Swiss Review 4/2022

5 SIMON THÖNEN Anyone who returns to live in Switzerland or moves to the country for the first time will most probably start renting accommodation in an apartment building. This is because Switzerland is a country of tenants. A clear majority of the resident population, 58 per cent, rent their homes. Such a high percentage is unusual. Homeowners account for the majority everywhere else in Europe (Germany has the thinnest majority, at just over 50 per cent). The proportion of homeowners in Europe is routinely around two thirds or more. This certainly makes Switzerland a special case. But although our country normally revels in exceptionalism, such a high proportion of tenants is not necessarily something of which it is proud. On the contrary, the media normally like to moan that so few live in their own home. “The dream of home ownership is an illusion for most people in Switzerland” was the headline of a recent article about rising house prices in the free daily newspaper “20 Minuten”. And the dream is not simply to own a flat, but “a house with a garden”. But if the majority of Swiss live in rented accommodation, mostly apartments, is this really a problem? And how does it affect our everyday lives, the economy, politics, and the environment? Based on studies and what the experts and stakeholders say, there are various aspects to consider. These are not always what we would expect. In this article, we consider nine hypotheses. turn down their radiators because of the Ukraine war and higher energy prices is that heating consumption in older apartment buildings is often not measured or calculated individually. Instead, heating costs are invoiced equally among all the tenants. If you are frugal with your heating, you end up picking up the tab for your wasteful neighbours. Whether a higher home ownership rate would simplify Switzerland’s switch from nuclear and fossil fuels is another matter altogether. And ultimately one for referendums to decide. Homeowners tend to be against tougher rules, while tenants are more in favour. Hypothesis no. 3: A high proportion of tenants is a sign of prosperity You would think that people in rich countries are more likely to afford home ownership. But precisely the opposite seems to be the case. Lesswell-off countries have a higher proportion of homeowners. The statistics bear this out. In Albania and Romania, the home ownership rate is the highest in Europe at over 96 per cent. It is also very high in Portugal, Spain and Greece, at around three quarters. What do we learn from this? That people’s own four walls are more important for financial security in countries with shakier economies. s a country of tenants Hypothesis no. 1: A high proportion of tenants helps to combat urban sprawl According to architect and local Green politician from Biel, Benedikt Loderer, a high proportion of tenants is not a bad thing at all. “Rental developments tend to be high density. This counteracts urban expansion,” he says. Loderer is a fierce critic of the extensive detached-housing developments often seen in Switzerland’s Central Plateau region. “If Switzerland’s entire eight-and-a-half- million population lived in detached houses, we would have no countryside left.” The dream of owning bricks and mortar on a patch of green land is an illusion anyway, he adds. “We know that most homeowners are not really homeowners at all. Their houses effectively belong to the banks issuing the mortgages.” Hypothesis no. 2: It is harder for tenants to do their bit for the environment The landlord alone decides how a tenant’s apartment is heated and how well it is insulated. And the problem with politicians asking tenants to Swiss Review / August 2022 / No.4