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What are my rights and obligations as a tenant?

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When are you entitled to a rent reduction? Are you allowed to find a new tenant yourself and when does your landlady have to accept them? What's the duty of care all about? Anyone renting should know what their rights and obligations are.

Kathrin Ramseier, lawyer at AXA-ARAG, answers the most important questions about tenancy law.

I'd like to paint my children's room light blue. Do I have to get the landlord's permission? 

In principle, no, but when the tenancy ends, you must repaint the light blue wall so that it's restored to the original color. Unless you have the landlord's written permission or the new tenant agrees to keep the new color. 

Can my landlady specify how many days my parents visiting from Brazil can stay?

No, the landlady cannot specify who can visit you and how long they can stay.

After how many years am I entitled to have a rental apartment renovated, such as repainted?

If there's a problem with toilet plumbing or your heating doesn't work, you're entitled to have a specialist sort it out. Pure renovations such as classic repainting are not included in an ongoing tenancy.

I'd like to take a sabbatical and sublet my rental apartment to a friend for six months. Can my landlady stop me from doing so?

Subletting isn't actually prohibited, but the landlord or landlady must be informed about the arrangement and given the subtenant's details.

Is the landlord allowed to specify how often my girlfriend can stay overnight? 

No, provided your girlfriend sticks to the terms of the tenancy agreement and general house rules.

Do I have to let my landlord know if I'm going to be away for an extended period?

You don't have to let your landlord or landlady know about when you are or aren't in your apartment. However, if there's any damage as a result of non-usage, such as lack of ventilation, the landlord or landlady can hold you responsible. 

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I travel for two months in the winter. Do I have to arrange a replacement snow-clearing service?

If snow clearance is one of your contractually agreed obligations, you must tell your landlord or landlady that you'll be away and find a solution together.

My loft apartment gets very hot in the summer. Can I ask for a rent reduction if the temperature exceeds a certain level?

There's no general rule here. If construction defects result in extreme temperatures, you're allowed to ask for a rent reduction. There must also be a case-by-case analysis of what expectations are justified for a certain apartment.

There's mold in my bathroom. Our building manager isn't interested in it. What can I do?

Mold is a defect in a rental property. The landlord or landlady must arrange for a specialist to remove the mold at the property management's expense. If you can't contact the landlord or landlady in writing or by telephone, you must send a complaint to the responsible person by registered mail. If you still don't get a response, you can file a complaint with the relevant arbitration office.

What is covered by the duty of care?

As a tenant, you're obliged to treat the rental property with care and take other occupants of the building into consideration.

The following cases are examples of a breach of duty of care:

Important note: Duty of care relates to your own apartment and common areas such as stairs or laundry cellar.

Is mold in my apartment a reason for a rent reduction?

Yes, mold counts as a defect and therefore entitles you to a rent reduction, in exactly the same way as correction of defects. If the landlord or landlady proves that the tenants are at fault, responsibility lies with the rental party.

When can I contest the rent?

You have the chance to contest the rent within the first 30 days of moving into your apartment. You can contest a rent rise with the arbitration office within 30 days of notification. If the reference interest rate falls during the tenancy, you can ask the landlord or landlady for a rent reduction. If the reduction is inadequate or the landlord doesn't give one at all, you can also contact the arbitration office.

We moved out ten days earlier than agreed. Can we ask for a rent reduction for this month?

If you choose to move out before the due date, you have to pay the rent until the end of the tenancy. If you find a new tenant before the tenancy legally ends, the rent doesn't have to be paid twice. Normally the new tenant pays the rent from the date on which they move in.

A new high-rise building is being built on my neighbor's land, and there is likely to be building noise for at least the next two years. Am I entitled to a rent reduction?

Yes you are. However, a certain level of building noise has to be tolerated in urban areas.

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Our building manager wants us to remove our Pro-Initiative flag from the balcony. Can they do that?

The external side of the balcony is not part of the rental apartment which means that you don't have sole right of use there: The landlord or landlady can insist that you remove the flag from the outside of the balcony.

