It happens to most of us at some point in our lives. A temporary move-in with a romantic partner or friend, a relocation following a job transfer or a long-term stay in another part of Switzerland or even another country.
When our circumstances change, we are often left with the question of whether we should carry on paying rent for a home we do not live in, or give up our rental home in hopes of finding a similar home at a similar price when things go back to normal.
With getting a decent apartment or house in many Swiss cities being the challenge that it is, most of us prefer to keep a finger in our home pie just in case. If you benefit from a low rent thanks to a longstanding contract, giving up your home could mean having to fork up a lot more money when it comes time to rent again.
Subletting your rental flat provides a solution to these dilemmas. While landlords in many other countries forbid you from renting their properties out to subtenants, Swiss landlords and laws are generally quite accommodating in this regard.
As long as you follow rules of decorum, having another person take on your rental home for a time should be a smooth, money-saving experience. Here moneyland.ch lists 10 key guidelines for renters looking to sublet their home.
1. Create a contract
Before you even bother looking for a subtenant, you should put together a subletting agreement. This can be hand-written or printed. Ideally, the terms and conditions of the agreement should match your original rental agreement. While you are technically allowed to make a verbal agreement, the details of this agreement can be difficult to prove to your landlord, and even more difficult to prove in court if things get ugly.
2. Ask your landlord
Asking the property’s owner if they are ok with your bringing in a subtenant is not only polite, it is also obligatory. Swiss law requires you to get permission from your landlord before you sublet your rental home. However, your landlord can only deny you your right to sublet for very specific reasons.
Firstly, you will have to let your landlord review the subletting agreement, including all terms and conditions. If you fail to let your landlord review the agreement, they are free to reject it. Secondly, after reviewing the agreement, your landlord can reject the sublease if the terms and conditions are notably different from those of your primary rental agreement. For example, if you rented the home as a single person with no pets and you plan to sublet the property to a family with children and a dog, your landlord may reject the proposal if the primary agreement did not make allowance for this. Thirdly, if the subletting will present your home’s owner with serious disadvantages, they may veto your right to sublet. “Serious disadvantages” in this case could mean a noisy or messy subtenant who doesn’t follow tenant guidelines.
Do not try to pull the wool over your landlord’s eyes. They have the right to terminate your rental agreement if you sublet without permission or break any of the conditions in the agreed-on subletting contract (such as charging higher rents than your landlord agreed to).
3. Don’t make a profit
The purpose of subletting a home is to avoid having to cough up rent on a property you do not live in. In this way, subletting differs greatly from Airbnb-style rentals which are aimed at making a profit. Swiss subletting laws forbid you from making a profit off a subtenant. That means that the rent you charge cannot be higher than the rent which you pay your landlord.
The only exception to this rule is where you are renting out a furnished home, where you have furnished the home yourself. In that case, you can charge your subtenant up to a maximum of 20% more than what you pay the landlord in rent, as a commission on the use of the furniture.
If multiple subtenants rent your home, you must divide the legal rent between them. Additionally, you can demand a deposit equal to a maximum of 3 monthly rents. This deposit must be placed in a rental deposit account and returned to subtenants upon satisfactory termination of the subletting agreement. Charging subtenants rents or deposits above those limits is illegal.
4. Get properly insured
Although your subtenants should take responsibility for damages which they inflict on your rental home, the final buck stops with you. If they cannot (or will not) pay for damages, you as the primary renter will have to cover the damages yourself. Liability insurance is a must, both for you and for your subtenants.
Feel free to insist on potential subtenants getting liability insurance before you sublet your home to them. Important: Liability insurance covers incidental damages caused by subtenants, like flooding, serious damages to floors and doors or to your furniture if applicable. But it does not cover general wear and tear. This damage will be left to you to take care of in keeping with the stipulations in your primary rental agreement. Even if subtenants have liability insurance, final responsibility for damage caused by a subtenant rests on you, which means that you will have to do the pushing and shoving to make sure damages are repaired.
5. Don’t stay away forever
Most landlords will want to get a clear idea of how long you plan to sublet their property. Additionally, subletting laws stipulate that you cannot sublet a home on a permanent basis. However, because laws do not specify exact time frames for subleases, you get a lot of flexibility here. Basically, as long as your landlord is content with the subletting arrangement, you shouldn’t have any trouble here. Still, you should have a clear time frame in mind before you sublet.
6. Be prepared to offer a discount
Unless you are lucky enough to find a subtenant who desperately needs a home, you may have to offer a small discount on the rent which you pay in order to attract subtenants. This is especially true if your home has taken a beating during your tenancy. If you only plan to sublet for a short term (while on an extended vacation, for example), you may struggle to find subtenants who are willing to pay the going rate, unless you happen to benefit from an exceptionally low rent.
7. Give subtenants sufficient notice
Swiss rental laws grant subtenants many of the same rights enjoyed by tenants, including the right to a 3-month notice period. When you only rent a single furnished room, a 2-week notice period is required. If your subtenant chooses to terminate the subletting agreement, they are required to formally give sufficient notice by mail as with a regular rental agreement.
8. Be prepared for the worst
As the primary tenant, it is your responsibility to make sure that the rent is paid in keeping with your primary agreement. If your subtenants cannot or will not pay, you will still have to cover the rental payments.
Your landlord has the right to terminate your primary rental agreement at any time, either in the event of a breach of contract, or formally with sufficient notice, as laid out in your rental agreement. A subletting agreement is automatically overruled by a primary contract termination, and if for any reason your landlord decides to give you the boot, you will still be responsible to follow through on your subletting agreement. This will normally involve providing subtenants with financial compensation to make up for the part of the subletting period which they did not get to enjoy. Depending on the rent, that can be an expensive affair.
Another sticky situation can occur when your subtenant refuses to move out at the end of the sublease term. Subtenants have the right to contest the lease termination and request an extension if the eviction will put them or their family into a difficult situation with regards to housing. This can happen if the subtenant is badly off financially or cannot find another place to live. That right to request an extension could put you in an awkward situation if, for example, your subtenant refuses to move out ahead of your return from a long stay overseas.
9. Don’t be too light-handed
Make sure you understand that bad behavior on the part of subtenants puts your rental agreement with your landlord at risk. The landlord has the right to approach subtenants directly with complaints or notifications, but you are ultimately responsible for the overall conduct of your subtenants. Do not be afraid to terminate a subletting agreement if a subtenant fails to pay rent on time or abide by community guidelines (make sure to follow legal guidelines for notice periods).
10. Do Airbnb rentals count as subletting?
Unless every individual subletting agreement is reviewed and accepted by your landlord, the subletting of your home (in whole or in part) is illegal. Additionally, you are required to follow guidelines for termination notice periods (2-weeks’ notice for a furnished room). Most importantly, you are not allowed to make a profit, aside from the maximum furniture markup of 20% for a home which you have furnished yourself. If you plan to use home-sharing services like Airbnb to sublet your rental home, make sure that you follow these guidelines 100%. Any breach of subletting guidelines is illegal and can prove sufficient ground for an early eviction.