Accommodation in Switzerland

Although accommodation in Switzerland is in line with the country’s reputation for being highly developed, housing is pricey and competition is stiff, even by European standards.

Most people, including locals, rent their homes, which limits the number of available properties. This drives up housing prices, but also leads to apartment hunters spending money on hotels and hostels.

If they can, expats should try to negotiate a housing provision into their employment contract. Some employers even assist their expat employees in securing a suitable apartment.

Types of accommodation in Switzerland

Apartments are the most common type of accommodation in Switzerland in large cities like Geneva or Zurich as well as in smaller towns. Freestanding houses are available but are usually expensive or outside urban areas.

Expats will find that property in Switzerland usually is unfurnished. Unfurnished can often mean that the place is without light fittings, curtains or even a sink. Expats should budget for the necessary labour if required. In some cases, apartments are equipped with a stove and a refrigerator, and sometimes there is a joint washing machine for the whole apartment block in the cellar.

Expats should note that the inclusion of such amenities does tend to push the price of accommodation up. Additional costs also include garbage disposal, street and house cleaning, water and heating. Most apartments in Switzerland are equipped with central heating.

Finding a property in Switzerland

For those without any support from an employer, resources such as online property portals, local newspapers and real estate agent brochures are good places to start looking for somewhere to rent. Budget-conscious expats may want to use the internet to look for house sharing and sub-letting options.

Expats need to act fast after they find a suitable property as real estate market turnover is fairly high. Apartments in sought-after parts of Switzerland rarely stay on the market for more than a couple of weeks. 

Whether expats find a new home directly through an agency or via an advert, they should find out about the rental conditions – there may be extra requirements, like needing a Swiss guarantor.

If the conditions are reasonable, expats can arrange to view the apartment and fill in an application form once they’re there. Prospective tenants need to provide a lot of information including proof of employment, identification and finances. This can also include a certificate that proves the applicant isn’t facing legal proceedings for unpaid debts, which can be applied for at a local debt collection office.

Applicants usually hear back from the landlord or their agent within a month, and if they haven’t heard back, they can follow up before the lease starts. Unsuccessful applicants aren’t always contacted.

Renting a property in Switzerland

After the application is accepted, a handover day is arranged where the tenant usually signs a 12-month lease. This also gives them an opportunity to inspect the property and do an inventory. Rental contracts in Switzerland can begin on the 1st or 15th of a month. 

Tenants usually pay the first month’s rent upfront and up to three months’ rent as a security deposit and are responsible for their own utilities. In some cantons, it is mandatory for tenants to purchase third-party liability insurance. 

Before moving in, expats should inspect all elements of the apartment with the landlord. Any defects or damages should be written down (and photographed if necessary), and signed by the landlord. This list must be kept by the tenant. This same process will occur when moving out, therefore it is recommended that expats be vigilant about it in order to avoid paying any unnecessary defect costs.

In most cases, tenants have to give at least a month’s notice if they want to terminate the lease early. It is worth reading the fine print of a lease agreement carefully because in some instances tenants terminating the lease early will be required to find a replacement to fulfil the remainder of their contract. In some parts of the country, a tenancy can only start and end on certain days. 

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