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Do not enter! Unlawful entry in Switzerland

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Privacy is a valuable asset. Your apartment and premises with a similarly intimate meaning are thus particularly protected under the law. In Switzerland, if you violate this law you are committing the offense of unlawful entry.

Has someone entered your home without permission or accused you of doing so? In these cases, it is important to know what you can – and should – do. In Switzerland, unlawful entry is a crime and can entail legal consequences if it is reported. Find out more here.

How the Swiss Criminal Code defines unlawful entry

Maybe it’s happened to you before: You got the address wrong and are suddenly standing in a stranger’s yard or hallway. Fortunately, such mistakes usually don’t lead to a conviction. However, at first glance it could lead to the impression that you entered unlawfully. This offense is categorized as an offense against liberty, in other words a “felony and misdemeanor against liberty.” This is because in Switzerland, every person is free to choose who enters their own house, building, or property, and who can stay there. 

The Swiss Criminal Code governs unlawful entry in Article 186 as follows:

“Any person who, against the will of the lawful occupants enters a building, an apartment, a self-contained room within a building, an enclosed area, courtyard or garden forming a direct part of a building, or a clearly demarcated workplace or, despite requests from the lawful occupants to leave, remains in such a location, shall be liable on complaint to a custodial sentence not exceeding three years or to a monetary penalty.” 

An “enclosed area” in this context is a place that is demarcated by a fence or similar type of demarcation. In some cases, Article 186 also applies to more than apartments and houses: Tents, houseboats, and other places in which people live or stay can also fall under the protection of the Swiss Criminal Code in exceptional cases. Likewise, parts of a building or even individual rooms can be protected, for example in a hotel. 

Criteria for unlawful entry

Unlawful entry as a crime is based on domiciliary rights. It allows private individuals and companies to exercise control over their property, what they own, or their premises, and to deny access or expel someone from the area. It is about protecting people's privacy and allowing them to exercise free will. To really be deemed as unlawful entry in accordance with the law in Switzerland, certain criteria must be met: 

  1. It must relate to a protected property.
  2. Either someone enters the property without the permission of the lawful occupant or remains at the location despite requests from the lawful occupants to leave.
  3. This action is unlawful and unjustified; there are exceptions, however, for example for a house search conducting by the police.
  4. Intent: The offender knows that they are not authorized to be in a protected area; accidental entry is not punishable by law.
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What falls under unlawful entry in Switzerland?

Although the prerequisites for unlawful entry are clear, the points must be clearly met. Here are a few practical examples for a better understanding of the criminal act.

  1. Unlawful entry into apartments or houses
    If someone enters your private premises without your permission, this is a classic case of unlawful entry. In practice, unlawful entry is often connected with burglary. This is the case if the offender gains access through property damage and then commits theft. 
  2. Entering a garden and private courtyard
    Both gardens and courtyards are protected against unlawful entry by law in Switzerland. However, disputes can quickly arise if, for example, there is disagreement among neighbors about the agreed property lines or rights of use. 
  3. Unlawful entry into commercial property or industrial buildings
    Unlawful entry doesn’t just affect private individuals in their homes: Entering enclosed business premises without permission is also a crime – and is often connected with other criminal acts such as theft. Persons who enter an industrial complex or closed area of a company without the required permission are also guilty of unlawful entry.
  4. Unauthorized stay at shows and events
    Regardless of whether it’s a concert hall, theater, or soccer stadium: Event organizers also have domiciliary rights and can expel people from their premises or issue a ban from entering the property. If you do not comply with this, then you are deemed to have committed unlawful entry. The same applies for those who enter or remain without access authorization – or simply put: without a ticket of admission – to an event location. 
  5. Unlawful entry in public buildings and public transportation
    In puncto domiciliary rights: Transportation companies and operators also have these rights. Their employees are therefore entitled to expel persons from public transportation in the case of a violation of transportation provisions. Committing a violation is deemed to be unlawful entry. Likewise, people who enter state institutions or public buildings such as schools, hospitals, or courts without permission are guilty of unlawful entry.

When tenants and landlords enter unlawfully

A special case exists for rented apartments and houses. On the one hand, these are the property of the landlord. On the other hand, the latter grant tenants – more or less – unrestricted useof the premises. Regardless of the specific details of the individual rental agreement, both sides can thus be guilty of unlawful entry. 

In some cases, even if they enter parts of the building they don’t have authorization for, tenants can be violating the law. 

Incidentally, the same applies for the other side: Landlords who remain in the rented property without the express consent of the renting party are considered to have committed unlawful entry as outlined by applicable law in Switzerland. Landlords must respect the privacy and undisturbed use of the rented premises. Entering a rented apartment without prior notice is thus only allowed if there is a valid reason, such as immediate danger. In addition, landlords are not authorized to evict tenants themselves or without a court order or remove them from the apartment. Likewise, however, tenants must also leave the corresponding premises after termination. If they do not do so, this is also deemed to be unlawful entry.

The consequences of unlawful entry

Unlawful entry accounts for a relatively small number of reported crimes in Switzerland. In 2020, approximately 5,116 cases met the criteria.  For comparison: The police registered 32,819 cases of breaking and entering in the same year.   Depending on the severity of the unlawful entry, you may risk imprisonment. This can amount to up to three years and may even be extended according to the Swiss Criminal Procedure Code by the other criminal offenses committed within the scope of the act of unlawful entry. 

And speaking of punishment: Criminal proceedings for unlawful entry are only possible if a crime is reported. Only the lawful occupant, usually the injured party, has the right to file a report and complaint. If you are accused of unlawful entry, it is advisable to obtain legal counsel to respond appropriately to the accusations. Having legal protection insurance is advantageous in any case so that you can benefit from the expertise of professionals.

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