Utility bills: do I have to pay extra?
Every year, utility bills flutter through letterboxes, causing consternation left, right and centre. In this article, we reveal how tenants can check whether their utility bill is correct and whether it is legal for landlords to request additional payments.
Utility bill payments on account or as a lump sum
Landlords can settle utility costs either on account or as a lump sum.
- Payment on account: Tenants pay a fixed amount every month. At the end of the year, landlords prepare a detailed statement of all utility costs, as per the rental agreement. If the actual costs are not covered by the amounts paid on account, tenants must make an additional payment. If too much has been paid on account, the difference will be refunded.
- Lump sum payment: Tenants can agree on a lump sum payment with the landlord, whereby the average heating and utility costs over the last three years are used as the basic amount. If they do things this way, there’s no need for an annual utility statement and the landlord cannot demand any additional payments.
Checking a utility bill
Tenants only have to pay utility costs if they are explicitly mentioned in the lease agreement. Items named ‘Other expenses’ or ‘Running costs’, for example, are not permitted. You can find more information on this in our article about utility costs.
If there are several households living in one building, landlords must split the utility costs between the individual households using a system of apportionment.
Our tip: Keep your utility bill from the previous year and compare it with the latest one. That way, you’ll spot immediately if new costs are added or if the figures (e.g. heating costs) differ significantly from last year’s.
There is no time limit for billing for utility costs in Switzerland. Nevertheless, there is an unwritten rule that the bill should be issued to the tenant within six months of the end of the respective period. In most cases, the lease agreement sets out any deadlines for settling bills. However, this is only a regulatory provision; as a tenant, you must honour any extra payments required, even if the bill is issued late. In the cantons of St. Gallen, Bern and Lucerne, some lease agreements include forfeiture clauses, in which case extra payments do not have to be made if the deadline for issuing the bill is exceeded.
As a tenant, you have the right to receive a detailed utility bill. The landlord is obliged to send a bill that meets the legal requirements. Receipts for specific costs must also be provided if requested by tenants, although a fee may be charged for sending out such documents. If a dispute arises, landlords must prove that their billing is correct.
Contesting incorrect utility bills
If the utility bill is unclear, incomplete or even incorrect, tenants have the right to check the information against the receipts.
Tenants can then request an amendment if the utility bill is incorrect. Tenants must list any items with which they do not agree when they submit their claim. There is no statutory objection period for landlords.
If the landlord does not respond to the request, the bill can be contested via the arbitration authority.
Introducing new utility costs
Landlords have the option of charging tenants for new utility costs that were previously included in the overall rent. However, they can only do this if they meet the following conditions:
- The landlords use an officially approved form
- The increase was announced on expiry of the notice period
- The increase is initiated ten days before the start of the notice period
- The new utility costs are properly specified
- The landlord indicates whether the rise is to be billed as a lump sum or as a payment on account
- The net rent is reduced by the amount that is now being separately billed for utility costs. The total rent does not change, but in future utility costs will be calculated based on actual expenditure.
- Reasons have been provided as to why utility costs will be settled separately in future
However, if existing costs are not listed as utility costs, these are considered to be included in the net rent.