Renting For Members

EXPLAINED: What happens if you can't pay your rent in Switzerland?

Helena Bachmann in Geneva
Helena Bachmann in Geneva - [email protected] • 9 Dec, 2022 Updated Fri 9 Dec 2022 12:18 CEST
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Moving is the most common option for people who can't pay their rent. Image by Nhành Mai Mới from Pixabay

One of the biggest fears of any tenant — in Switzerland or elsewhere — is that they will fall into financial difficulties and won’t be able to afford their monthly rent. What could happen then?

Not being able to pay for your apartment sounds like the worst-case scenario to any tenant, but in fact, this had become a reality for many people during the Covid pandemic: with hundreds of thousands of people partially (or totally) unemployed and receiving only scant government aid, paying rent had become a major burden.

At that time, Switzerland's Federal Council has extended the deadline for paying rent from 30 to 90 days. This meant that tenants who were late paying due to coronavirus control measures had three months, instead of the usual one month, to settle arrears.

READ MORE: Switzerland offers relief for those struggling to pay rent 

What about now?

The pandemic is over and employment market is booming so, at least in theory, the conditions that prevailed during the health crisis and which prevented many people from paying rent, are long gone.

However, many households still struggle to make ends meet, especially in view of higher, inflation-driven costs of many consumer goods, as well as soaring energy and health insurance costs.

Many people face financial hardships right now. Image by Andrew Khoroshavin from Pixabay 

So what happens if you rent an apartment or a house in Switzerland and can’t pay your rent?

First thing you should do is contact your landlord and explain the situation. This is not at all certain, but he or she may be willing to make a mutually beneficial payment plan, especially if you have been a model tenant and always paid your rent on time.

What you absolutely shouldn’t do is just stop paying your rent without talking with the landlord first and hope to continue living in your dwellings rent-free for as long as the law allows it (see below). 

Let’s assume the landlord doesn’t want to keep on an unpaying tenant, especially since the housing market is tight in many parts of Switzerland, and they could easily find someone ready and willing to pay rent.

In such a case (which does sound like the most likely scenario) the landlord could take some drastic measures, which are outlined in your rental agreement.

Reminders and eviction

Unless you reach an amicable agreement with your landlord prior to the time of the month when your rent is due, expect to receive a registered letter reminding you to pay your rent within a specified period.

If you don’t, the second reminder will be sent, with a notification that, in addition to the original missed rent, you will have to pay quarterly advance payments of rent and accessory charges.

In case the rent still isn’t paid, the third letter you will receive will include a threat of termination of your lease if all the arrears (and likely interest as well) are not paid within 10 days.

If this happens, the landlord will likely initiate eviction proceedings through the housing court in your jurisdiction (Mietgericht in German, Tribunal des baux et loyers in French, and tribunale degli affitti in Italian).

This is a general procedure, though it could vary from one canton to another.

What happens next?

It depends.

You can either leave or, if you think you’ve been evicted unfairly, you can dispute your termination by asking arbitration authorities in your canton to settle the matter.

Depending on your circumstances, you may be in luck: Swiss law is more lenient towards tenants than landlords.

A judge could possibly rule in your favour. Photo: Towfiqu barbhuiya on Pexels

According to Swiss Tenants Association (ASLOCA), “If the eviction is valid, the tenant has the right to an extension — that is to say, an additional period in order to be able to find a new accommodation.” 

The extension period is determined based on various circumstances, such as the situation on the housing market, as well as the personal, family, and financial situation of the tenant.

The above are extreme scenarios that would occur only if the tenant is obstinate enough to take the non-payment of rent and subsequent eviction to court.

What should you do if you fall on hard times and can’t pay the rent?

Wherever in Switzerland you live, there are services available to counsel anyone who has financial difficulties. These are numbers to call in German speaking cantons and French ones.

It is important to settle these matters because having a judgment against you, or a history of trouble-making, will leave a  stain on your record, which will hinder you from renting an apartment, getting a credit card, mortgage or another kind of loan.

And if you are a foreigner, legal problems and debts can prevent you from obtaining Swiss citizenship. 

READ MORE: Reader question: What happens if I don't pay my Swiss bills on time?

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Helena Bachmann in Geneva 2022/12/09 12:18

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