Under the tenancy agreement, my building manager doesn't permit flower boxes on the balcony as they spoil the building's overall appearance. Is this legal?

As this also concerns the outside of the balcony, the ban is justified in this instance. However, if the flower boxes are placed on the inside of the balcony area, the landlord or landlady can only stop them being put up for practical reasons, e.g. because they're too heavy.

Do I have to remove the "Stop advertising" sticker from my mailbox if my landlady asks me to do so?

This is often specified in the general house rules, but this rule is legally disputed.

My landlord dislikes the large number of sneakers outside our front door. Do I have to remove them?

Yes, the stairwell doesn't belong to your personal rental property and is classified as an escape route under fire regulations. Use of the stairwell is usually specified in the house regulations.

My landlord wants me to pay service charges for the shared washing machine and lift. Is he allowed to do this?

The cost of maintaining and cleaning these facilities can be passed onto tenants, but the cost of any repairs must be met by the landlord or landlady.

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My landlord has said that my boyfriend can't move into my 2.5 room apartment with me. Is he allowed to do this?

No, a landlord can't stop anyone moving in with their partner, even if the tenancy agreement states that the apartment is only to be used by one person. You're not entitled to a new tenancy agreement for your boyfriend after he's moved in and the building manager can't arrange this either.

The landlady also showed us the loft when we viewed the apartment. Now she doesn't want us to use it for storage. Is that correct?

If the loft area belongs to the rented space under the tenancy agreement, you're entitled to use it.

Can my landlord ask for for a rental deposit after I've moved in?

Yes, landlords can ask for a rental deposit of up to a maximum of three months' rent for residential accommodation.

Can my landlady hold onto the deposit?

If you still owe the landlady money at the end of the tenancy, such as unpaid rent or the cost of tenant-related damage, the deposit can be used to settle these debts.

Is my landlord entitled to keep a key to my apartment?

No, the landlord or landlady must give you all available keys. Unless you agree to this.

I've just had a baby and my landlord wants to carry out conversion work to our apartment. Is there anything I can do about that?

Essentially the landlord can carry out renovation or building work to the rental property, as long as this is reasonable for the tenant and the tenancy agreement has not been terminated. Whether renovation work is reasonable must be judged on an individual basis using objective criteria. Uninterrupted use of the rental property and simultaneous maintenance of it can lead to conflict. We advise you to seek a solution by talking to your landlord or landlady, such as postponing the renovation work. 

 

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Which costs are classified as "minor maintenance" that I have to cover myself as the tenant?

Small repairs with material costs below CHF 150 that you can usually carry out yourself are classified as "minor maintenance". Examples of this would be replacing a shower hose, baking trays, light bulbs or bleeding the radiators.

Can my landlady determine how warm the apartment is in winter?

As a tenant, you're entitled to have your apartment heated to at least 20 degrees in the winter. If this is not the case despite the heating being turned up to maximum, there's a fault and you can ask for it to be repaired.

As a tenant, am I obliged to put the trash cans out and clear snow away?

Only if this is specified in the tenancy agreement. Otherwise this is the landlord's or landlady's responsibility and it'll be charged to tenants with the ancillary costs.

As a tenant, do I have to pay for function checks to be carried out on electrical appliances when I move out?

You don't have to pay for function checks or appliance servicing, unless this is mentioned in the tenancy agreement. However, this point is disputed. Electrical appliances are checked by an expert and this no longer comes under the above "minor maintenance" description. However, the obligations in the signed tenancy agreement are binding.

My landlady has doubled the cost of the washing machine for no reason. Is there anything I can do about that?

Yes, this is regarded as an increase in ancillary costs. Your landlady must notify you of this on a form. Within 30 days of receiving the form, you have the chance to appeal against the increase with the arbitration office. 

I'd like to buy two rabbits, do I have to agree this with the landlady?

Normally you don't need permission from your landlord or landlady if you want to have a few small pets such as a rabbit, hamster, guinea pig etc. You must obtain the building manager's permission to keep larger pets. It's irrelevant whether other tenants in the same property already keep pets or not.

Contact the Swiss & Tenants' Association for many more useful tips and answers. 

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