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Zurich housing crisis: What can you do to find a flat to rent?

The Local Switzerland
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Zurich housing crisis: What can you do to find a flat to rent?
Finding a flat in Zurich is tricky but it is possible. Photo by Marwan Haidar on Unsplash

Finding a place to live in Switzerland's biggest city is notoriously difficult, and becoming even more difficult as the housing shortage is set to worsen.

Looking to move? Find your next rental apartment here.

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Imagine moving to Zurich and having a cozy home in the city's heart, maybe with a lake view and scenic beauty all around. Fast forward to when you arrive here and realise that before you can start romanticising about your new digs, you actually face...reality!

And that reality is far different than your hopes.

That's because Switzerland's largest city is in the throes of a housing shortage: according to a new report by Fahrländer Partner consultancy, only 0.7 percent of flats are currently vacant and up for rent —a lower number than the national average of 1.15 percent.

If the situation remains the same — and there is no indication that change is on the horizon — Zurich will be short of 35,000  dwellings by the end of 2024.

Current, as well as forecasted housing shortage, had sparked a demonstration in the city on Saturday, when thousands of people took to the streets to show their displeasure with the scarcity of affordable accommodations.

Why is the housing market in Zurich so hard to navigate?

The majority of people in Switzerland live in rented accommodation. And the fierce competition in the market makes it challenging to find an apartment here.

With numerous multinational companies and as the economic hub, Zurich is a hot spot for expats. According to the Stadt Zurich website, 6 percent of all foreigners who move to Switzerland come to Zurich city. Separate data from the Federal Statistical Office states that in 2021 over 10 percent of the Swiss population moved to a new house.

Where does this situation leave an apartment hunter?

The daunting prospect of trying to find accommodations can be stressful and frustrating, as you may face heavy competition and rigorous criteria. 

Here are some tips that may help you in the process:

Use your network - and be aware of your profile

The renter's profile plays an important role. Renting is not always based on a first-come, first-serve basis. The agencies always filter the applicants based on salary, permit, and family status.

If you have an L work permit, getting the apartment may be slightly more complicated. Your company's internal forums could be the first place to search for a house. Most companies have employee forums where the advertisements for apartments are published. Once you find something, contact your colleagues and request a referral.  

"A lot of employee movement is happening all the time," says Nehal M., who moved to Zurich two years ago. "Someone is leaving, and others are joining. So this is a good size network to look for a flat or apartment. We got ours via an internal employees' online forum. We were also searching from other portals, but this was easier as we could request the previous owner for a referral for us."

Family status is also one of the main criteria considered for rent applications. There are locations and homes where families are the preferred applicants. 

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Be flexible on locations

You have to be super lucky to find a house that fits your budget, location, and space criteria perfectly. However, that's not always the case with everyone.

So consider locations that may not be in the city centre but are a good enough distance to travel from home to office. The further you move from the central city, the rentals get more affordable with much bigger space and would be more value for money.

In Zurich, there are 12 districts. Some areas like Sihlcity, Enge, Oerlikon, and Bellevue are favourites due to their locations. However, finding accommodation here is equally challenging with budget constraints. Check out different locations, feel out the neighbourhood and then weigh up your options. 

Sign up to online housing portals

Online portals are one of the best ways - especially for foreigners - to find an apartment. Some websites are well-known and are a great help to non-German-speaking house hunters as well. These websites include: 

These websites are great ways to find an apartment and understand the local property market. If you want to connect with a local real estate agent, you can search at https://www.svit.ch/de.

Social networks like Facebook are also suitable for finding houses. But one has to practice caution there - scams are common so be on your guard. And never transfer money without seeing a flat. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

 

A home to rent in Zurich.

A home to rent in Zurich. Photo by immo RENOVATION on Unsplash

Get to know the quirks

There are many other things, like the description of the listed apartment, furnishing, and maintenance cost, that you have to understand and consider before renting an apartment in Switzerland.

For example, a four-room ad doesn't mean there are four bedrooms. This likely includes the living or dining area as well. Meanwhile, in some places, the kitchen is not part of the apartment, meaning you will have to install your own. You have to clarify these things while viewing the apartment.

READ ALSO: The hidden costs of renting in Switzerland

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... and some quick tips:

  • If you have Swiss German speaking friends, take them along to the viewing. They can help you ask questions about the apartment
  • Get your documents ready. Being prepared is essential in a tight housing market 
  • If you like an apartment, apply immediately. Don't risk losing the flat! 
  • If the property is with an agency, ask the previous tenants to refer you
  • Fill up the application in the local language
  • Always have a Plan B - don't despair if you don't get a place. The search might be stressful and long but you will find a new home eventually, even if you have to opt for one or two temporary places first 

READ ALSO: Eight things you need to know before renting in Switzerland

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If all else fails, consider subletting

This practice is allowed in Switzerland — as long as you do it officially and not on the sly.

Swiss law requires that the current tenant gets permission from their  landlord before they sublet your apartment.

Additionally, they must let the landlord review the subletting agreement.

If that agreement is above the board, then you should have no problem getting the green light.  

READ ALSO: Can I sublet my rented apartment in Switzerland?

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