A normal contract should contain the following details:
- length of the agreement
- rent amount
- amount of additional costs (heating, water, garbage disposal etc.)
- term of notice (3-6 months is normal)
- amount of deposit (and the interest it earns)
- an agreement on redecoration when you move in or move out (you only decorate once)
- conditions for rent increases
- a protocol about the state of the apartment (Übergabeprotokoll, état des lieux)
- in the case of furnished rooms, an inventory of all items (check in the presence of the landlord whether all the items are in good order. If damaged, have this documented in writing, so that you don't have to pay for the damage when you move out)
- the general house rules
- a definition of the repairs that the landlord is responsible for and those which you have to pay for
Once the contact is signed both parties are legally bound by it. Before signing, it is therefore essential to carefully read and understand the document even though they are usually long and difficult to read. Be aware that Swiss landlords will expect the contract to be observed to the letter (which is true for any agreement you make in Switzerland!). However, there are legal protections which can limit the validity of certain clauses within rent contracts (generally to your favour).
Tenants’ associations - legal help and advice
If you do not understand parts of the lease or if you feel that unusual conditions are being imposed, get advice from a native colleague/friend/teacher/professional.
It may also be worthwhile to join the local tenants’ association (Mieterverband, association des locataires) to get immediate advice and professional support. If a conflict between tenant and landlord arises, a tenants’ association may be able to represent your interests.
Tenants’ associations can be found in most towns and cities. Besides direct legal advice, they also offer information brochures about tenancy agreements. You can find your local tenant’s association by contacting one of the national associations:
Schweizerischer Mieter- und Mieterinnenverband (MV, www.mieterverband.ch): For German-speaking Switzerland
ASLOCA (www.asloca.ch): For French-speaking Switzerland
Associazione Svizzera Inquilini (www.asi-infoalloggio.ch): For Tessin
Most landlords ask for a deposit (Kaution/Caution) which is refunded when you move out, in addition to interest earned in the meantime. However, if damage has occurred, the landlord is allowed to retain the required amount for repairs from the deposit. A normal deposit consists of the equivalent of one to three months’ rent.
Rent & Communal charges
Rent (Miete/Loyer), is the amount paid to the landlord every month. This is the Kaltmiete (cold rent) plus the extra costs such as garbage disposal, street and house cleaning costs, heating and water costs.
Additional costs depend on the apartment and its location and are individually detailed in the contract. Additional costs such as heating, gas, water and electricity costs are usually dependent on individual usage and are paid monthly at a predetermined fixed rate. Meters are read yearly and you are then refunded or have to pay extra depending on what you have used.
Other additional costs (such as garbage disposal, street and house cleaning) depend on the size of the apartment. In some cases, especially in old apartments, this can also apply to some of the individual costs stated above. For example, if a house doesn’t have individual measurement of heating for each apartment, then the total cost is split between the apartments according to their relative size.
Most landlords expect rent to be paid by automatic bank transfer or standing order; this is usually specified in the contract.
House rules & regulations
A lease will also contain general rules which apply to you as a resident tenant. In many apartment blocks with numerous tenants, these rules are often summarized in a separate document (Hausordnung/ règlement d’immeuble). Among other things, they can stipulate the following:
- No excessive noise between 22:00-06:00 and 13:00-14:00. Note that your Swiss neighbours will probably take this rule very seriously and will expect you to do likewise!
- No showers or baths between 22:00-06:00.
- Restrictions for children, i.e. no playing on the grass.
- A rule stating that you’re not allowed to leave your shoes in front of your door.
- Stipulations about the separation of different types of garbage.
- Rules for commonly used rooms such as the washing machine room.
Take into account these rules form part of your contract; breaking them can give your landlord the legal right to kick you out of the apartment. This can come as a bit of a shock to foreigners coming from less ‘regulated’ countries. So do not be surprised if your housewarming party causes complaints from your new (and now very angry) neighbours. A personal introduction on your move in can help here, though it’s not standard in Switzerland.
House care taker: In houses with a number of tenants, there is often a Hausmeister (caretaker) and Hausverwaltung (manager). The caretaker and manager are responsible for keeping everything running and organising repairs.
House Pets: Whether or not pets may be kept in an apartment must be discussed with the landlord and should form part of your rent agreement. If a tenant wants to have a pet in the flat where they already live then the rent contract or the landlord should be consulted to see if this is allowed. House pets are dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, etc.
Rental agreements will have a defined notice period included in the contract. This period applies if either party (you or the landlord) wish to terminate the agreement. However, a landlord is not allowed to cancel a rental contract without a reason.
The legal minimum notice for an open-ended rental contract is three months. This normally runs from the end of the month in which notice is given (older contracts may run from the end of the quarter). If you want to terminate a rental agreement, you should do so by sending a letter by registered mail (Einschreiben / Lettre recommandée). A letter giving notice should be signed by all the tenants named on the contract.
Note that for many flats there is a minimum rental period of one year (for houses this can be longer). Nevertheless, you can probably move out of an apartment sooner if you find an acceptable tenant as a replacement.
You’re normally obliged to leave your flat completely clean. Note that the word ‘cleanliness’ has a special connotation in Switzerland, so don’t be surprised if you landlord puts on some white gloves to check for dust!
If want to avoid the hassle, consider hiring a specialized cleaning service for people moving out. You can find these services in the yellow pages under Umzugsreinigung or nettoyage pour remise d’appartment. As you’ve probably now noticed, moving house is not cheap in Switzerland - try to do it as little as possible!
Your contract should also state whether and what redecoration you are required to do when moving out. Most Swiss flats are handed over in a redecorated state. Redecoration can include:
- painting walls
- filling in small holes etc.
- fixing scratches on wooden floors
Defects and liability
Before moving into rented accommodation, make an appointment with the landlord to inspect it for any defects (scratches, stains, wear and tear, damage etc.). Write everything down, even if damage appears very slight. Otherwise you may find you will be charged for the repairs or your deposit will not be repaid to you in full when you move out. The list of defects and damage must be signed by the landlord and kept by you.
When you move out the same kind of appointment should be made with the landlord or manager to verify defects and damage. If the accommodation is in a noticeably worse condition than at the start of the tenancy the landlord may retain the deposit paid by the tenant in part or in full. Otherwise, you should prepare a written document of the transfer stating that the apartment has been transferred without defects or damage and that the deposit should be repaid in full.
It is advisable to have a Swiss friend/colleague with you during the transfer who knows the procedure and can make sure there are no linguistic misunderstandings.
Another important part of your lease is the listing of keys you’ve been given. Make sure you receive all keys stated in the document. If you lose any keys to your home, you will be held liable for having the locks changed, and if you loose a key to a common area, you will probably have to pay for new keys for your neighbours as well! Be careful, normally you cannot just make copies of keys in a shop, as many modern keys are numbered and you need a permission from the landlord to make a copy.