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

Renting in Switzerland: Can I pay less when my landlord renovates the apartment?
Photo: BERTRAND LANGLOIS BERTRAND LANGLOIS / AFP
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?

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

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  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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