements such as new installation may also result in a rent increase, as these are likely to benefit the tenant with regard to heating and electricity bills. 

Member comments

  1. This is great information, thank you. We have rented from Livit for over 10 years and they do not hold up to their end of the contract. They only do the minimal maintenance and we need to collectively complain to get anything done. They have painted the walls in our hallway once in 10 years. We have demanded that they steam clean the carpets in the hallway, which has only been done twice in 10 years. Our shade awnings on our balconies are old and falling apart. Our play structures in the common garden area are old and the wood is so dry it gives the kids splinters. When we write letters, they don’t respond. One must follow up with a call and demand that they answer the email. It’s horrible!! In English, Livit would be known as a slumlord. You should do an investigative report about that! I would be happy to invite your journalists to our building to support your evidence.

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HOUSING

Can a Swiss landlord charge a fee if you renounce to rent an apartment?

Say you signed a registration for a flat in Switzerland, but then changed your mind. What, if any, fees are you liable for if you decide to withdraw your application?

Can a Swiss landlord charge a fee if you renounce to rent an apartment?

In some areas of Switzerland, good and reasonably priced rental properties are difficult to come by, so once you find one, you hold on to it for dear life.

But it can also happen that you change your mind for whatever reason and no longer want to proceed with the rental.

What happens then?

Some rental agencies’ registration forms include a clause stating that if you cancel after a contract has been prepared, you have to pay between 150 and 200 to cover administration costs — even if the contract hasn’t yet been signed.

This is ostensibly for all the time and effort that went into preparing the lease.

If you are unfamiliar with Swiss laws, you may feel a duty to pay these fees, believing that if you don’t, Swiss rental police will knock on your door.

But you can relax: apart from the fact that there’s no such thing in Switzerland as “rental police”, you don’t owe the agency or landlord anything.

That is because registrations and applications of any kind —  including those for rental properties — are non-binding until both parties have signed them. Up to this point, an application can be withdrawn without incurring any costs, even if the agency / landlord have you believe otherwise.

READ MORE: REVEALED: The six major Swiss cities where rents are falling

Why are landlords / rental agencies engaging in this practice?

To be fair, not all of them will attempt to make you pay for failing to sign the lease. Those who do are hoping you don’t know your legal rights, especially if you are a foreigner who (they hope) is still green behind the ears when it comes to rental regulations in Switzerland.

However, according to the official site of canton of Geneva (but this rule applies nationally), some exceptions could be admissible.

If applicants are not acting in “good faith” — for instance, by belatedly expressing their refusal to sign the lease and delaying the rental process while other potential tenants are kept waiting —  the landlord could ask to be compensated.

This is not a clear black-and-white situation though, as “good faith” calls for subjective judgements, ones that the landlord or rental agency could not make unless they have proof that candidates’ actions were dishonest — which is also difficult to prove.

But even in this case, the landlord “could only invoice his actual costs: the costs of drafting the lease contract and sending it out, for example”, according to the Swiss Tenants Association (ASLOCA).

You should also inform yourself about what your landlord can and cannot demand of you.

“You have to remember that just because something is written in the lease doesn’t mean it’s true”, ASLOCA said.

“Lease law is protective of the tenant and takes into consideration that the latter does not necessarily have the possibility or the resources to read and carefully negotiate any clause of his lease”.

If uncertain of what your rights and obligations are, this official government site provides useful information and  resources, including who, in your canton of residence, can help in case of a dispute with your landlord.

READ MORE: Tenant in Switzerland? Here’s how to apply for a rent reduction

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