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Tenancy law: 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 landlord have to accept  them ? What's the duty of care all about? Anyone renting should know what their rights and obligations are.

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    Kathrin Ramseier

    Kathrin Ramseier is a lawyer with AXA-ARAG specializing in real estate law. She answers the most important questions on 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 your landlord's written permission or the new tenant agrees to keep the new color. 

Which renovation works do I have to pay for?

An apartment must normally be returned in its original state. However, the natural wear and tear that comes from the apartment's agreed use must be taken into account. This includes, for example, discoloration of the walls and wear and tear to the floor.

However, if the apartment is subject to disproportionate wear and tear or there is actual damage, the tenant must have this repaired or pay for the repairs. It should also be noted here that all items in an apartment have a certain service life. Based on service life, the value of the item only at the end of the tenancy should be compensated. 

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.

Click here (in German) for more information on repainting rental apartments under tenancy law. 

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.

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.

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, tenancy law does not specify any provision in this regard.

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.

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 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, your   landlord can hold you responsible. 

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As a tenant, am I entitled to a charging station?

If you live in a rented home, Swiss law doesn't entitle you to a parking space equipped with a wall box – unless this is specified in your rental agreement.

My landlord doesn't want to install a wall box in the garage. Am I allowed to have one fitted at my own expense?

If your landlord forbids it, you can't have a wall box installed at your own expense, either on your own or together with other tenants.

Under Article 260a of the Code of Obligations, modifications to a rented property are only permitted with the landlord's written consent.

I have my landlady's permission to get a wall box installed for my parking space. Do I need to pay the full cost myself?

If you have a charging station installed with your landlady's permission, she must compensate you for any increase in value when the rental agreement ends. We recommend agreeing the amount of compensation in writing before the charging station is installed.

If your landlady is prepared to pay for the wall box to be installed, this could entitle her to increase the rent because it constitutes an investment that increases the value of the property.

If several tenants want to get a shared wall box installed, they can share the cost under tenancy law. If any subsequent tenants want to use the charging station, it's fair for them to pay a share of the installation cost.

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.

I can’t use the stove in the living room of my rented apartment because the extractor system doesn't work. Am I entitled to a rent reduction until this defect is fixed?

Tenancy law generally specifies that if there is a defect in a rented property you're entitled to have it repaired. In your case, you can demand a reduction in your rent from the moment that you notified your landlord of the issue to when the repair was carried out.

There are no hard and fast rules on how such a rent reduction is calculated. It always depends very much on the extent to which the defect curtails or impacts your use of the apartment. If the stove is used to heat the apartment then that would constitute a significant curtailment and the level of reduction in your rent may be considerable. If this is not the case, however, and if the apartment has central heating, for example, the curtailment would be classified as minor and you would therefore not have a strong case for having the rent reduced.

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.

Do you want to ask your landlord to repair a defect in your apartment? MyRight has a free template for this.

What is covered by the duty of care?

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

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

  • If you don't report a bug infestation straightaway 
  • If the washing machine hose splits and causes water damage and you don't inform the landlord immediately. 
  • If you party and listen to loud music late at night. 

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 in your apartment is classified as a defect and justifies a rent reduction, as does removal of the defect. 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?

Tenancy law states that 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.

The landlord doesn't repair defects. Am I allowed to terminate the tenancy agreement with no notice?

Termination with no notice is permitted if the apartment can no longer be used or usage is no longer reasonable. If the defect is less serious, tenants are entitled to a rent reduction. To find out whether you can terminate, it must therefore be clear whether the defect is minor or serious. You should seek legal advice to clarify this matter.

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

Under tenancy law, 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 that 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, as under tenancy law, 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 or girlfriend after they've 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 allowed to use it.

In what circumstances could a tenant expect a warning?

A warning may be issued if a tenant is not taking care of the rental property or if they are acting inconsiderately towards other tenants. The following would be possible:

  • Late payment: if the tenant does not pay the rent on time, a landlord may take legal steps.
  • Breach of contract: if the rules and terms specified in the tenancy agreement are not complied with, this may give rise to a dispute.
  • Disturbing the peace in the building: if you disturb other tenants, this may lead to problems.
  • Neglecting the apartment: this would be the case, for example, if you were not taking proper care of the rental property and/or caused damage.
  • Subletting without consent: tenancy law may be breached if a tenant sublet the apartment without the landlord's or landlady's consent.
  • Changes of usage: if tenants use the apartment for a purpose other than that stated in the tenancy agreement, this could result in a dispute.

As every case is different, we recommend that you seek legal advice if you have received a warning.

I have exercised my option to extend, but now the landlord has sent a tenancy agreement with a much higher rent. Is he allowed to do this?

Under a fixed-term tenancy agreement, the landlord or landlady may give the tenant the option of continuing the tenancy for a further specified number of years. The exact date by which the tenant has to exercise this option should be clearly set out in the tenancy agreement. If the agreement does not contain any specific provision in this regard, the tenant has the option of exercising the option until the fixed-term tenancy agreement expires.

If there is a gap in the agreement and no provision was made for renegotiating the rent, the previous rent also applies to the extension period (genuine option). However, if the parties agreed to renegotiate the rent, this is known as a false option.

To avoid misunderstandings, it's very important for tenancy agreements to clearly and unambiguously formulate the terms and conditions of the option using indexed rents. A clear and transparent agreement means that both parties are aware of their tenancy rights and obligations and that the option can be exercised properly.

What should I do if I have problems paying the rent? Can I just pay just part of the rent?

The Swiss Code of Obligations (SCO) clearly defines this scenario: if agreed payment dates are not met, the landlord or landlady is entitled to demand the outstanding amount. Tenancy law provides for a period of 30 days to do so. Under Article 257d SCO, termination may also be threatened. If, despite a written reminder, you are unable to meet the payment demand, the tenancy may be extraordinarily terminated.

If you have problems paying the rent, you should discuss this with your landlord or landlady. It's possible that they may be accommodating and allow you to repay your rent on a staggered basis.

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

Yes, tenancy law states that 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 landlord or 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.

If you return the apartment with no defects,  the landlord or landlady must return the deposit to you at the end of the tenancy. 

MyRight features a sample letter you can use if you wish to remind your landlord or landlady to return your deposit. 

Is my landlord entitled to keep a key to my apartment and own a master key?

No, the landlord or landlady must give you all available keys. They are not allowed to own a master key either, unless you agree to this.

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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.

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. 

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

Tenancy law states that 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.

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 (page in German) for many more useful tips and answers.

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.

Can my landlord or landlady terminate my tenancy agreement for personal use, even if I've been living in the apartment for decades?

Your landlady may terminate the tenancy agreement for personal use, even if the tenants have been living there for 30 years. Tenancy law allows landlords to terminate the tenancy agreement on the grounds of personal use if they need the rented apartment for themselves, family members or specified other close relatives.

Tenancy law also applies to personal use. The landlord must give tenants a notice of termination. The longer the tenancy duration, the longer the notice of termination. You don't have to worry that you'd suddenly be out on the street after 30 years. Hardship regulations must also be taken into consideration. These state that termination for personal use is null and void if it would result in particular hardship for the tenant. Potential cases would be the tenant's old age or health condition.

My tenancy agreement states that my apartment is a no-smoking one. My boyfriend is a smoker. Is he really not allowed to smoke inside?

Tenancy law is unclear in this case - in principle, the landlady or landlord cannot prevent anyone smoking in your apartment, but some arbitration offices have sided with landlords. It's a good idea to get in touch with the responsible arbitration office and get specific advice.

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