Renovation work: rights, obligations and practical tips
Landlords who wish to carry out renovation or conversion work on a rental property are often faced with a variety of challenges. The planned work can not only disrupt tenants’ day-to-day lives, but also raise legal issues. We explain your rights and obligations.
Renovating a property requires a lot of planning and effort. As a landlord, it’s also essential that you are aware of and comply with the relevant legal factors. Our article will help you keep on top of things.
Definition of the term ‘rented property’
First of all, it is important to understand the terms. In the world of rental contracts, people often stumble upon the term ‘rented property’ or ‘property’. But what exactly does it refer to?
Under Swiss tenancy law, a rented property generally refers to the physical part of the property that landlords rent out to tenants. This could be an apartment, a house, a commercial unit, a garage or even a parking space. It includes all permanently installed elements such as floors, walls, ceilings, doors, windows, sanitary facilities and kitchen equipment.
In accordance with Article 253 para. 1 of the Swiss Code of Obligations, as the landlord, you must provide the rented property to your tenants in a fit condition for the intended use. You must also keep the property in this condition for the duration of the rental. This means that you are responsible for maintaining and repairing the rental property to ensure it is usable.
It is important to note that the rented property is not limited to the interior. Outdoor areas such as balconies, terraces or communal areas such as stairwells, entrance areas, laundry rooms and gardens may also be considered part of the rented property if they are clearly defined as such in the rental agreement.
You should be aware that you are not only responsible for repairing defects and damage that negatively impact the usability of the rented property, but also for keeping the property in good and habitable condition.
Distinction between ‘maintenance’ and ‘renewals and modifications’
An important distinction for landlords when it comes to renovations is between ‘maintenance’ and ‘renewals and modifications’. Both may be necessary to maintain the quality and appeal of your rental property, but they have different effects on your obligations and rights and those of your tenants.
Maintenance refers to tasks that must be performed in order to maintain the condition of the property and eliminate defects. As a landlord, pursuant to Article 256 of the Swiss Code of Obligations (CO), you are obliged to keep your rental properties in such a condition that they are fit for the intended use. For this reason, you must also fix any defects that could affect this use. These tasks may include repairs, maintenance and minor upgrades. The following items, for example, fall into this category:
- Repairing the banister
- Replacing a broken fridge
- Repairing the joints in the bathroom
Renewals and modifications, on the other hand, are tasks that go beyond normal maintenance. They serve to improve the property, increase living comfort or increase its market value. As a rule, this work is not mandatory, but is at the landlord’s discretion. It may include changes to the structure of the building, major upgrades or the installation of new facilities, such as:
- Installing a laundry tower in the apartment
- Extending the balcony
- Fully renovating the bathroom
While maintenance work often has no impact on rent, renewals and modifications pursuant to Article 269a para. 1 CO may be used as justification for a rent increase if they represent a long-term benefit for tenants and contribute to improving living conditions.
However, it is important to inform tenants at an early stage (ideally three months in advance) of planned renovations and modifications and to obtain their consent, particularly if the measures could lead to significant disruption. Tenants have the right to object to a rent increase due to renewals and modifications within 30 days of notification.
Reasonableness of work for the tenant
Tenancy law provides for a variety of scenarios in which landlords need or want to carry out structural changes or renovation work. Although this work is often necessary, it can have a significant impact on the tenant. But when is this type of work considered reasonable?
This depends on a number of factors that need to be assessed individually. Swiss tenancy law defines certain conditions and criteria that must be taken into account in order to determine the reasonableness of the work for the lessee. According to Article 259 para. 2 CO, during the term of the lease, you as the landlord may only carry out work that is reasonable for the tenant.
The duration and intensity of the work are particularly important factors. Minor repairs that are completed within one day and only cause minimal disruption to the tenant are generally deemed reasonable. However, lengthy and disruptive work that lasts for weeks or months may be unreasonable, particularly if it significantly restricts use of the rented property or has a negative impact on tenants. Here are a few examples:
The following are reasonable:
- Short-term repairs in the bathroom or kitchen that only take a few hours.
- Painting in the communal areas of the building, carried out during regular working hours.
- Regular maintenance work on heating and ventilation systems which is announced in advance and does not take the whole day.
The following are unreasonable:
- Extensive renovation work that makes it impossible to use the entire apartment for an extended period of time.
- Unannounced work or work announced at short notice that disrupts tenants in their free time or working from home.
- Work that blocks access to important facilities such as bathrooms or kitchens for several days.
As already mentioned, it is important to inform the tenant at an early stage of the nature, scope and expected duration of the work. As a landlord, you should also grant an appropriate rent reduction if necessary.
Determining whether work is reasonable for the tenant is complex and requires careful consideration of individual circumstances. If you have any questions, we recommend that you contact an expert or advisory body.
Possible accompanying measures
There are a number of measures that can help minimise the impact of renovation work.
For example, you can set up quiet periods. In other words, certain times during which no work is carried out in order to give the tenant a break from noise and disruption. You can coordinate these quiet periods individually with tenants to meet their needs and schedules.
Another option is to offer temporary alternatives if certain areas of the property cannot be used due to the work. For example, you could provide a replacement workplace if the tenant’s main work area is affected, or you could offer alternative parking options if the car park is being renovated.
Good communication is crucial. Keep the tenant regularly informed about the progress of the work and give them the opportunity to ask questions or express concerns. In many cases, problems and misunderstandings can be avoided if tenants feel that their needs are being taken into account and that they are part of the process.
Tenants’ financial claims
Tenants have the right to a rent reduction if use of the rental property is significantly affected by renovation work. This may be the case, for example, if certain rooms or amenities, such as the kitchen or bathroom, cannot be used or can only be used to a limited extent during the work. The amount of the rent reduction depends on the severity and duration of the negative impact and should be proportional to the restricted usability of the rental space.
In addition to a rent reduction, tenants can also claim compensation for damages under certain circumstances. For example, if they were forced to look for alternative accommodation as a result of the work and incurred additional costs. Any damage to the tenant’s personal property caused by the work could also be the subject of a claim for compensation.
However, there is no automatic entitlement to a rent reduction or compensation. It depends on the exact circumstances of the individual case and should ideally be assessed with the help of a legal expert.
Recommendations and conclusion
In summary, we have compiled a few recommendations for landlords on the subject of renovation work:
- Open communication: Inform your tenants of the work you have planned at an early stage and in a transparent way. Explain the reasons for the measures, their scope and expected duration.
- Consider the needs of the tenant: Plan work so that it causes as little disruption as possible. Use quiet periods, for example, and make efforts to carry out work outside of the main hours of use of the property.
- Fairness and respect: Observe the rights of tenants and treat them fairly. If the work causes significant negative impact, consider an appropriate rent reduction and provide alternatives if necessary.
- Legal assistance: If anything is unclear, always consult legal advice to ensure that you are handling the legal aspects correctly.
- Quality work: Make sure that the work carried out is of high quality to avoid future disruption and increase the value of the property.
Ultimately, as a landlord, you should always strive to find a balance between the need to preserve and improve your property and the need to respect the rights and well-being of your tenants. With good planning, open communication and respect for all parties, the execution of renovation and conversion work can become a win-win situation for everyone involved.