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Your lease agreement: everything you need to know

When you rent an apartment in Switzerland, you sign a lease. What is mandatory in a lease agreement and what is not? How much do I have to pay? Our guide to signing a lease agreement.

A lease agreement is a rental agreement between you and a property management company or landlord. The lease agreement governs two things:

How a property management company or landlord provide the tenant with an apartment or commercial property - “an object” according to Article 253 of the Swiss Code of Obligations - to rent.

How does the tenant pay to use the apartment or commercial property?

When you sign a lease agreement, or rental agreement, as a tenant, you have the rights and obligations as described in the Swiss Civil Code. The Swiss Civil Code is supplemented by cantonal regulations, e.g. the Housing and Building Regulations of the Canton of Vaud (RULV). We recommend that you familiarise yourself with the customs of the canton where you sign a lease agreement.

Can I find out how much rent my previous tenant paid for the apartment?

The law gives you the right to know how much rent the previous tenant paid for the apartment. This prevents unjustified rent increases. If there is a housing shortage, landlords in certain cantons must automatically inform you of the previous tenant's rent using an official form. As a rule, you must pay the rent at the end of the previous month. For example, you pay the rent for the month of June by May 31.

Does a lease agreement need to be in writing?

A lease agreement can be concluded orally, but in Switzerland it is customary to have a written rental agreement. There is no single official template for the whole of Switzerland. In German-speaking Switzerland, property management companies and landlords often use the HEV (Hauseigentümerverbandes) lease agreement template. In French-speaking Switzerland, the lease agreement template varies.

You and the property management company or landlord have a great deal of freedom when it comes to concluding a lease agreement, but not when it comes to terminating it! Termination of a lease agreement must always be in writing.

Why do I have to provide a rental guarantee?

Property management companies or landlords may ask you, as a tenant, to provide a rental guarantee, also known as a rental deposit. For an apartment, this is a maximum of three months' rent. In the case of commercial property, the amount of the security deposit is not limited by law.

You can pay three months' rent in the form of a bank deposit account or you can sign a guarantee contract. In this case, you only pay an annual premium.

Utility Charges: what are they?

In addition to the rent, leasing an apartment entails other costs, known as "utilities," such as heating or hot water. In order for the property management company or landlord to be able to invoice you for these charges, they must explicitly, specifically and clearly refer to them in the lease agreement.

Utility Charges are invoiced as a fixed rate or in instalments:

Fixed rate: the property management company or landlord are not obliged to draw up a statement for you, but to indicate the amount that applies to the utility charges. For example, one month's net rent: CHF 1,300 plus a utility charge of CHF 220 per month. This means that you have to pay CHF 1,520 per month, regardless of the actual amount of the utilities.

Advance payments: The tenant pays utilities in advance, e.g. CHF 220 per month, and receives a breakdown each year. He or she may then receive a refund or have to pay a supplement.

Regardless of the payment terms used by the property management company or landlord, remember to ask how much the actual costs have been over the last three years before signing the lease agreement. This way you can be sure, especially when paying in instalments, that you are not paying too much or too little. The tenants' association (ASLOCA) has published a checklist for verifying utillity charges.

Can I sublet the apartment I am renting?

You may sublet your apartment under certain conditions only. If you do so, you alone are liable vis-à-vis the property management company or landlord. We therefore recommend that you, as the main tenant, conclude written lease agreements with any subtenants.

Your property management company or landlord may refuse to allow you to sublet if:

  1. You earn money by subletting, so you would be charging more rent than you would pay by yourself.
  2. Your subtenant uses the apartment for another purpose or causes noise disturbances. The Swiss Code of Obligations describes this as “if the property management company or landlord suffer significant disadvantages as a result of the sublet”.
  3. You do not live in the apartment yourself during the sublet.
  4. You do not give the property management company or landlord any information about the terms and conditions of the sublet. This includes the personal data of the subtenant, the agreed use, the duration of the sublet.

What is a joint lease agreement?

If you live in a shared apartment but do not wish to sublet, you can sign a joint lease agreement. This means that all tenants have the same rights and obligations, as each person signs the lease agreement.

Any joint tenant must account for the total rent vis-à-vis the property management company or landlord. This means that if one of the tenants doesn’t pay, the property management company or landlord can request the full amount of the arrears from the tenants, even if they have already vacated the premises.

What repairs in the apartment do I have to pay for myself?

Small repairs that you can do yourself without being a professional* form part of what is known as minor maintenance. You have to pay the cost of these (up to approximately CHF 150).

A leaking shower hose or a broken toothbrush glass will have to be replaced at your expense, for example. Naturally, you would not be expected to repair a dishwasher yourself, so the property management company or the landlord is obliged to pay for it.

How do I terminate a lease agreement?

You must terminate in writing, preferably by registered post. There are no legal rules concerning dates and notice periods, only court decisions. Often the lease agreement refers to “local termination dates”. In Switzerland, these can vary from one canton, district, and even municipality to another. Ask your local rental office what dates apply to your municipality of residence.

Of course, you can also give notice of termination outside the deadline. In this case, you have to look for a new tenant to take over your lease agreement.

How do I choose a tenant to take over the lease agreement in the event of an early termination?

The law lays down the conditions that a tenant has to meet in order to take over the lease agreement: he or she must be solvent, acceptable, and willing to take over the lease agreement under the same conditions:

  1. A prospective tenant is considered solvent if he or she has enough money to pay the rent in full and on time. This can be demonstrated with pay slips. In most cases, he or she will also have to provide an extract from the local debt collection register.
  2. A tenant is deemed acceptable, if the apartment is being rented to live in according to the rental conditions. For example, it is unreasonable to expect a single person to rent an apartment that is expressly advertised as a family apartment. And if someone wants to convert the rented apartment into a kebab shop, they are not considered acceptable either.

The property management company or the landlord have one month to respond to your application. We recommend that you put forward at least three full applications for prospective tenants to take over your lease agreement.

Lease agreement: key points in brief

Here the most important information in brief:

  • There are no official forms for a lease agreement, there is no obligation to sign a written lease agreement (however, we recommend that you ask for a written lease agreement),
  • Nearly all property management companies or landlords require a rental guarantee in the form of a bank deposit or a security deposit such as the Firstcaution guarantee without a deposit,
  • The utility charges must be described in detail in the lease agreement. Unclear formulations or statements that only appear in the general terms and conditions are not valid.
  • You may sublet your apartment under certain conditions. Please sign a lease agreement with the subtenant.
  • You have to pay for small repairs yourself up to about CHF 150.
  • You must terminate your lease agreement in writing. The best way to do this is by registered mail.
  • The tenant you recommend to take over the lease agreement must be acceptable and solvent.

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