The coronavirus crisis has hit the Swiss economy hard. Tenants who have seen incomes disappear or cut dramatically are finding it harder to meet their rent obligations.
Unlike some other countries who have put in place financial assistance measures to help renters, Switzerland’s steps have been comparatively modest.
While the deadline for paying rent in arrears has been extended from 30 to 90 days, the Swiss Tenants Association has said this measure only serves to saddle tenants with further debts into the future.
Instead, Swiss authorities have encouraged renters to negotiate with their landlord in the hope to pay less rent.
In an interview with Swiss media outlet 20 Minutes, the Tenants Association laid out a plan that concerned tenants can follow in order to have their rent reduced.
Have you found paying your rent difficult during the Covid-19 crisis? Photo: Philippe HUGUEN / AFP
Open up a dialogue with your landlord
As there is no legal mechanism to compel your landlord to agree to a request to lower the rent, whether or not you’ll be granted a rent reduction will be completely up to your landlord.
This means a good relationship is key.
For those who already get on well with their landlords this might not be such an issue, but for anyone who’s relationship with their lessor is strained, it may be a bit harder.
For some, appealing to a landlord on compassionate grounds by highlighting the difficulties faced in paying rent will be enough for a temporary reduction.
Building a relationship between tenant and landlord is particularly effective for people in private rentals, rather than those who rent from large conglomerates or companies.
This is unlikely to help everyone, but may provide some hope of building a more constructive relationship with your landlord – both now and in the future.
Appeal to reason
Rebecca Joly, from the Tenant’s Association, told 20 Minutes that any appeal to a landlord to have the rent reduced should be based on compassionate grounds as well as reason.
Landlords know that terminating a lease agreement and finding a new tenant is a difficult process at the best of times – and is even more so in this economy.
“If I have been living in the apartment for tens of years and have always paid the rent on time, the landlord will have a hard time terminating my apartment in the crisis,” Joly said.
Simply allowing a temporary reduction in rent for a few months would be much less hassle for a landlord – while it is also likely to make financial sense, particularly of the property is set to be vacant for months following a termination.
The Swiss Tenants Association is concerned about evictions due to Covid-19. Photo: Philippe HUGUEN / AFP
Provide an organised plan
While some landlords might be reluctant to agree to a broad commitment to pay less rent, they are more likely to agree if you present them with a structured plan on how and by how much the rent will be paid – hey, it is Switzerland after all.
Presenting your landlord with an instalment plan for how the rent will be covered – including percentage reductions each month – may encourage them to comply.
Although the Tenant’s Association says it is best to reach out informally at first – particularly for private landlords – a written instalment plan may work, particularly if it is drawn up with the help of an expert.
Play the long game
If appealing to compassion and reason do not work, tenants can use the law to give them more time to meet their rent obligations.
While the usual time period of 30 days has been extended to 90 for anyone affected by the crisis, those looking for more than three months may be able to go to court in order to contest the termination.
In many cases, even the threat of court action may encourage a landlord to lay down their guns and agree to a rent reduction.
Is help for tenants on the way?
If the above doesn’t help, one final step may be to apply for social assistance from the Swiss government.
As yet, the Swiss government has disagreed over how to help residential and commercial tenants, with several ideas failing to gain sufficient support.
The Tenants Association has indicated its support for a parliamentary initiative being put forward from National Councillor Christian Danders which would allow the period where someone couldn’t be terminated to be extended to six months.
Under the plan, anyone who pays the rent again within two months of giving notice should be allowed to stay in the apartment for another six months or to be able to rent the premises again.
After six months, the termination would lapse and the rental agreement would come into force again as long as there were no further arrears.
More information is available here (in French).