One family in the city found that out the hard way recently when they decide to move out from their 70-square metre apartment because it was no longer big enough.
They eventually found a three-bedroom basement apartment on the outskirts of Zurich. “At just under 3,000 francs a month it is right at the top of our price limit. But my three kids – the youngest in kindergarten and the oldest in the first year of high school – have to share a room at the moment. Slowly they are getting to the age where that just doesn’t work,” the mother of the family told Swiss tabloid Blick.
The family went ahead and lodged an expression of interest in the apartment, providing the usual mountain of paperwork required by Swiss property owners. The mother of the three children does not work, but her husband, originally from Cuba, works full time and provided details of his income to the landlord along with employment references, as is standard.
Also provided were details of a rental income coming in from a holiday property owned in Ticino.
But these details were not sufficient: the owner then asked if the family were willing to hand over their income tax forms so that their wealth could be assessed.
All of the paperwork was green-lighted but there was a final turn of the screw: the apartment owner asked if the family were prepared to stump up a deposit of nine months’ rent almost 27,000 francs, despite the fact that asking for a deposit totalling more than three months’ rent in Switzerland is illegal.
The illegal deposit would also need to transferred to a private account, rather than the legally stipulated rental deposit account (Mietkautionskonto/Compte de garantie de loyer/ conto deposito di garanzia). Otherwise, the family’s application “could not go ahead,” the landlord said.
The family then withdrew their application, saying they were not prepared to go ahead.
Contacted by Blick, the owner justified the huge deposit by saying he was also a father and had wanted to the family a chance to get their hands on the apartment. “I could have just sent them a neutral rejection letter,” he said.
He also readily admitted that he had asked for the deposit to be paid directly to him rather than setting up a legal deposit account because he knew that asking for nine months’ rent was illegal.
Ruedi Spöndlin, a legal expert with the Swiss tenants' association MV, told Blick that while he had heard of other examples of landlords asking for deposits to be transferred to a private account, this was the first time he had heard of a nine-month deposit.
The tenancy expert added that, in theory, if the family had paid the hefty deposit, they could then have signed the contract and demanded the money be repaid to them. The sum could even have been considered “rent in advance”, he explained.
It is not known whether anyone else has subsequently coughed up the deposit in question.
The great rental squeeze
With demand for rental apartments far outstripping supply in cities like Geneva and Zurich, finding a place to live can be a painful experience.
Add to that the increasingly volume of paperwork required (this can include, for example, an extract from the debt collection register) and the fact that property owners often use the departure of former tenants to boost rental prices, and the property search can become traumatic.
Another sensitive issue is related to a lack of transparency over how property owners charge for supplementary costs related to items such as heating, hot water or cable television. When these are paid in advance (akonto/par acompte/ acconto), tenants are invoiced once a year and are either repaid if they have paid too much or must make up the shortfall if they have not paid enough.
The Swiss government advises tenants to examine these invoices very carefully.