Renting in Switzerland: Can I pay less when my landlord renovates the apartment?

With most of us spending much more time at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, renovation work can cause an even bigger inconvenience than usual. I am working from home and the landlord is getting renovation done, can I request a reduction of the rent?

Renting in Switzerland: Can I pay less when my landlord renovates the apartment?

There are two aspects to this question, working from home and the type and intensity of the renovation work in the building. 

Rent reduction

In Switzerland, in principle, the tenant is entitled to request a rent reduction from the landlord in the event of a defect in the rented premises that hinders or restricts the use of the rented property (Art. 259d para. 1 CO).

A defect exists when “the actual condition of the premises deviates from the agreed conditions, i.e. when the rented premises do not provide the qualities promised in the rental agreement or the qualities which the tenant could legitimately expect based on the agreed use” (ATF 135 III 345 consid. 3.2 p. 347 and references).

“The defect may be material or immaterial”. (Judgment of TF 4A_208/2015, c. 3.1; see eg: ATF 135 III 345 consid. 3.2 p. 347; judgments 4A_476/2015 of 11 January 2016 consid. 4.3.2; 4A_628/2010 of 23 February 2011 consid. 3.1).

We recommend that you take a look at the norms of the canton of your residence, for example for the State of Geneva.

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

Working from home (WFH)

Employees have been WFH on and off for almost a year now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. WFH has been mandatory in Switzerland since January 18th. 

EXPLAINED: What are the rules of Switzerland’s new working from home obligation?

If your landlord is carrying out renovation work in the building (for example, renovating the facade), during working hours, the first question to ask yourself is – have you been informed as a tenant of the type of renovation work being done, the inconveniences it will cause and the duration?

Under Swiss law, the lease of an apartment covers the use of a residential property for a certain period of time, in return for payment of rent.

The lease contract does not deal with how the tenant plans to use the apartment (apart from the fact that it is residential and cannot be sublet without the landlord’s consent).

Therefore, whether or not the tenant is working from home there (just as if you were retired or on vacation and spending more time in your apartment), it does not grant you additional rights against your landlord. The nuisances, of a certain intensity, constitute a defect and thus entitle the tenant to ask for a reduction of rent (please see below).

The reduction granted depends on the discretion of the judge and case law. It is therefore important to record the noise, take pictures of the renovation work, because the evidence is important for an eventual case against the landlord.

Renovation work

Renovation work can consist of repairing the facade, changing an elevator, installing wooden flooring in the apartment above yours or installing double-glazed windows. These renovation works will most likely result in nuisances (for example, dust, noise, paint smell, lack of light, etc.).

These nuisances are therefore a defect that restrict the use of the rented property and could be – based on the intensity and duration of the works – a basis for requesting a reduction in your rent. 

We advise you to send an email to the landlord regarding the disturbing renovation work (if the intensity reasonably justifies it) and to reserve your rights.

Then keep a written record of the daily duration of the disturbing renovation work, the intensity of the noise, odours, etc, take pictures and videos as evidence. These details, images and videos will be very useful in the event of a dispute. The rent reduction is principle due for the entire duration of the defect.

Before filing a request for conciliation with the Conciliation Authority for rent reduction, we recommend that you contact your landlord to discuss the reduction.

We recommend not to make any claims in writing or approve any offers without contacting a lawyer so that you do not waive your rights.

READ MORE: How to avoid rental scams in Switzerland

Many tenants are afraid to have their lease terminated or the not renewed because they availed of their rights. While it is true that no landlord likes a tenant who exercises his rights, there may well be a tactful way of doing so. 

It is important to know that a landlord that terminates a lease prematurely right soon after the tenant has made a written claim could be deemed invalid as a “revenge termination.”

If the court decides that the termination was by revenge, then the tenant is protected against a termination for a period of 3 years. However, this period can be shorter if the landlord really needs the apartment for important reasons, which depend on the discretion of the judge.

