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PROPERTY

Renting in Switzerland: The questions your landlord can and cannot ask you

If you are looking for a place to rent in Switzerland, your possible landlord can only ask certain questions, while others are ruled out. Here’s what you need to know.

A woman makes eye contact at a job interview
What exactly may your landlord ask you - and what can they not? Photo: Tim Gouw with Unsplash.

Anyone wanting to secure a rental property in Switzerland will have to jump through several hoops before they get into their new home. 

Simply finding a flat is difficult enough – particularly in larger cities – as you will need to stand out from an ever-growing crowd to prove you should be the lucky one to move in. 

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

Towards the end of the process however, your landlord has the right to ask you a range of questions before you move in. 

While some of these may feel like they have a heavily personal nature, landlords have a right to find out SOME personal information about the person or people who will live in their home. 

Some other information is however ruled out. 

What kind of information can a landlord require – and can a tenant lie?

It might sound relatively obvious, but a landlord can only ask for information related to the person’s stay in the flat. 

This is not properly defined, but Switzerland’s Immowelt describes this as “information a landlord needs to actually select a tenant based on objective criteria”. 

These questions will help the landlord make a decision as to whether or not to grant you permission to live in the flat. 

READ MORE: Here’s how much it costs to rent in Switzerland’s biggest cities

Keep in mind however that such an application is not made in a courtroom setting, meaning that there are no real consequences for tenants who lie. 

Tenants are under no obligation to answer a question, although remaining silent or giving evasive answers is likely to harm your chances of getting approved. 

As real estate agents rather than landlords are likely to ask questions, they are likely to be experienced with such dealings – and they may ask for proof of a particular claim or statement. 

Which questions may a landlord ask?

Switzerland’s Tenant’s Union has laid out a broad list of the types of questions which can be asked and not asked. 

The following is a non-exhaustive list of the types of questions which can be asked. 

Personal details: name, current address, date of birth, occupation and employer name. 

Citizenship: A landlord is also allowed to ask whether you are Swiss or not and to provide details of your citizenship or residency details, i.e. which type of permit you have to live in Switzerland. 

Again, while this may appear to be a personal question and may result in discrimination, landlords will want to know you have a right to live in Switzerland and are therefore likely to stick around for the long(ish) term. 

Family details: a landlord can ask for the details of anyone else who will be living in the flat, including spouses or family members such as children. 

Your landlord can also ask you if you plan to sublet the apartment. As we discussed in our following guide, subletting generally requires landlord approval. 

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

Income: Your landlord does not need to receive a copy of your annual earnings, however you can be asked your rough earnings – i.e. a bracket like CHF90,000 to 100,000. 

Landlords can also ask for a percentage figure as to how much your rent comes to out of your total earnings. 

Landlords will be able to ask for proof of income, but only for the purposes of clarifying the financial circumstances of the tenant. 

Generally, landlords will not want your rent to be higher than a third of your earnings, although the ultimate decision rests with the landlord him/herself. 

Debt: Landlords can also ask for debt certificates from the previous two years from independent agencies which determine an individual’s credit rating. 

(For a certificate from a previous landlord (Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung) please see below). 

Previous tenancy: Landlords can ask for information about how your previous tenancy ended. 

Pets: Swiss law is relatively vague on this issue, simply saying that small pets are allowed but larger pets can be restricted by the landlord. 

In this case, if the landlord has put in place a rule – such as ‘no dogs’ – the landlord is allowed to ask if you have a dog and then make a decision. 

Noise and musical instruments: A landlord may only ask about music instruments if there is a ‘special situation’ in the house, i.e. if the soundproofing is poor or if the neighbours have previously complained about noise. 

A lot of this – as with many of the above questions – comes down to what’s reasonable and what’s common sense. 

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

What can landlords not ask? 

There are several questions a landlord cannot ask. Immowelt writes that where a tenant is asked one of these questions, they are simply allowed to lie in response. 

While it might sound a little odd to be told to lie, the property company clarifies that a lie is an appropriate response to an illegitimate question. 

– Information on financial information not relevant for the apartment, i.e. contracts and ownership of other properties and anything else not related to a tenant’s capacity to pay the rent

– Whether the tenant is a member of the tenants union or other similar body

– Health information, i.e. preconditions and diseases

– How long the tenant has been looking for a flat

– How long the tenant has lived at their current address

– Name of current or former landlord

– Religious status

– Marital status

– Nationality (although whether a person is a foreigner and the status of their residence permit is permitted)

– Current rent paid per month

Can a landlord as for a confirmation of having no debt from a previous landlord (Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung)?

In Germany and Austria, landlords will often ask for a Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung (pronounced meat-shool-den-fry-height-bee-shine-ee-goong). 

Literally translating as rent-debt-freedom-certificate, the Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung is a document which confirms you are not in rental debt for your previous properties. 

While this is relatively common place elsewhere, in Switzerland the previous landlord is under no obligation to provide this certificate – and a tenant is also under no obligation to show it. 

Tenant or landlord: Who pays which costs in Switzerland?

However, as with everything in this list, such a certificate is likely to help convince a landlord that a tenant is trustworthy. 

A landlord looking at two identical applications is likely to decide in favour of the tenant who has provided a Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung rather than the tenant who hasn’t. 

If your landlord will not provide you with one – or asks for a large sum of money to get it – you can provide this information to your prospective landlord. 

Can a landlord ask if I am vaccinated? 

The law does not make direct reference to whether or not your landlord can ask for Covid vaccination status in applying for a flat. 

