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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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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: Can I save money in Switzerland by buying products on foreign websites?

With the cost of living soaring due to inflation, many consumers in Switzerland are looking for ways to save money. Could buying goods abroad through foreign websites be a good solution?

Reader question: Can I save money in Switzerland by buying products on foreign websites?

With the Swiss franc still stronger than the euro, ordering your products online from European distributors could indeed be cheaper than paying Swiss prices.

A recent report by the RTS public broadcaster, found that even some Swiss products are cheaper when purchased abroad — for instance, capsules for Nespresso coffee machines cost less on the company’s German site than they do in Switzerland.

This applies to a variety of products, ranging from food and beverages to clothing.

In fact, shopping on foreign platforms became a lot easier for the Swiss in January 2022, when ‘geoblocking’ — the practice that restricts access to Internet content based on the user’s geographical location — was banned in Switzerland.

This means Swiss customers are no longer denied the possibility of buying on foreign shopping platforms.

However, there are things to consider before you go on a shopping spree “abroad”, such as additional charges.

While something may appear to be a really great deal in comparison to Swiss prices, keep in mind that the purchase may be subject to customs duties.

According to the Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (BAZG) “the customs duties are generally calculated according to the gross weight (including packaging), and are often less than 1 franc per kilo. Particularly alcoholic beverages, tobacco goods, foodstuffs, textiles and jewellery items are subject to higher customs duties”.

In other words, before you order something that you think is a really good deal, find out if any additional charges will be due; depending on the amount, the final cost may not make it worthwhile for you to purchase abroad.

The good news is that, as BAZG points out, goods ordered from “countries with which Switzerland has concluded a free trade agreement or from developing countries can usually be imported duty-free or at reduced rates”.

You can find out more information about which countries are included, here.

But you could face other problems as well.

As the RTS reported, while ordering items abroad is easy, having them delivered to Switzerland may not be.

As a test, the RTS team tried to order common products, such an Ikea piece of furniture, a vacuum cleaner, and brand-name sneakers — all of which are more affordable abroad — but discovered that “it was impossible to get these objects delivered to Switzerland”.

That’s because on some shopping platforms a customer can’t change the destination country — it is embedded on the site and blocked.

At some of these  merchants, “the customer is even directly redirected to the Swiss site if an address in Switzerland is indicated”, RTS said. This means you will end up paying Swiss prices.

Sophie Michaud Gigon, general secretary of the consumer protection association FRC, told RTS that some foreign sites have not yet adapted to the law prohibitng geoblocking.

And there is something else too that you should pay attention to online.

Say you prefer to avoid foreign sites and shop in Switzerland instead. This could be a problem as well.

Under the Swiss law, it is possible to obtain a domain name ending in .ch, even though these companies are  located abroad. This has proven to be misleading to many Switzerland-based customers.

That’s why many clients who believe they are ordering from a supplier in Switzerland are actually buying from a foreign company — a fact that they only discover when they have to pay customs duty.

The only way to avoid this trap, according to FRC, is to call the number on the company’s website and ask where they are located.

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