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

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 30 Dec, 2021 Updated Thu 30 Dec 2021 12:26 CEST
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What exactly may your landlord ask you - and what can they not? Photo: Tim Gouw with Unsplash.

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.

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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. 

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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). 

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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

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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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The Local 2021/12/30 12:26

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