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

Member comments

  1. My building is experiencing a 2 yr renovation that implicates all the infrastructure plus major construction of a new large structure on the large terrace at the building’s entrance. ASLOCA has informed me that we in the building, the tenants, can do nothing until the end of the construction period except document as is suggested in the article and the write a detailed letter sent by registered mail to the management company to receive deduction which are itemized with a schedule of deductions of each sort of thing allowed by the codes which regulate this part of Swiss law. Meantime we must pay full rent, grin and bear it, or simply choose to move out. With the rents being so extremely high, and higher all the time, this is financially damaging in the long term to tenants who now find they have low rents in comparison to the current rental market, and often need to stay put. ASLOCA, the Swiss Tenants Assoc., informed me that unfortunately, no monetary sum can truly compensate for the noise, the dust, the inconvenience that a tenant will through. In our case they are redoing all the plumbing, changing out all the bathrooms and kitchens, changing the heating systems, removing old radiators and replacing the in apartments and commercial spaces, changing the elevator in an 8 story building, doing work on the facade, adding another floor of apartments, and removing asbestos from the hall and parking lot ceilings. The noise is from 7 in the morning to 5 at night, pretty much non-stop. About 30 to 40 workers are busy running around working, and in a pandemic this is incomprehensible to many of us. We are overrun by them, however nice some might attempt to be.
    In some cases it is customary to move tenants out of buildings to other apartments during major work, then move them back at the owners expense. But many cut corners by having tenants stay. We provide and important revenue during the construction and/or renovation work. Our quality of life, our dignity, count little, they have us over a barrel due to the housing situation with the ever larger rents. I am astonished to discover all this, as I have never experienced anything like this. Many of the elderly tenants report feeling suicidal.

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How to save money by changing your Swiss health policy

Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance is notoriously expensive, but you can lower the cost of premiums substantially by changing your company or coverage.

How to save money by changing your Swiss health policy

The cost of health insurance premiums usually represents at least 7 percent of a typical household budget.

An adult spends nearly 4,600 francs a year on average on the mandatory basic coverage (KVG / LaMal) alone – covering only medical care, not dental. If any extra policies are taken out, the cost is even higher.

Not only that, but premiums have been rising practically each year, and look set to go up again in 2023, possibly by as much as 10 percent — the sharpest hike in 20 years.

READ MORE: Why Swiss health premiums are set to rise — and what you can do about it

Even though these costs are high and climbing, many people keep the same health insurance for years.

However, significant savings — to the tune of thousands of francs a year — could be made simply by switching carriers or plans, from the more expensive to the cheapest ones, according to a new study by the cost comparison site Comparis.

How much and where

The amount of the savings varies depending on policyholder’s place of residence, because rates are determined by cantons.

However, Comparis calculated that over a 10-year period, people living in Zurich could have saved 33,396 francs in premium costs and for those living in Bern this amount is 30,064.

Lausanne residents could cut their costs by 36,494 francs over 10 years, 31, 032 in Geneva, and 33,490 in Basel-City.

“With the strong premium increases expected this fall, the savings potential is even greater,” said Felix Schneuwly, health insurance expert at Comparis.

So how can you save money? Here are some of the ways:

Increase your deductible

In Switzerland, the deductible (franchise) ranges from 300 to 2,500 francs – this represents the medical costs that you have to pay out of your own pocket before your health insurance kicks in.

As with most types of insurance, the lower your deductible, the higher your premiums, and vice-versa.

If you are young, healthy, and are not on any long-term medication then you can save substantially with the highest franchise.

Keep in mind, however, that if you choose the highest deductible and end up having an accident or falling sick and needing medical care, you will have to pay a greater proportion of the costs.

Switch to a less expensive plan.

The standard model for healthcare in Switzerland is that you can consult any medic that you want, and you do not need a referral to see a specialist.

However, there are some types of health insurance plans that have cheaper premiums, but impose certain limits on your access to non-emergency medical care.

For instance:

Health maintenance organisation (HMO)

Under this model, policyholders are required to consult a particular HMO practice. Two disadvantages of this alternative is a limited choice of doctors and you also need a referral to see a specialist.

However, the benefit is a premium reduction of up to 25 percent compared to the conventional insurance.

Family doctor model

Your family doctor, a general practitioner, will be designated by your insurance company and will be in charge of all your non-emergency medical treatment.

He or she will refer you to a specialist if necessary. 

If you opt for this option, you could save 20 percent on your insurance.

READ MORE: Five tips for getting cheaper health insurance in Switzerland

The Telmed alternative

If you choose this option, you have to call a telephone service and get a referral to a doctor or hospital.

This does not apply to medical emergencies and there are other exceptions, such as eye exams and annual gynaecological check-ups.

Total savings could range between 15 and 20 percent. 

Cancelling or changing your policy

If you want to cancel your current insurance policy and take up a cheaper one , you have to do so by registered letter before November 30th.

By then, you will know what your premiums will be in 2023 because your carrier must notify you of the new rates by October 31st.