Renting For Members

Reader question: Can a Swiss landlord refuse to rent to me because I am a foreigner?

Helena Bachmann
Helena Bachmann - [email protected]
Reader question: Can a Swiss landlord refuse to rent to me because I am a foreigner?
Can a landlord refuse to rent to you in Switzerland due to your nationality? Photo by Leohoho on Unsplash

Finding a place to live is on most people’s priority list after they move to Switzerland. But can you be turned down just because you are a foreign national?

Looking to move? Find your next rental apartment here.


This is a very pertinent question, especially as there’s shortage of affordable housing in Switzerland, so landlords can cherry-pick among prospective tenants.

And evidence shows that some of the time they not only choose the most financially stable candidates — which is understandable — but also intentionally bypass those with foreign names.

This discrimination even extends to Swiss citizens who have foreign surnames.

Sociologists from the Universities of Geneva, Neuchâtel and Lausanne conducted an experimental study on ethnic discrimination in the Swiss housing market by sending 11,000 fictitious applications in response to real estate advertisements.

They found that candidates with Kosovar or Turkish names were not given as many opportunities to view apartments as non-foreign applicants.

But is this legal?

Generally speaking, a distinction should be made between private and public owners.

In Switzerland, only a small percentage of housing is owned by municipalities, cantons, or federal government, and they can’t turn away tenants on the basis of nationality, ethnic background, religion, gender, or sexual preference — no matter how ‘foreign’ their names may sound.

READ ALSO: How to solve a dispute with your Swiss landlord

Private owners, on the other hand, have a bit more leeway in who they rent to, though they will likely not tell a candidate outright that they are being turned down on the basis of their nationality — if indeed this is the case — because that would be illegal (see more about this below).

Instead, they would come up with another 'plausible' explanation, such as ‘the apartment is already rented,’ ‘the apartment is no longer available for rent,’ or another excuse that will not mention the real reason for the refusal.

It is also possible that you are being turned down as a potential tenant for reasons that have nothing to do with your nationality, so be careful not to misread (or misjudge) the refusal.


While there is no legislation pertaining specifically to the housing market, Swiss law does prohibit discrimination in all spheres of life “against a person or a group of persons on the grounds of their ethnic origin, race, language or religion".

It also stipulates that “any person who refuses to provide a service to another on the grounds of that person’s race, ethnic origin, religion or sexual orientation when that service is intended to be provided to the general public, shall be liable to a custodial sentence not exceeding three years or to a monetary penalty".

Though the law about discrimination is clear, the burden of proof is quite high.

Unless the landlord or the management company working on their behalf tells you loudly enough for other people to hear that you will not get an apartment because you are not Swiss or, better yet, write it in a letter, you will have a hard time proving that their refusal had xenophobic or racial undertones.


You may suspect that you were turned away because you are a foreigner, but proving it is another matter.

You can, however, file a formal complaint with the Federal Commission against Racism, providing proof — such as witnesses, or other credible evidence — that the refusal was in fact based on your national origin. 

A good source of information and advice about Swiss tenancy law are tenants associations.

These groups are divided according to linguistic regions, which means you can easily find one in your area:

Swiss German

Swiss French

Swiss Italian


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also