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PROPERTY

Renting in Switzerland: The questions your landlord can and cannot ask you

If you are looking for a place to rent in Switzerland, your possible landlord can only ask certain questions, while others are ruled out. Here’s what you need to know.

A woman makes eye contact at a job interview
What exactly may your landlord ask you - and what can they not? Photo: Tim Gouw with Unsplash.

Anyone wanting to secure a rental property in Switzerland will have to jump through several hoops before they get into their new home. 

Simply finding a flat is difficult enough – particularly in larger cities – as you will need to stand out from an ever-growing crowd to prove you should be the lucky one to move in. 

Finding a flat in Switzerland: How to stand out from the crowd

Towards the end of the process however, your landlord has the right to ask you a range of questions before you move in. 

While some of these may feel like they have a heavily personal nature, landlords have a right to find out SOME personal information about the person or people who will live in their home. 

Some other information is however ruled out. 

What kind of information can a landlord require – and can a tenant lie?

It might sound relatively obvious, but a landlord can only ask for information related to the person’s stay in the flat. 

This is not properly defined, but Switzerland’s Immowelt describes this as “information a landlord needs to actually select a tenant based on objective criteria”. 

These questions will help the landlord make a decision as to whether or not to grant you permission to live in the flat. 

READ MORE: Here’s how much it costs to rent in Switzerland’s biggest cities

Keep in mind however that such an application is not made in a courtroom setting, meaning that there are no real consequences for tenants who lie. 

Tenants are under no obligation to answer a question, although remaining silent or giving evasive answers is likely to harm your chances of getting approved. 

As real estate agents rather than landlords are likely to ask questions, they are likely to be experienced with such dealings – and they may ask for proof of a particular claim or statement. 

Which questions may a landlord ask?

Switzerland’s Tenant’s Union has laid out a broad list of the types of questions which can be asked and not asked. 

The following is a non-exhaustive list of the types of questions which can be asked. 

Personal details: name, current address, date of birth, occupation and employer name. 

Citizenship: A landlord is also allowed to ask whether you are Swiss or not and to provide details of your citizenship or residency details, i.e. which type of permit you have to live in Switzerland. 

Again, while this may appear to be a personal question and may result in discrimination, landlords will want to know you have a right to live in Switzerland and are therefore likely to stick around for the long(ish) term. 

Family details: a landlord can ask for the details of anyone else who will be living in the flat, including spouses or family members such as children. 

Your landlord can also ask you if you plan to sublet the apartment. As we discussed in our following guide, subletting generally requires landlord approval. 

EXPLAINED: What are Switzerland’s rules for Airbnb rentals?

Income: Your landlord does not need to receive a copy of your annual earnings, however you can be asked your rough earnings – i.e. a bracket like CHF90,000 to 100,000. 

Landlords can also ask for a percentage figure as to how much your rent comes to out of your total earnings. 

Landlords will be able to ask for proof of income, but only for the purposes of clarifying the financial circumstances of the tenant. 

Generally, landlords will not want your rent to be higher than a third of your earnings, although the ultimate decision rests with the landlord him/herself. 

Debt: Landlords can also ask for debt certificates from the previous two years from independent agencies which determine an individual’s credit rating. 

(For a certificate from a previous landlord (Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung) please see below). 

Previous tenancy: Landlords can ask for information about how your previous tenancy ended. 

Pets: Swiss law is relatively vague on this issue, simply saying that small pets are allowed but larger pets can be restricted by the landlord. 

In this case, if the landlord has put in place a rule – such as ‘no dogs’ – the landlord is allowed to ask if you have a dog and then make a decision. 

Noise and musical instruments: A landlord may only ask about music instruments if there is a ‘special situation’ in the house, i.e. if the soundproofing is poor or if the neighbours have previously complained about noise. 

A lot of this – as with many of the above questions – comes down to what’s reasonable and what’s common sense. 

READ MORE: What damage do tenants have to pay for in Switzerland?

What can landlords not ask? 

There are several questions a landlord cannot ask. Immowelt writes that where a tenant is asked one of these questions, they are simply allowed to lie in response. 

While it might sound a little odd to be told to lie, the property company clarifies that a lie is an appropriate response to an illegitimate question. 

– Information on financial information not relevant for the apartment, i.e. contracts and ownership of other properties and anything else not related to a tenant’s capacity to pay the rent

– Whether the tenant is a member of the tenants union or other similar body

– Health information, i.e. preconditions and diseases

– How long the tenant has been looking for a flat

– How long the tenant has lived at their current address

– Name of current or former landlord

– Religious status

– Marital status

– Nationality (although whether a person is a foreigner and the status of their residence permit is permitted)

– Current rent paid per month

Can a landlord as for a confirmation of having no debt from a previous landlord (Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung)?

In Germany and Austria, landlords will often ask for a Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung (pronounced meat-shool-den-fry-height-bee-shine-ee-goong). 

Literally translating as rent-debt-freedom-certificate, the Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung is a document which confirms you are not in rental debt for your previous properties. 

While this is relatively common place elsewhere, in Switzerland the previous landlord is under no obligation to provide this certificate – and a tenant is also under no obligation to show it. 

Tenant or landlord: Who pays which costs in Switzerland?

However, as with everything in this list, such a certificate is likely to help convince a landlord that a tenant is trustworthy. 

A landlord looking at two identical applications is likely to decide in favour of the tenant who has provided a Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung rather than the tenant who hasn’t. 

If your landlord will not provide you with one – or asks for a large sum of money to get it – you can provide this information to your prospective landlord. 

Can a landlord ask if I am vaccinated? 

The law does not make direct reference to whether or not your landlord can ask for Covid vaccination status in applying for a flat. 

As asking about general health information is largely restricted, presumably a landlord would not be permitted to ask a question about Covid vaccination status. 

In this case – as was illustrated above – a tenant would be within their rights to provide an untruthful answer. 

If you have however already provided an answer – i.e. said you are unvaccinated when a landlord may prefer vaccinated tenants – a prospective landlord can reject your application and will likely not face consequences. 

As The Local reported in November 2021, a seller went back on a verbal promise to sell their home when they found out the buyer was vaccinated. 

‘They might die’: Swiss homeowner refuses to sell to vaccinated buyers

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For members

LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

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

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