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Handovers: the tenant’s liability for damage.

Disputes often arise when a tenant vacates an apartment. If the landlord finds damage that the tenant refuses to pay, good advice doesn’t come cheap. Here are some tips from Helvetia about damage for which tenants are liable and how to avoid legal disputes.

9 September 2020, text: Hansjörg Ryser, photo: Depositphotos

Man stands on a ladder and paints a blue wall white.
Moving house again soon? Helvetia provides tips about the damage covered by tenants and how to avoid legal disputes.

In many Swiss cantons, the end of September is the official date for moving house. Crates are packed, apartments cleaned and keys handed over – and sights are set on a new home.

Crack in the washbasin – who pays?

What condition can tenants leave their apartments in? Do landlords have to put up with blue paint in children’s bedrooms, for example? And what if there’s a crack in the washbasin?
Tenants must restore a rented property to its original condition. So, any blue walls have to be repainted white. The situation is different with a cracked washbasin. As a general rule, the tenant has to pay for the repair. But, instead of the full repair cost, the tenant is liable only for the basin’s current value, which takes account of its age. If the basin is more than 35 years old, tenants pay no repair costs. The service life is also taken into account with other fittings, such as ovens and carpets. You will find further information on service lives on the Swiss Tenants Association (SMV).

Liability insurance for damage caused by tenants

Tenants can claim for damage they cause under their liability insurance. If the landlord’s claims are not justified, the insurer will reject them, also freeing the tenant from any liability to pay.
Tenants are not responsible for normal wear and tear, e.g. marks left on walls behind pictures and pressure marks from furniture on carpets. But repairing broken flush plates and toothbrush glasses is considered to be normal maintenance payable by the tenant.
Further disagreements can arise with heating bills or repayment of the security deposit. Legal expenses insurance can help here. And instead of paying a deposit in cash, you can take out rental guarantee insurance. The latter guarantees any repair costs are covered, but not by the insurer itself – instead, it demands reimbursement from the tenant.

A handover document provides clarity

Whether you are vacating an apartment or moving into a new one, it is advisable to sign a handover document – but only if you are in agreement with the document’s contents. In cases of doubt, you can ask a representative of the tenants association to witness the handover. Watch out for damage/defects when taking possession of an apartment. Photograph any damage and ensure it is recorded in the handover document.

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