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What damage do tenants have to pay for in Switzerland?

Do you rent in Switzerland? This is what you will be liable for - and what you will not.

What damage do tenants have to pay for in Switzerland?
Broken windows will generally be the responsibility of the tenant. Photo by Dom Heartley on Unsplash

Switzerland is a nation of renters.

Unlike the United Kingdom, United States or Australia where purchasing a home is a central goal for many, people in Switzerland are content to rent. 

Approximately 59 percent of Swiss people rent – making it the highest percentage of renters anywhere in Europe. 

In fact, Switzerland is the only country in Europe where more than half of the people rent rather than own their home. 

The reasons for this are many and varied – in fact, German-speaking Europe seems to have a preference for renting rather than buying – but one explaining factor is the relatively strong tenants rights framework in place in Switzerland. 

Unlike in other countries where renters are subject to regular inspections and are often not allowed to make modifications to the property – or even in some cases to hang a picture – without asking, tenants have far more freedom in Switzerland.

What damage to tenants have to pay for in Switzerland? 

The only damage that Swiss renters will be liable for is that which fits under the classification of “excessive wear and tear”. 

The costs of normal wear and tear are to be borne by the landlord. 

According to Switzerland’s tenants association, this can be difficult to determine as there is no clear definition of what amounts to excessive wear and tear.

This will usually be decided on a case by case basis, reports Swiss insurer Zurich.

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Wear and tear that comes about though daily use is not the responsibility of the tenant. This can be cracks in paint, wearing down of floor coverings and the gradual deterioration of furniture. 

In trying to work out whether someone classifies as excessive wear and tear, the tenants association says if damage happens as the result of an accident or a mishap, then it is likely to be excessive. 

The association lists a number of examples, including black marks on walls, nicotine deposits on walls and ceilings and water stains on parquet floors. 

Generally speaking a tenant will be expected to paint the apartment when moving out, which should account for most of these issues. 

What about significant and direct damage? 

Damage to the apartment caused during the rental period which cannot be defined as wear and tear must be paid for by the tenant. 

This includes broken windows, burnt floorboards and large carpet stains. 

If a tenant wants to not be held liable for particular damage, he or she will need to prove it was not them who caused the damage – which can be difficult. 

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Minor repairs such as light switches, power sockets, shower hoses, washers in taps and toilet seats are generally the responsibility of the tenant. 

Swiss insurer Zurich defines this as anything costing less than CHF200. 

Costs for depreciation to be taken into account in excessive wear and tear

While examples of excessive wear and tear will not be the sole responsibility of the landlord, in many cases the cost will be shared. 

Tenants only have to pay for the current or residual value of an item, rather than the cost of buying it new. 

To determine this value, the age of the item is subtracted from the ‘service life’ of an object. 

The tenants association provides an example of a “six-year-old fitted carpet in the living room with scorch marks and candle wax stains”. 

When moving out, the tenant has to pay 40 percent of the cost of the new carpet – as the service life of a medium quality fitted carpet is ten years. 

Once the service life of an item has expired, the tenant does not need to bear any costs. 

However, a tenant cannot expect that an item will be replaced with a new one once the service life has expired. 

The item must only be replaced where it is unusable or not fit for purpose. 

The “landlord is not obligated to carry out cosmetic repairs” says the tenants association. 

The service life table is available at the following link (in full). 

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Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

Although you hope to never need one, sometimes you might have to seek legal advice in Switzerland. This is how to find it.

Reader question: How can I find a good lawyer in Switzerland?

When you move to a new country, including Switzerland, you have to look for a whole new network of professionals.

You may or may not have immediate need for the proverbial butcher, baker, and the candlestick maker, but sooner or later you will have to find other professionals, with the most essential one being a doctor.

READ MORE: What you should know about finding a doctor in Switzerland

Chances are you will also need, at one time or another, a legal counsel. That should in principle not be a problem as Switzerland has an abundance of lawyers — 7,317 currently practicing in the country, according to European data.

The question of how to find one that best suits your needs depends on many factors — for instance, what kind of legal advice you are seeking (estate planning, inheritance, divorce, etc), whether you speak the language of your region or need an English-speaking attorney,  and whether you can pay (the often exorbitant) fees, or need free counselling instead.

Speaking of fees, the hourly rates vary widely from one lawyer or legal practice to another, with some charging as little as 100 francs or as much as 1,000.

Much depends on the lawyer’s location — with the ones practicing in large cities like Zurich and Geneva being more expensive than their counterparts in small towns or rural regions  — the area of specialisation and general reputation — the more prominent the attorney is with a roster of famous or well-heeled clients, the higher fees they will typically charge.

An important thing to know is that, depending on the advice you are seeking, you may not need a lawyer at all, but rather a public notary; in Switzerland, these professionals perform many tasks that only attorneys can do in other countries, such as drawing contracts and establishing other legal documents.

Here are some tips on how to find a lawyer or a notary that best fits your needs:

Word of mouth

As with any other services, personal recommendations from people you know and trust are best.

This will spare you the effort of “investigating” the person, such as researching their credentials and feedback from previous clients — the due diligence process that everyone should undertake before hiring any professional.

Professional associations

If you don’t know anyone who can recommend an attorney, do your own research.

Professional organisations such as the Swiss Bar Association (SBA) and the Swiss Federation of Notaries are good resources, as they both allow you to look for professionals in or near your place of residence.

English-speaking attorneys

Many Swiss lawyers and notaries, especially those practicing in large urban centres where many foreign residents live, speak English.

But if you want to make sure yours does, the UK government put together a list of English speaking attorneys in Switzerland, which should help you with your search.

‘Free’ legal advice

In principle, all legal assistance comes at a cost, except for exceptional cases, which are defined by each canton.

SBA has a canton-by-canton list, where the designation “GRATIS JUDICATURE” stands for “free legal advice”.

However, there is also such a thing in Switzerland as “legal protection insurance” (Rechtsschutzversicherungen in German, protection juridique in French, and protezione giuridica in Italian).

It covers attorney and other associated fees if you undertake court action against someone, are sued, or simply need legal advice.

There are two different types of legal protection insurance — one specifically for traffic accidents and the other for all other matters. Sometimes they are combined.

Typically, this insurance covers costs of legal representation associated with contract disputes, employment, loans and debts, healthcare, housing, retail purchases, and travel.

The annual cost of this insurance, which you can purchase from practically every carrier in Switzerland, is minimal, especially if you consider how much you’d have to spend if you hired an attorney yourself.

Another benefit of these policies is that a lawyer will be assigned to you by the insurance company so you won’t have the headache of looking for one on your own.

This article provides more information about this insurance:

EXPLAINED: Why you need ‘legal protection insurance’ in Switzerland