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Reader question: How can I legally reduce my rent in Switzerland?

Are you paying too much rent in Switzerland? Here's how you can challenge your landlord and bring down your rental costs.

Reader question: How can I legally reduce my rent in Switzerland?
A real estate agency. Photo: Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP

I’ve just moved into my apartment and realise I’m paying too much, can I challenge my rent?

Yes in principle you can.

In Switzerland, when you sign a lease contract, you have the possibility to contest the initial rent if you consider it to be ‘abusive’ and ask for its reduction.

Your rights are listed on the official form that the landlord (or the real estate agency representing your landlord) gives you when you sign the lease.

This form is mandatory in the cantons where there is a housing shortage, as is the case in Geneva (art. 207 LaCC), Vaud, Fribourg, Neuchatel, Nidwalden, Zug and Zurich.

The challenge of the initial rent can be based on three alternative grounds listed in art. 270 al. 1 CO, namely :

1. The tenant was compelled to enter into the lease due to personal or family necessity (Art. 270 para. 1 let. a ab initio CO).

This implies that the tenant had no other suitable alternative and was therefore compelled to enter into the lease, for example for health reasons or because of an employment in another canton.

READ MORE: How to avoid rental scams in Switzerland

2. or due to the situation of the local housing and commercial property market (Art. 270 para. 1 let. a in fine CO),

This depends on the specific situation of each canton. For example in Geneva, a tenant who is relying on this ground to contest the rent only has to establish that there is a housing shortage in Geneva, for example by producing a Decree of the Cantonal government, for this condition to be fulfilled.

3. The landlord has significantly increased the initial rent (i.e. more than 10 percent) for the same apartment in relation to the previous rent (Art. 270 let. b CO).

On the official form which must be provided to the tenant in the cantons where there is a housing shortage, the tenant can see the amount of rent paid by the former tenant.

In the cantons where there is no housing shortage, the prices are less steep and this is less of a risk. The increase in 10 percent could be justified if the apartment has been renovated since the departure of the last tenant.

To contest the initial rent, you have a deadline of 30 days which begins to run the day after you receive the keys.

Once this period has elapsed, you are deemed to have accepted the rent and you forfeit the right to contest it (ATF 131 III 566). 

Finally, if the judge grants you a reduction in rent, don’t forget to ask for a corresponding reduction in your rental guarantee.

This advice was prepared by Renuka Cavadini and Angela Carvalho of Page & Partners 

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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

Reader question: Can I speak any Swiss language to satisfy citizenship rules?

Proficiency in a Swiss language is required to become a citizen, but does it need to be the language spoken in your canton of residence?

Reader question: Can I speak any Swiss language to satisfy citizenship rules?

For anyone wanting to obtain Swiss citizenship through naturalisation, you will need to demonstrate proficiency in one of Switzerland’s national languages. 

Switzerland has four official national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. 

Fortunately, you only need to be proficient in one of these languages.

How to apply for Swiss citizenship: An essential guide

English, while widely spoken in Switzerland, is not an official language of Switzerland and English proficiency will not grant you Swiss citizenship. 

What are the language rules for becoming Swiss? 

Fortunately, Switzerland has relatively recently changed its language requirements, making them far less confusing to understand and navigate. 

Decent language skills have always been necessary for Swiss citizenship but requirements used to vary depending on the canton. 

But under the 2018 changes, which came into effect on January 1st, 2019, there is now a uniform minimum level of language proficiency required on a federal basis. 

Candidates must demonstrate A2 level writing ability (elementary) and B1 (intermediate) spoken skills. This is the level set out in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Cantons are free to set a higher bar if they wish, as Thurgau has done by requiring citizenship candidates to have B1-level written German and B2 (upper intermediate) spoken German. The rules are also stricter in St Gallen and Schwyz. 

More information is available at the following link. 

Naturalisation: How well must I speak a Swiss language for citizenship?

Does it need to be the language spoken in my canton of residence? 

Moving to Switzerland, it may appear you have three world languages to choose from, although by and large this is not the case. 

As the tests are done at a communal level, the language in the commune in question is the one you need to speak

Therefore, if you have flawless French and live in Schwyz, you need to improve your German in order to make sure you pass the test. 

While some Swiss cantons are bilingual, this is comparatively rare at a municipal level. 

A Swiss Federal Supreme Court case from 2022 held that a person is required to demonstrate language proficiency in the administrative language of the municipality in which they apply, even if they are a native speaker of a different Swiss language. 

In that case, a Cameroonian who arrived in Switzerland at the age of eight with French as her native tongue was required to demonstrate proficiency in German in order to be successfully naturalised in the German-speaking commune of Thun. 

What are The Local Switzerland’s reader questions?

As part of our service to our readers and members, we often answer questions on life in Switzerland via email when people get in touch with us. 

When these have value to the greater Local Switzerland community, we put them together as an article, with ‘reader question’ in the headline. 

All readers of The Local Switzerland can ask a reader question, i.e. you do not need to be a member. If you do find our reporting valuable however, then please consider signing up

You do not need to live in Switzerland to ask a reader question, i.e. you could be coming to Switzerland for a holiday and have a specific question. However, the questions have to be related to Switzerland in some way. 

We will only turn a question into a reader question article where it has value to the broader Local community and where we can answer it.

READ MORE: What are The Local Switzerland’s reader questions?

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