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EXPLAINED: Why rents are low and falling in Italian-speaking Switzerland

Despite high hopes, rents in Lugano have fallen considerably in recent years. Here’s what you need to know.

A train in the southern Swiss town of Luganp
A range of factors has led to a significant decline in rents in Lugano in recent years. Photo by Marcus Ganahl on Unsplash

Lugano, in southern Switzerland, is not only the largest Italian-speaking city in the country but it is actually home to the largest Italian-speaking community outside Italy. 

With some of Switzerland’s best weather and relatively easy access to Zurich, Milan and the Italian lake region, Lugano is one of Switzerland’s best placed cities. 

In recent years, it has unofficially marketed itself as the best of both worlds – a city with both Italian flair and Swiss organisation. 

However, since 2017, Lugano has seen its rents fall by more than 10 percent in all housing categories, according to Swiss comparison site Comparis. 

It now has the cheapest rents of any of Switzerland’s top ten cities, with an average of CHF1,700 per month. 

Across the same period, other Swiss major cities like Zurich and Geneva averaged a four percent increase in rents. 

REVEALED: The six major Swiss cities where rents are falling

The following chart shows how rents increased or decrease in ten Swiss cities over the past four years. 

Image: Comparis

At a cantonal level, Ticino also ranks as one of the cheapest states in Switzerland to rent. 

According to a new large-scale study carried out by Swiss Marketplace Group (SMG) in January 2022, the cantonal average of rents in Ticino is CHF1,470 per month – placing it in the top ten cheapest cantons to rent in the country. 

The averages of urban areas like Lugano, Bellinzona and Locarno are brought down by those away from the cities. 

Non-urban Ticino has some of the cheapest rental prices of anywhere in Switzerland, which is perhaps no surprise considering these areas are the location of Switzerland’s ‘one franc home’ offers that pop up from time to time. 

‘Impossible’: Why Switzerland’s one franc homes are too good to be true

A comparison of all 26 cantonal averages for renting a 3.5-room apartment can be seen in the following table from SMG. 

Zug 2428
Geneva 2248
Zürich 2131
Basel-City 2029
Schwyz 1948
Nidwalden 1947
Vaud 1895
Lucerne 1777
Baselland 1767
Obwalden 1685
Aarau 1659
Graubünden 1591
Bern 1577
Thurgau 1570
Freiburg 1556
Appenzell Ausserrhoden 1539
St. Gallen 1537
Solothurn 1496
Schaffhausen 1483
Ticino 1470
Wallis 1440
Uri 1427
Glarus 1373
Appenzell Innerrhoden 1372
Neuchâtel 1343
Jura 1135

Brain drain and a muted economic recovery

Leo Hug, real estate expert at Comparis, said despite high hopes, several factors had contributed to Lugano’s rental decline. 

The reasons, Hug said, are because “the hoped-for economic recovery thanks to faster [train] connections with the rest of Switzerland has not materialised so far”.

The population of Ticino’s economic centre contracted by 2.1 percent between 2017 and the end of 2020, so rents are expected to decline further.

And the Lugano does not have the same appeal as Geneva, which can rely on its international organisations to attract foreign nationals, Hug said.

Another major reason for Lugano’s economic state is an ongoing ‘brain drain’, which has seen people in their 20s and 30s move elsewhere in search of better opportunities. 

This does not only affect the local Lugano-born population, but also expats who move to Lugano but move on again afterwards. 

Zurich is the main target for people leaving Lugano, with higher wages and better job opportunities found along the Limmat river. 

In addition to Zurich, Lugano has seen a net decline in people leaving to Vaud, Bern, Lucerne, Graubünden and Fribourg across the past decade. 

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For members


What you need to know when taking your clothes off in Switzerland

As you know by now, the Swiss have laws and regulations for pretty much everything — ranging from how to throw away your garbage to how to boil a lobster. But what about nudity? Here's the bare truth.

What you need to know when taking your clothes off in Switzerland

The weather is getting warmer and you may want to shed as much of your clothing as you legally can. But how much skin can you safely bare in Switzerland?

You may be surprised to learn that Switzerland’s, um, penal code does not ban public nudity — as long as it is not indecent.

Interestingly though, the term “indecent” is not clearly defined in the Swiss law, so it is open to interpretation.

Be it as it may, the subject was widely reported in the media in 2009, when residents of Appenzell Innerrhoden complained about people hiking in their mountains, wearing nothing but backpacks and hiking boots.

Their concern had nothing to do with the fact that unclothed hikers took to the mountains in the middle of a cold Alpine winter.

Rather, they disliked that the walkers passed families with children and a Christian rehabilitation facility. 

The case eventually ended up before the cantonal court, which ruled that people should cover up when walking in public places. However, this ruling applies only in Appenzell, not in the rest of the country.

Another example of the liberal attitude that reigns in much of Switzerland regarding nudity has been the Body and Freedom Festival that took place regularly in August in various Swiss cities until 2018.

The festival exposed —  literally — actors performing in the buff in the midst of crowded city streets.

During one such event that took place in Bienne, local officials not only authorised the performance, but also contributed $20,000 of public funds to it.

The only condition they made was that, for safety reasons, naked performers stay clear of traffic, so drivers wouldn’t be distracted.

READ MORE: Naked artists cause stir with Zurich street performances

What about topless bathing in public?

This practice is much more common than walking in the nude (after all, how many naked hikers have you encountered on mountain trails?)

Nothing in the federal law addresses the issue of toplessness; cantons don’t have such legislation either, leaving final decisions in this matter to individual municipalities.

It is perhaps incorrect to say that the vast majority of communes in Switzerland actually authorise topless sunbathing and swimming, but they don’t ban it either.

In fact, there is currently a motion in the parliament (because apparently MPs are not busy enough with more pressing matters) urging Swiss officials to allow toplessness on public beaches.

“Such a topless rule is absolutely necessary in Switzerland”, said Social Democratic MP Tamara Funiciello.  “Women should be able to walk around, swim, and sunbathe as they please”.

Helena Trachsel, head of the Equal Opportunities Office in the canton of Zurich, also believes that toplessness makes sense: “From an equal opportunities perspective, it is clear that the same rules apply to all genders, including women and non-binary people”, she said.

However, Martin Enz, managing director of the Association of Indoor and Outdoor Pools sees no need for action: “If a person discreetly drops their bikini top and does not show off, this is accepted in most outdoor pools. The problem tends to be men who gape”, he noted.

So when and where can you take your clothes off in Switzerland?

What is clear is that you definitely should not walk around naked anywhere in Appenzell.

As far as other cantons and or /municipalities are concerned — whether you want to hike naked in the mountains or swim topless — it’s best to check with your local authorities about what is and is not permitted in your area before you leave your house buck naked.

READ MORE: The 12 strange laws in Switzerland you need to know