Verbal rental agreement: what you need to know


Most rental agreements are concluded using a written contract. But there are also rental relationships that are based exclusively on a verbal agreement. Here’s what you need to be aware of when it comes to verbal rental agreements.

The Swiss Code of Obligations does not stipulate the form that rental contracts must take. This means they can also be concluded verbally – whether with a handshake or by phone.

Even such a basic statement as this is not strictly necessary as a rental agreement may also be agreed implicitly: for example, when tenants remain in an apartment even after the agreed tenancy duration has ended and continue to pay the rent. If the landlord doesn’t explicitly state that the rental relationship is ended, then the expired contract is ‘silently’ extended. By acting as they do, both parties conclusively demonstrate that the rental relationship is continuing.

Verbal rental agreement: what you need to know
A handshake is fine – but a written contract is better.

General conditions that apply to verbal rental agreements

When it comes to contracts, there is a long list of points to keep in mind if you want to avoid any nasty surprises later. This is also true when it comes to verbal contracts. Both parties must agree to the general conditions of the rental relationship. These include:

  • Description of rental property
    • Including description of any adjoining spaces, e.g. a garage or laundry room
  • Rental start date
  • Rental period (limited or unlimited)
  • Termination conditions
  • Net rent and service charges
  • Security deposits, e.g. rental deposit or security for rent
  • Special agreements

All aspects that are not explicitly discussed are subject to the provisions of the Swiss Code of Obligations (Art. 253-273(c)). This can have its advantages for the tenant: if payments for additional costs have not been agreed, for example, these must be covered by the landlord.

How do you terminate a verbal agreement?

As in the case of written rental contracts, the minimum notice period for terminating a verbal rental agreement is three months. Unless the parties have verbally agreed otherwise, the termination date is the next customary date in the relevant locality.

Termination, however, can’t just be verbal: for the termination to be legally valid, an official form approved by the canton must be used. As the tenant, you should note that even where the landlord has followed the correct termination procedure, a tenant can appeal to the local arbitration authority if the ending of the tenancy is likely to cause them significant difficulties. The tenant is also required by law to terminate a rental agreement in writing. Verbal termination is not legally binding.

Verbal rental agreement: what you need to know
Best all round: the good old written rental contract.

Advantages of a written rental contract

Yes, at first glance, a verbal agreement can seem easy and unbureaucratic. But this is only true until the first complication crops up. If a dispute arises, it can be difficult or impossible to prove that a clause has been agreed verbally. As a tenant, you should ensure that you have proof of any agreed arrangements to avoid such awkward situations. For example, you can have the key points of a verbally agreed contract confirmed in writing. Alternatively, you can bring a witness along to the negotiations.

Thus, in the event of a dispute, the agreed conditions can be proved to the arbitration authority or before a court. Of course, it is also possible that the witness will no longer remember all the details after a certain period of time and so will lose credibility.

To make sure you’re covered, it’s definitely advisable to have a written rental contract (or to confirm verbal contracts in writing).