Here's why Swiss rents are so painfully high right now

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Here's why Swiss rents are so painfully high right now
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Looking for a place to rent in Switzerland can be a sobering experience with sky-high prices an all-too-common phenomenon, especially in the country’s largest cities.

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Now fresh figures reveal how current rental laws are making it even tougher for people to rent somewhere half-way affordable.

The crux of the problem, according to stats compiled by Swiss data crunchers Meta-Sys for the Swiss government, is that a huge divide has opened up between what people who have already had an apartment for at least a year are paying, and what those in search of a property to rent can expect to fork out.

This ‘rental gap’ between the ‘haves’ and the ‘wants’ is highest in Geneva – not coincidentally also home to Switzerland’s most wallet-stinging rents, Swiss daily the Tages Anzeiger reports.

Here, new renters can expect to pay 82% more than people who are already resting their feet on the couch. To put it another way, renters who have been paying 1,400 francs rent for several years would have to pay 2,500 francs if they wanted to move into an equivalent property now.

Read also: Many potential tenants 'lie' to secure Swiss apartment

And while Geneva has the highest rental divide in the country, the problem is also severe in the other expat hubs of Zurich, where the rental divide is 54 percent, and Zug (42 percent).

Thing are getting worse too: in 2006, the gap was 32 percent in Zurich and 62 percent in Geneva.

Vicious circle

The result is a vicious circle. In places where rents are most expensive, the rental gap increases in size because people are afraid to leave their homes. This reduces the rental property pool and pushes prices up even more. Only the wealthiest property seekers can take advantage of the situations. For the more financially-challenged, the chances of finding somewhere that doesn’t break the bank are even lower.

The stats also show that property owners are now trying to get around rental laws that tie their hands on raising rents by subletting or by carrying out restoration works.

By law, property owners can only increase rents if they have a clear reason for doing so. This could be a rise in inflation or interest rates, or when restoration or upgrade works are carried out.

The solution to the current crisis is a matter of some dispute. Some, like Hans Egloff, national councillor with the Swiss People's Party (SVP) and president of the Swiss Homeowners Association (HEV) would like rental laws freed up to make it easier for property owners to raise rents.

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“In this way more property would come onto the market. Some people already living in rental properties would pay more, but new renters would therefore pay less,” he argues.

But Swiss tenants’ association (MV) argues the only result of this would be higher rental prices across the board. Instead, MV president and Greens national councillor Michael Töngi would like to see less elbow room for property owners when it comes to raising rents.

Currently, renters can only complain about rent for a property they have just moved into if they believe they are paying substantially more than previous tenants, if they are suffering from personal hardship or if they were forced to move into the dwelling because of a property shortage in the area.

In all cases, they must complain within 30 days.

If all fails, there is one last option (or a silver lining if you prefer to see it that way): if you have the flexibility, there are still a few places where new rentals are actually cheaper than existing ones.

In places including Oltingen in the canton of Basel-Landschaft, Schmiedrued in the canton of Aargau, Poschiavo in Graubünden and Auswil in Bern, rents for properties currently on the market are 5 to 9 percent lower than those that are already occupied.


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