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COST OF LIVING

How to avoid rental scams in Switzerland

The French-speaking media in Switzerland reported at the end of 2020 on illegal practices used by building owners to overcharge their tenants. Here's how to avoid these scams.

Are you the victim of a rental scam?
Photo: Loic VENANCE / AFP

The trick is the same in the two cases in question

Tenants in Switzerland are legally entitled to challenge their initial rent within 30 days from the beginning of the lease. The challenge can be based on the increment made on the previous rent by the owner.

Reader question: How do I challenge my rent in Switzerland?

Therefore, in two different cases, the building owners prepared fake lease agreements with real or fictitious tenants to make the new tenants believe that there was no increase in the rent.

However, the new tenant was effectively being cheated by paying a substantial increase in his rent which he was unaware of.

Some practical tips to avoid falling in such a trap:

1.Know the owner of your apartment 

On the land register site, by entering the address of your apartment, you can find out the name of the owner of the building free of charge.

This will allow to ensure that you are dealing with the real owner (a private person, an insurance company, etc.). You may want to google the owner to see if he has been subject to complaints for fraud published in the media.

2.Make contact with the former tenant by asking for their identity and asking them specific questions about the apartment

Prefer an apartment for which you may have had contact with the former tenant.

Indeed, when you visit the apartment, you will have the possibility to ask what the current rent is.

By doing so, you will know which rent must appear in the official form that you must be given (see  point 4a) below).

3.Find out about the rent of other apartments in the building 

If you have just arrived in Switzerland, find out about the rental prices in the city you have just moved to.

READ MORE: In which Swiss canton are rents highest and lowest?

Indeed, the price of a three-room apartment in Geneva is not the same in the Jura nor in St. Gallen.

Also, depending on the districts of the same city, rents can vary.

4. Know your rights 

a) Official approved form: When you sign the lease contract, you must be given a form that mentions the rent paid by the former tenant.

This form is mandatory and your rights are listed on this form.

b) Challenging the initial rent: you have 30 days from the handing over of the keys (art. 270 CO) to contest the initial rent with the Lease and Rental Commission.

The rent can be contested for an abusive increase in rent compared to what the former tenant paid, but it is also possible to contest an unchanged rent.

Find out about your rights during the first 30 days after the keys are handed over, before it is too late.

Some landlords insist on providing you with the lease agreement in original only after 30 days to prevent you from using this right.

Insist on getting the agreement, if they refuse, seize the lease and rental Commission. 

Summary

We realise that in many cases because of the shortage of apartments or the difficulty in finding your “dream” apartment, you may not have the time to take steps 1-4 because they may not be realistic options because of the shortage of time.

However, remember, between the time you apply for the apartment and the time taken by the agency to make a choice between the potential tenants (which often needs to be approved by the owners), you may be able to at least check some of these points.

There is also no obligation to take the apartment even if you have applied for it, until and unless you have signed the lease agreement.

Finally beware of the conditions of some real estate agencies that charge you a fine if you apply for the apartment but don’t take it when your tenancy has been approved.

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

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COST OF LIVING

Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland's childcare costs are among the world's highest, although there are some ways to save. Originally from the United States but now raising children in Zug, writer Ashley Franzen takes you through some of the most important things you need to consider when finding childcare in Switzerland.

Five things to consider when organising childcare in Switzerland

Switzerland has a peculiar dichotomy when it comes to childcare. Although many parents both work full-time, Switzerland has traditionally been hands off when it comes to childcare support for families with children under five, leading to some of the highest childcare costs in the world. 

For older kids there is before and after-school care that is offered by the canton, but for younger kids who haven’t quite started kindergarten, it can pose problems for parents who are in need of reliable care, particularly those who don’t have grandparents to rely on. 

According to the Swiss Federal Council, “Grandparents as well as daycare centres and extra-school care facilities are the most frequently used forms of childcare, with each category accounting for a third of provision for children aged 0 to 12 years. 81 percent of families in large cities turned to extra-family care for their children compared with 66 percent of families in rural areas. Parents’ satisfaction with the care facilities is high, but there is still unmet demand.” 

