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Nudity? BBQs? What you can and can’t do on your balcony in Switzerland

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected] • 21 Jul, 2022 Updated Thu 21 Jul 2022 15:28 CEST
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When using a balcony, be mindful of your neighbours.Image by Pexels

In warm (and not so warm) weather, getting outside on the balcony in Switzerland can offer some valuable respite. But what are you actually allowed to do?

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You may think that as a balcony is an extension of your apartment, you can do what you please on it.

But that’s not the case.

There are a variety of laws, regulations and bylaws which restrict and control what you can and cannot do on your balcony. 

From nuding up to smoking and throwing some meat on the grill (whether at the same time or not), here's what you can and cannot do. 

Can I sunbathe nude on my Swiss balcony?

Now, if you happen to live in a totally secluded place, with no neighbours or passersby south, north, east, or west of you, except perhaps a nudist colony nearby, then it’s probably safe to bear it all.

But, if like most people, you are within sight of others, then nude sunbathing is not a good idea — even though, generally speaking, Switzerland doesn’t ban public nudity, as long as it’s not indecent (though the term “indecent” is not clearly defined in the Swiss law, so it is open to interpretation).

Now, you may argue that nothing in the above-mentioned legislation 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, but they don’t ban it either.

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

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So it could be that your municipality tolerates this practice, but it still doesn’t mean your landlord and neighbours will.

While it doesn’t specifically address the issue of nudity, according to article 257f CO of the federal law, the tenant “must have regard” for the other inhabitants of the building.

If your neighbours are not bothered by your nudity and don’t complain about it to you or your landlord, then you are probably safe.

But if they are shocked by the sight, you will probably be told to put some clothes on; if you don’t comply, your landlord can impose all kinds of penalties, the extent of which depends on various factors.

There is, however, no law against wearing standard bikinis on your balcony.

And while we are at it, these are other balcony-related rules you should know about.

Barbecuing

As The Local reported here, “Swiss law does not prevent grilling on balconies, but it does prevent producing ‘excessive emissions’ which annoy your neighbours. 

What exactly is ‘excessive’? The law has been drawn purposefully vague on the matter – which basically means it is up to your tenancy agreement and whether or not your neighbour considers it to be ‘excessive’. 

The use of electric, gas or charcoal grills are permitted for most tenants in Switzerland, although some lease agreements restrict charcoal barbecues. 

Before buying a grill, make sure to check your lease agreement. 

READ MORE: Can I have a barbecue on my balcony in Switzerland?

Late-night parties

You probably already know the answer to this one.

Generally speaking, all loud noises, whether music or conversation, must be off from 10pm, onwards.

This applies not only to balconies but also to the inside of apartments. However, unlike apartments, where noises are heard by other residents only, if you are being loud on your balcony, people in the street and in other buildings are likely to hear you too.

It may seem unfair to have to whisper after 10pm, but your neighbours have a right to a peaceful night.

If police are called, you will be given a warning and told to call it a night, but if they have to come back, you will be fined, with the amount determined by each municipality.

Plants

In principle, you are allowed to place plants inside the balcony or in the flower boxes provided for this purpose. However, you can’t hang them outside without your landlord’s permission.

This is to protect passers-by and to avoid disputes due to the fall of flowers and leaves on your neighbours' balconies, or the plants restricting the view of other tenants.

Trellises are generally permitted if climbing plants do not grow on the façade or climb onto your neighbours’ balconies.

READ MORE: What am I allowed to do in my backyard or apartment courtyard in Switzerland?

Laundry

Hanging laundry within the space of your balcony is generally permitted.

However, you can’t install fixed drying devices without the consent of your landlord.

Clotheslines and rotating clothes dryers must be secured in such a way that they do not endanger anyone, even in case of strong winds.

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Smoking (cigarettes, not meat)

In Switzerland, it is generally allowed for any adult to smoke in a rented apartment.

According to tenant rights and information website, "this applies even if a smoking ban is included in the rental contract because personal freedom takes precedence. Tenants therefore have the right to smoke in their own apartment and this also includes the balcony".

It goes without saying that the ashes shouldn't fall onto the neighbours' balconies.

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What if you own, rather than rent, your apartment?

While you don’t have any contractual obligation toward your landlord, you are required to show consideration toward your neighbours, as you are still part of a community.

This means structural modifications that affect the overall visual impression of the property are prohibited and respectful behaviour should prevail.

READ MORE: Nine ways you might be annoying your neighbours (and not realising it) in Switzerland

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Helena Bachmann in Geneva 2022/07/21 15:28

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