Swiss Review 4/2022

ever, landlords letting new properties have considerable power. This creates a two-track system, whereby rents are much higher on the market than they are for existing leases. If you live in the same apartment for a long time, you pay less than someone would if they were starting to rent that property for the first time. Hypothesis no. 8: The balance between landlords and tenants is fair or unfair, depending on your perspective Landlord and tenant rights in Switzerland represent a good compromise, according to the economically liberal think tank Avenir Suisse: “Regulation of the Swiss rental housing market is quite modest, meaning that good-­ quality accommodation is always available to rent.” This is the main reason why Switzerland has a high proportion of tenants, it says, adding that rental properties in other countries are squeezed out of the market by excessive regulation. Natalie Imboden of the MV disagrees: “The rental market isn’t working in urban areas, where most people live.” Tenants need more protection from landlords cashing in without doing the actual work of a landlord. Not so, says the HEV managing director and SVP Cantonal Councillor for Basel-Landschaft, Markus Meier. “Our members are unable to build enough housing in urban areas, which is a bad situation for point: “Tenants dream of buying because they no longer want to live with the risk of being kicked out of their accommodation one day.” On the other hand, it would be wrong to imagine that the MV has its work cut out compared to the HEV, given that the latter has also failed with all of its popular initiatives. Nevertheless, both organisations still carry a lot of referendum clout and are very well placed to torpedo any proposals that they dislike. Basically, they are good at blocking legislation but not so good at pushing through their own ideas. It is a permanent tug of war between the two camps. Hypothesis no. 7: Switzerland has a two-track renting system Tenancy agreements in Switzerland tend to drill down to the minutest detail – such as stipulating the apartment heating temperature (20 degrees) or how much money tenants have to pay for repairs themselves (up to 150 Swiss francs). And the principle of cost-covering rent applies, i.e. rising costs can be the only justification for rent increases. But the market also has a big role to play beyond the landlord-tenant relationship, especially when it comes to new lets. First of all, it is fair to say that the protections in place for tenants are quite good. Landlords can still terminate tenancy agreements if they wish, but legal safeguards mean that affected tenants usually have a good chance of having their stay extended – sometimes for several years. Howthem too.” The protections that the MV wants are excessive and will only squeeze the rental market further, in his view. Hypothesis no. 9: Tenants shy away from clashing with their landlords There is a huge amount of money at stake in the landlord-tenant dynamic. According to an MV-commissioned study, tenants have paid 78 billion francs too much in rent over the past 15 years. By law, the cost of renting in Switzerland is linked to mortgage rates. Interest has fallen since 2008, but rents have continued to rise. This study is nothing but a red herring, the HEV retorts, because it fails to take increased running costs and investment into account. The MV begs to differ. What is undeniable is that many tenants opt out of asking for a lower rent, despite the law working in their favour. Why? According to the MV, many are afraid of rocking the boat and clashing with their landlord. But Markus Meier of the homeowners' association believes that the tenantlandlord relationship is not as bad as the tenants' association makes out. He cites a federal government survey, which says that 63 per cent of the population are “fairly happy” or “very happy” with current tenancy law. With mortgage rates rising again, the ball is now in the court of landlords. Property owners will soon be able to increase rents on the basis of these higher rates. Will they also exercise restraint to avoid upsetting tenants? The go-to literary reference work for a better understanding of the Helvetic soul also addresses life as a tenant. “Der Waschküchenschlüssel (oder was, wenn Gott Schweizer wäre)” is the work of author Hugo Loetscher and was published in 1988. Available in German. Swiss Review / August 2022 / No.4 7