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Ten years of The Local: How Switzerland has changed in a decade

The year 2021 marked ten years since The Local Switzerland started publishing. Our Geneva-based journalist Helena Bachmann takes a look at what changes took place in the country during that time — and what remains the same.

 Another thing that hasn’t changed: the Swiss flag. Photo by Janosch Diggelmann on Unsplash
Another thing that hasn’t changed: the Swiss flag. Photo by Janosch Diggelmann on Unsplash

Depending on how you look at the passage of time, a decade is either very long or just a blink of an eye.

And also depending on your perspective, Switzerland has either changed a lot in these 10 years, or not enough.

From a purely journalistic point of view, the news that was trending in 2011 was both totally different and eerily similar to today, except for Covid-19, as a global health crisis of this scope was not on anyone’s radar.

Among the first articles The Local published in 2011 were ones headlined Zürich zoo celebrates gorilla birth, Half of Swiss bats have malaria, and Swiss woman killed in elephant brawl.

But there was also one story that makes us realise ten years is indeed a very long time: Swiss government told to launch Bush probe, a story about a possible investigation into former US President George W Bush. 

However, other articles from 2011 remind us that some issues never grow old: How to find a Swiss home of your own and Finding a job in Switzerland are as pertinent today as they were back then.

The more things change, the more things stay the same

From my own point of view (both journalistic and personal), this quote comes to mind when comparing 2011 to the present: “The more things change, the more they remain the same”.

If changes in Switzerland are slow to happen, it is mostly due to local mentality and political system — neither of which ever changes.

In the former case, the Swiss prefer to take their time to debate issues, form commissions and committees to debate issues, and act (or not act) on them only after a long deliberation and due-diligence process.

In the latter case, Switzerland’s famous system of direct democracy brings all manner of sometimes-urgent matters to the ballot box, which could take a while as well.

If I have to weigh in (unilaterally, without creating commissions and committees to debate the issue or bringing it to a referendum) about what changes happened in Switzerland in the past decade, I would say the country and its people are now more open to technology and ‘digitalisation’ of their lives.

Years ago, I often came across people who didn’t even know how to turn on the computer, much less use search engines, purchase products online, or conduct all kinds of business on the Internet.

A computer repairman I know was often called into people’s homes to fix their computer. In more cases than one the ‘problem’ he found was that the PC was not plugged in. The cable was dangling a metre away from the electrical outlet and they were wondering why they couldn’t turn on their computer.

This has changed significantly, with most people, including the older generation, now routinely using digital services ranging from online platforms to mobile apps.

The same pertains to phones: most homes in 2011 (mine included) had land lines, and mobile phones were still not as common as they are today.

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Now, many households (mine included) only have cell phones, with landlines (like fax machines) being a thing of the past.

So yes, the Swiss have become much more technologically savvy than before, which is a huge thing for people who don’t really like to embrace change.

And now here’s what (in my view) remained pretty much the same since 2011 (and probably way before then):

  • Switzerland is still expensive, though more products and services from abroad are now more available.
  • On the whole, the Swiss still don’t care for foreigners, though they learned to tolerate them for economic reasons.
  • Making friends with Swiss people is still (in many cases) an enormous effort.
  • The mythical (and yet so real) mental divide (the so-called Röstigraben) between the German and French-speaking regions is still in place. Interestingly, Italian-speakers are most adaptable to both.

And all that brings me to what I said before: the more things in Switzerland change, the more they mostly remain the same.

Regardless of whether you’ve lived in Switzerland for a day, a week or a decade, we’d like to hear from you. Let us know in the comments how Switzerland has changed – or hasn’t – in the time you’ve lived here. 

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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