For members


Why are so many people moving out of Swiss cities?

Many people, including foreign nationals, flock to Switzerland’s urban centres because that’s where the highest-paid jobs are. But this trend is now experiencing a worrying reversal.

Why are so many people moving out of Swiss cities?
Housing in the countryside is cheaper — for now. Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

Most people in Switzerland live in cities and immediate areas around them.

Unlike huge urban centres in many other countries, where there is a lot of visible crime and poverty, Swiss cities are generally safe, attractive, have a good infrastructure — including an excellent public transportation network — and offer many economic opportunities.

In fact, both Zurich and Geneva rank highly among world’s ‘most liveable’ cities in the 2022 Global Liveability Index.

Both cities got top scores across all categories, with highest marks given for heath care (100), followed by infrastructure (96.4), and stability (95).

READ MORE: Why are Geneva and Zurich high among world’s ‘most liveable’ cities?

Basel and Lausanne also scored highly in international surveys.

However, despite their appeal, a new trend is developing: more people are leaving the cities and moving to the countryside.

Why is this happening?

Blame it on the growing shortage of affordable housing and skyrocketing rents.

“The middle class can no longer afford to live in the city,” said Nicola Hilti, researcher at the University of Applied Sciences in St. Gallen. “This is particularly the case in Zurich, Zug, Geneva and Basel.”

READ MORE: Which parts of Switzerland are hardest hit by housing shortage

According to a report in the Sunday’s SonntagsZeitung, about 1 million tenants in Switzerland suffer the so-called ‘rent burden’ — which means they pay too much rent in relation to their income.

This combination of scarce housing and high rents is driving an increasing number of middle-class families out of the cities and into the countryside, where rents are, at least for now, lower.

This is especially the case when children arrive and the need for larger accommodations becomes more urgent. “This is when many middle-class families find themselves broke,” said Hilti, who interviewed many of the departing families for her study.

“They leave either for a cheaper area or completely out of town,” she added.

If this exodus continues, however, it could have a negative impact on the economy, experts say.

“Our cities thrive on diversity and interaction,” said urban sociologist Barbara Emmenegger. “If the middle class leaves, part of the economy will collapse. Shops and restaurants geared to this population group will disappear.”

And the shift toward the countryside will not benefit rural areas either.

“If people can no longer afford to live in the city and move to the countryside, road traffic is likely to explode,” she pointed out.

Also, rural regions may not provide cheaper housing for much longer.

“Switzerland is heading towards a housing shortage of unprecedented proportions,” said Fredy Hasenmaile, Credit Suisse’s real estate expert. “In urban centres, housing is already very scarce. The problem has not yet reached the countryside, but it is only a matter of time.”

How can this problem be resolved?

The most logical solution is to build more housing in and near urban centres and keep rents from soaring.

While elected officials recognise that the situation on the housing market is critical and are proposing various ways to alleviate the problem, nothing is happening at the present time in terms of concrete measures.

It is expected that the housing and rents will become the focus of some intense discussions in the parliament, possibly later this year.

In the meantime, the Swiss Tenants Association has been pushing elected officials to introduce rent control measures, so this issue is definitely on the political agenda. 

READ MORE: How can Switzerland solve its housing shortage and curb rents?

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For members


What you can and can’t do in your apartment’s basement room in Switzerland

From storing flammables to practicing hobbies and moving in, here’s everything you can and can’t do in the cellar or basement room of your Swiss apartment block.

What you can and can't do in your apartment's basement room in Switzerland

When you buy or rent an apartment in Switzerland it should come with a basement room, known as a keller in German or cave in French.

They are on the underground floors, vary in size and each apartment in the block will have one.

They make ideal storage rooms, particularly for those not fortunate enough to rent larger apartments

While in most cases you’ll be allowed to do and store almost everything in your basement, some restrictions and recommendations do still apply.

We’ve answered a few of the most frequently asked questions to give you an idea of what you can and can’t do in your basement in Switzerland.

Are there restrictions to what I can store in my basement?

The short answer is, yes. The Swiss fire protection regulations stipulates that flammable liquids, such as petrol, denatured alcohol or kerosene, can only be stored in small quantities.

In more detail, tenants can store up to a maximum of 25 litres in tested plastic or metal canisters of flammable liquids in the entire basement area. This means that you can only store 25 litres of flammable liquids in your basement if nobody else has stored any flammables in theirs. In short: it is advisable to speak to your neighbours first to ensure you don’t break any laws.

When it comes to gas containers, however, the regulations aren’t quite as generous. Any storage of gas containers, such as gas bottles for the grill, is strictly forbidden inside buildings. Gas containers must always be stored in a dry place protected from the sun outside of your home (and basement).

Can I store firewood in my basement?

If you’re getting excited for BBQ season or are looking to stock up on some firewood for the winter and don’t know where to store it, keep in mind that there are some rules to keeping it in your basement.

The maximum permitted amount of firewood to be stored inside buildings is 5 cubic metres with an exception made for boiler rooms where the maximum quantity is 10 cubic metres.

Generally, firewood should be stored in dry places, so if your basement is dry enough, there is nothing wrong with storing your firewood there. Should your basement have high humidity, however, damages to the firewood could lead to mould growth on the basement walls and hence to issues with your landlord.

What about food storage?

While there are no regulations for the storage of food in basements, do keep in mind other tenants. Always store your fruit and vegetables in closed containers so they don’t rot or attract pests.

Can I have a freezer in my basement?

Whether you can have a freezer in your basement will largely depend on the structure of your basement and your rental agreement.

If the structural requirements are met, such as the necessary power connection, a solid base and dryness, in theory, having a working freezer in the basement will not prove an issue. However, tenants are advised to discuss this matter with their landlords beforehand, as the latter are entitled to ask you to pay for the resulting energy consumption.

Can I live in my basement?

As a general rule, a basement is meant to be used as a storage room so converting it into a living room or bedroom is not permitted.

There are many reasons as to why one shouldn’t live in the basement, with a common reason being that safety, such as fire protection, is not guaranteed. In addition to this, rooms without windows in Switzerland must not be used for residential purposes.

Can the landlord set up rules for the basement?

Generally, basements are regarded as an extension of your apartment so some rules will apply as per your rental agreement. For example, your landlord may require you to thoroughly clean your basement once a year and certainly when moving out – though in the latter case they are known to look the other way!

Moreover, your landlord can stop you from storing certain things in your basement, particularly if your neighbours aren’t a fan of goods, such as smelly rubbish bags.

What about practising a hobby on the premises?

The good news is that you are allowed to practise most of your hobbies in your basement – though, again, you may want to keep in mind that the basement area is shared among other residents. In Switzerland, this means keeping the noise levels down at all times but particularly on Sundays.

So, while you can use your basement to foster your painting skills, starting a heavy metal rock band may not gather equal support.

And lastly, can the landlord go into my basement without asking?

You’ll be happy to find that no, they absolutely can’t. By signing the rental agreement your landlord has agreed to let you use the property for your sole use – and that includes the basement.