Landlord overcharged tenant 230,000 francs

A Geneva landlord has been ordered to pay back 230,000 francs ($246.000) in rent to a tenant who was over-charged for a renovated apartment over a period going back to November 2005.

Landlord overcharged tenant 230,000 francs
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The case was reported by François Zutter, a lawyer for Asloca Romande, the tenant’s rights association for French-speaking Switzerland, in the association’s latest monthly journal.

Switzerland’s highest court recently ordered the landlord to pay the tenant 2,583 francs a month retroactively to November 1st 2005 after finding that the four-room apartment in the city’s banking district was renovated  without cantonal approval, Zutter reported.

The landlord violated Geneva laws governing renovations and demolitions, the lawyer said.

These require landlords to seek a permit and authorize the canton to set rent levels for three to five years.

In the Geneva case, the landlord renovated the apartment without approval and then charged a monthly rent of 3,800 francs, well above the legal level of 1,216 francs set by the law, the Asloca lawyer noted.

This amount should have been applied for three years, Zutter said.

After that, under federal law, the landlord was required to notify the tenant of an increase according to a formula based on the existing rent.

Because the landlord did not do this the rent charged for the period subsequent to the three-year period following renovations was not valid above the 1,216-franc rate.

The apartment had rented for 1,019 francs a month before the renovations.

Asloca noted that other Swiss cantons, such as Vaud, have laws like Geneva's that require landlords to seek approval for any renovations to an apartment.

The supreme court ruled that it would be unfair to give special treatment to landlords who flouted the law on apartment renovations over those who respected the regulations. 

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In which Swiss canton can you find a rental bargain?

The cost of renting an apartment in Switzerland varies largely from canton to canton. Here's where you might find a bargain.

In which Swiss canton can you find a rental bargain?
Sign on this Swiss building says "for rent." Photo: FRED DUFOUR / AFP

Rented accommodations are most expensive in the Swiss canton of Zug, according to a study by the Federal Statistical Office (FSO).

Average monthly rents for a three-to-four room property in the tiny canton, which is home to dozens of multinational companies, is 1,883 francs.

Due to its low tax rate, Zug is a major target for millionaires – with the most per capita in Switzerland.

READ MORE: Which Swiss canton has the most millionaires?

Average monthly rents for a three to four room property in the two cantons ranged between 1,486 and 1,508 francs in 2019.

In the second place is the canton of Zurich (1,663 francs per month), followed by Schwyz (1,612 francs) and Nidwalden (1,553 francs).

Geneva and Vaud are next on the list, with average monthly rents of 1,508 francs and 1,486 francs, respectively.

Where can I find a cheap rental deal?

In contrast, the same size apartment in Jura costs 967 francs — the lowest rate in Switzerland — and 1,000 in Neuchâtel.

The Swiss average for a three to four-room dwelling is 1,362 francs, the OFS reported.

READ MORE: Reader question: How do I challenge my rent in Switzerland? 

This chart shows how your canton rates in terms of rents.

For most tenants in Switzerland — 62 percent — the monthly rent ranged between 1,000 and 1,999 francs, while a quarter of households paid a monthly rent of less than 1,000 francs.

Switzerland had 2.3 million tenants in 2019, while 1.4 million people owned their homes.

An earlier study showed that residential property prices continue to climb in Switzerland despite the pandemic, having increased by 2.5 percent in 2020.

Both owned and rented housing is most expensive in the Lake Geneva region, which encompasses cantons of Geneva and Vaud.