What alternative childcare options do I have in Switzerland?

There are various childcare and nursery options for babies and toddlers up through young children aged five or six. Each canton offers childcare, though often there are lengthy waitlists for available spots.

READ ALSO: ‘A developing country’: Why do so few Swiss children attend childcare?

An alternative might be a private or bilingual daycare, but the costs for these are even higher than the locally-run childcares, and sometimes have longer waitlists.

Get on a list early as it’s important to get the ball rolling on paperwork, especially as a foreigner in Switzerland. 

An alternate option is to find the equivalent of a Tagesmütter, or a carer who opens up their home to taking care of up to four children at a time, when there is space available.

The costs remain about the same, but it can be easier to get placement for childcare with an in-their-own-home carer.

Some families opt to hire a nanny, but it may not be possible financially for all families. As for bringing an Au Pair to join the family, there are specific rules and regulations in Switzerland surrounding pay, number of hours they can work (about half of which you would need to be present for), and language rules– the main one being they cannot speak the same language as the family. Additionally, language classes are stipulated for the duration of their stay. 

Suffice it to say, that there are quite a few hurdles to overcome and in order to make sure your family is supported with reliable childcare to meet your needs.

Below are five things to consider as you plan out and organise childcare in Switzerland.

Children play with educational tools. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

1. Compare the options

Childcare in Switzerland is top notch, albeit expensive, so make sure you take the time to figure out where you want to enrol your child.

Some of the best programs are actually run as not-for-profit organisations, such as KiBiz in Zug.

READ ALSO: What alternative childcare options do I have in Zurich?

Most daycares offer a pedagogically strong curriculum and having them at a local daycare gives your child the opportunity to learn the local language. 

2. Decide on someone to name as your emergency contact

This can be a bit harder if you don’t have family or friends nearby, but double check with a colleague or someone that you trust in the case of an emergency or illness.

Finding a colleague that is willing to help by picking up the kids when they were sick when both parents find themselves out of town can be incredibly helpful. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

3. See if you qualify for subsidies

According to the OECD, Switzerland has the highest cost for childcare among wealthy countries. Cantons are in the process of trying to increase the amount of money they’re able to allocate for assisting families with the costs.

If your household income is under a certain amount (it varies by canton), then it might be possible to have some of the costs of your family’s childcare covered. 

4. Consider having a babysitter or two on hand that you can call

As a foreign parent in Switzerland, sometimes it makes sense to have someone extra to call on for help with childcare coverage– even if you don’t think you’ll need anyone.

Meetings get moved, appointments need to be rescheduled, and sometimes there’s the odd school workday, where kids do not attend classes.

READ MORE: How to save money on childcare in Switzerland

In situations like these, having someone to reach out to, who can help provide coverage (and perhaps even the occasionally date night) helps provide a safety net for parents that might not have any backup to call at the spur of the moment. 

5. Be open for and prepared to have a hurdle or two, be it language or logistics

Many of the institutions around the country, particularly for younger kids are really good at filling in the parents on what the kids have done during the day, what they’ve eaten, how they’ve acted. The seemingly hardest part is actually filing the paperwork and piecing together care, particularly if you don’t speak the local language.

Wendy Noller is originally from Australia, and now lives in Luzern with her husband, and their two children, aged five and seven.

When they were getting signed up for Kita, she expresses that there were quite a few hurdles to consider.

READ ALSO: How different is raising kids in Switzerland compared to the United States?

Initially they received a letter from Canton Luzern stating that there weren’t enough places for their daughter. “We had heard negative reviews from other expats, but learned that there really are a lot of myths around childcare– that it’s not good quality, or there aren’t enough places. My husband and I work 100 percent and [when registering the kids], found the local authority to be both very helpful and responsive.”

She adds that she would call or email every couple days after receiving the letter to express that they both worked full-time and were really interested in their daughter integrating.

In the end, just a couple days before school started, they were told there was a place available for her. 

While their situation had a happy ending, sometimes other backup plans need to be put in place. Organising childcare in Switzerland is doable and having a fellow foreigner who has gone through it before to help share their experience or how to go about it can make a difference in how easy or how difficult it feels. 

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