As asking about general health information is largely restricted, presumably a landlord would not be permitted to ask a question about Covid vaccination status. 

In this case – as was illustrated above – a tenant would be within their rights to provide an untruthful answer. 

If you have however already provided an answer – i.e. said you are unvaccinated when a landlord may prefer vaccinated tenants – a prospective landlord can reject your application and will likely not face consequences. 

As The Local reported in November 2021, a seller went back on a verbal promise to sell their home when they found out the buyer was vaccinated. 

‘They might die’: Swiss homeowner refuses to sell to vaccinated buyers

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For members

LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

Got an unwanted mattress, fridge or sofa? Here’s how you can legally get it off your hands in Zurich.

How to dispose of unwanted furniture or whitegoods in Zurich legally

If you’ve bought a new piece of furniture in Zurich or a mattress, you may be faced with the problem of what to do with the old one. 

This is particularly the case in cities like Zurich, where space is at a premium and you may not be able to kit out your spare room with the old furniture. 

While there are waste disposal centres, even getting there without a car can be a problem. 

One man’s trash…

First things first, think about whether you really need to get rid of the thing in question. 

While you may not want it, there may be someone out there willing to take it off your hands – particularly if you aren’t going to charge them. 

The first point of call is to ask your friends and colleagues if they’re interested, with social media the perfect place to ask around. 

If you live in an apartment complex, you might try placing the item in a common area with a note saying “zu verschenken” (to give away) or ‘gratis’ (free). 

After that, there are several online options like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Free Your Stuff Zurich, Ricardo, Anibis, Craig’s List and Tutti. 

Some of these sites will charge a fee – even if you’re giving something away – so be sure to read the fine print first. 

Another option is to donate the goods to a charity organisation. They will usually charge you money to pick it up and prices can vary dramatically. 

Caritas charge CHF35 per 100kg plus transport costs, while Sozialwerk Pfarrer Sieber will pick up small items of furniture for a flat fee, although you’ll need to send them pictures first before they give you a quote. 

Can I put old furniture on the street in Zurich? 

Although less common than many other European cities, occasionally you will see furniture out on the street in front of homes and apartment blocks in Zurich. 

While it might clutter up the sidewalk, it is technically not illegal – provided you only do so for a maximum of 24 hours. 

You also need to make sure it doesn’t block cars, bikes or pedestrians. If it does – or if you leave it out for longer – you risk a fine.

Entsorgungstram: Zurich’s recycling and waste disposal tram

One option is the Entsorgungstram, a mobile recycling centre on rails for all Zurich residents. 

This tram weaves its way through several parts of Zurich, picking up old bulky waste including electrical devices and furniture. 

If you are lucky to live near an Entsorgungstram line, just check the timetable and bring your waste items along to meet the tram. 

There are some rules, as laid out by the Zurich council. 

“The delivered items must not be longer than 2.5 meters (exception: sofa/upholstered furniture can be no longer than 2 meters) and no heavier than 40 kilograms per item. Separate the material beforehand according to its composition: flammable, large metal and landfill”. 

Unfortunately, only pedestrians and cyclists can use this service, i.e. you cannot drive from elsewhere and deposit the stuff. 

More information including route details can be found at the following link. 

Regular waste disposal

Your next option is to see whether you can get rid of it in your usual waste disposal. 

This being Switzerland, there are a lot of rules about what the waste management company will take and will not. 

If you’re throwing away a mirror, for instance, you cannot put that with your other glass waste and will need to dispose of it elsewhere. 

On the other hand, they may take things like carpets and mattresses – although you’ll need to pay a bit extra. 

The exact rules will depend on your municipality, but generally speaking you will need to buy additional waste stickers – which cost money. 

In Zurich itself, every household receives four coupons for disposal of waste (up to 100kg) each. 

When you run out of coupons, you’ll need to pay by the kilo. 

You’ll still need to bring it to the waste disposal facility, or pay a pick up fee of around CHF80. 

This may sound steep, but they do come to your home and pick it up – which will likely be cheaper than a rental car or van. 

In Winterthur, you will need to buy stickers for CHF1.80 from the council, with each sticker letting you dispose of 10kg of waste. 

Check with the retailer where you bought the new item

One option offered by furniture sellers is to buy your old furniture or whitegoods or accept them as a trade in. 

While this is likely to be more common with second hand retailers who might see potential in your unwanted item, it is also a service offered by retailers who only sell new goods. 

One example is Ikea, who will take your old mattress, furniture or electronic device and recycle it. 

This service is available at Ikea outlets for a cost of CHF10 each. 

It is also available when you get something new delivered, although you must pre-book so the driver can be sure to set aside enough space. 

This will cost you CHF80 for furniture, or CHF50 for electronic devices and mattresses. Keep in mind that (at least with Ikea) this service is only available when you buy something new. 

Several other furniture companies offer a similar service, including Schubiger Möbel, Möbel Pfister and Conforama.  

Electrical item retails will often take your old electrical goods for recycling, whether these are small like iPhones or large like fridges and washing machines. 

More information about which goods can be recycled and how in Switzerland is available at the following link. 

Moving companies

Removalist companies are another option – whether you are moving house or not. 

If you are moving house then a disposal service may be included in the overall fees. 

If not, you can still contact the company and get the item taken off your hands. 

While different companies will charge different amounts, you’ll usually pay per 100kg rather than per item, which can be a better (or worse) option than contacting the local council. 

Swiss comparison site Comparis has detailed info about how to find a moving company here

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