Most buildings in Switzerland are insured against fire and natural hazards (hail, windstorms and more).
Typically, the landlord is the policyholder. As a renter, you do not have to pay the buildings insurance premiums for your rented home. These are covered by your landlord. Apartment owners usually pay buildings insurance premiums jointly.
19 of the 26 Swiss cantons have a single cantonal building insurance provider through which all buildings must be insured by law. The seven so-called “GUSTAVO” cantons are exceptions to this rule.
Buildings insurance in GUSTAVO cantons
The abbreviation GUSTAVO is sometimes used to jointly denote the cantons of Geneva, Uri, Schwyz, Ticino, Appenzell Innerrhoden, Valais and Obwalden. These cantons do not have a monopolized buildings insurance system.
The GUSTAVO cantons, for their part, can be divided into two groups: In the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Obwalden, homeowners are required to take out a buildings insurance policy covering fire and natural hazards.
In the cantons of Geneva, Ticino, Valais and Appenzell Innerrhoden, homeowners can decide whether or not they want to take out buildings insurance. Exception: Buildings in the Appenzell Innerrhoden district of Oberegg must be insured against fire and natural hazards by the district buildings insurer.
What is covered?
Basic, obligatory buildings insurance covers a building against natural hazards like windstorms, hail, floods, water damage, snow or rock avalanches, land slides and damages caused by the weight of snow. But take note: The actual definitions used in your policy are often much more closely defined.
For example, the buildings insurance policy of Bern defines a windstorm as a wind with a speed of at least 63 kilometers per hour (10-minute average) which also damages other buildings in the vicinity. So if, for example, a windy spell damages your expensive venetian blinds, you won’t necessarily be compensated by your home insurer.
Damages which are not caused by hazards of extraordinary intensity are not covered by the basic cantonal buildings insurance. Foreseeable damages which could have been prevented also will not be eligible for cantonal buildings insurance coverage. Buildings insurance does not release you from your due diligence obligations as a landlord.
Water damage is not always covered
Cantonal buildings insurance only covers water damages caused by rain-induced flooding.
Damages caused by leaking pipes or water damage incurred due to unsound roofs or walls are not covered by the obligatory buildings insurance. Even water damages caused by ground water are, as a rule, not covered.
Many cantons do offer supplementary insurance coverage for water damage. The canton of Basel Landschaft, for example, offers a number of optional coverages against water damages, including coverage for damage caused by leaking pipes or roofs. You can also obtain supplementary buildings insurance coverage from private insurers.
Not all structures are covered
Even when the incident that damages your buildings is covered by your insurance policy, there is still a chance that the insurer will not compensate you for the damages. This can happen when the damaged or destroyed structure does not qualify as a part of the covered building.
Flagpoles, pathways, retaining walls, swimming pools and garden fences are, as a rule, not covered by basic cantonal buildings insurance. They will only be covered if you specify that you want these to be included in the insurance valuation of your property, or if you take out additional garden and contents insurance.
Understanding exactly which structures are defined as part of the actual building can be difficult. This is true even for portions of the house itself. While lightning protection and lighting systems are covered, not all cantonal buildings insurance providers cover damages to alarm systems, for example.
In any case, you always have the option of getting additional insurance from a private insurance company. Make sure to carefully check exactly what your obligatory insurance policy covers before getting additional insurance. This will help you avoid wasting money on overlapping coverage.
Household insurance is not included
Make sure you understand that buildings insurance does not replace household insurance. Household insurance covers movable items inside your home, such as furniture. However, it may be worth it to look through the exact terms and conditions of your household insurance policy and see what coverage it gives you. Example: A washing machine is covered by buildings insurance in canton Aargau. In canton Fribourg it is not, so if you live in that canton you may want to make sure that your household insurance covers your appliances.
Major differences between cantons
In the 19 cantons that enforce their own cantonal buildings insurance, coverage against fire and natural hazards is defined by cantonal buildings insurance law.
The exact terms and conditions attached to buildings insurance vary between cantons. As well as differences in premiums, cantonal insurance policies differ in many more aspects.
One example of this is the maximum value a building can have before obligatory buildings insurance applies. If a buildings value is below a minimum amount, its owner is not obligated to insure it. In canton Zurich, this value is 5000 francs, in canton Thurgau it’s 10,000 francs and in canton Appenzell Ausserrhoden, buildings valued below 15,000 francs do not require obligatory insurance.
The details surrounding what structures are covered by obligatory buildings insurance also vary. In some cantons mailboxes are covered, while other cantons differentiate between mailboxes that are attached to the building and detached mailboxes (which aren’t always covered).
Cantonal differences also affect the deductible you pay for each claim. The deductible on policies from the cantonal buildings insurance of canton Zurich is 500 francs per claim. In canton Aargau, the deductible is 300 francs per incident and building, but this deductible can be 10 percent higher for high-risk buildings.
In Bern the deductible for natural hazards is equal to 10 percent of total damages or 100 francs minimum, but never more than 1000 francs per incident and building. No deductible is charged for fire damage. In the canton of Basel Landschaft there is no deductible.
Swiss buildings insurance premiums compared
The size of the insurance premiums you pay depends on several factors. Your premiums are set in relation to the maximum benefit of your policy, which generally matches your building’s value as determined by the insurer. The higher the value of the building, the higher the resulting premiums will be.
Other criteria which affect premiums are the location and structure of the building. Insurance premiums can be substantially higher if a structure is built of flammable materials or located in an area with a high risk of natural hazards. Example: If you own a highly exposed building on an avalanche-prone mountainside, you can expect to pay higher premiums.
The way a building is used will also affect premiums. A home used as a private residence will not command the same premiums as a building used in the hazardous chemical industry.
If you live in a GUSTAVO canton, you can get both obligatory buildings insurance and supplementary insurance from a private insurance company. The differences in prices charged by cantonal and private insurers can be notable. On average, private insurers charge higher premiums than cantonal insurers.
The differences in premiums charged by various private insurers are large. Make sure to get quotes from many different insurers. The differences in costs and benefits among private insurers are bigger than the differences between cantonal insurance providers.
Your moneyland.ch team