In everyday life there are faults and questions concerning „apartment renovation,“ a perennial favorite. But legally, the landlord must only fix actual, technical defects; there is no right to renovation and improvement. Everything else is a popular mistake.
With the keyword „apartment renovation,“ tenants often cannot stop enumerating everything that could contribute to real beautification! Especially for old buildings, the wish lists are long: perhaps fresh color, i.e. new paint in the corridor, living room and children’s room, new floors or even a kitchen and bathroom renovation. Tenant Sophia S. in B., for example, asks: “I let the manager come and requested the rooms to be repainted. The last time a painter repainted the apartment was in 1998.” Another tenant also confronted the manager and expressed himself impatiently: “In the kitchen and bathroom nothing has been renovated for 30 years – as a tenant, don’t I also have rights?” In both cases, the tenants were also prepared to pay a little more – the main thing, there is finally someone who peps up parts of the building with fresh paint and installs modern kitchen appliances.
Apartment renovation: What applies?
In terms of tenancy, the facts are more complex than many believe. Ruedi Spöndlin, lawyer at the Swiss Tenants Association (MV), says: “There is no right to renovation. Tenants take over the apartment as seen.” If at the time the contract was signed the apartment was not equipped with a glass ceramic stove, you cannot complain afterwards about it being a defect. And in some older homes, a dishwasher is still not a compulsory comfort that can be demanded. Thomas Oberle, lawyer at the House Owners Association Switzerland (HEV), also says: “The apartment must first and foremost be fit for purpose.”
An older cooker with conventional electric cooking plates does not have to be replaced with modern glass ceramic. “At least as long as the stove tops are still working,” says lawyer Thomas Oberle. Even an old carpet does not have to make place for a new one – if its bad condition is not exactly a risk of accidents. It’s the same with wall paints: If the paintwork is worn out from normal use, a painter does not necessarily have to come. Unless there really is a defect. This is the case when the paint is in poor condition due to heavy smoking in the apartment. Or when an old wallpaper peels off.
And if the painting is 20 years old?
However, tenants can claim only what really can be assessed as a defect in the technical and legal sense. In other words, even after 20 or 30 years, tenants are not necessarily entitled to a new coat of paint if the previous wall covering is still in an acceptable condition.
But when is an apartment still “fit for use” and when is it not? This must always be interpreted in a concrete individual case. An average tenant will probably assume that the apartment is heated in the winter, offers cooking facilities, has electricity, water and Internet/telephone connection etc. available. But further features, such as are standard in new housing, for example, cannot necessarily be presumed. In old buildings, a tenant also cannot assume the building meets high standards in sound insulation. In renovations and new buildings, however, certain norms and building standards must be observed; such as minimum SIA requirements for sound insulation or Noise Abatement Ordinance guidelines.
A popular mistake
That‘s the legal perspective on the topic of “apartment renovation.” However, in practice there is the popular misconception that, for example, after eight years the current-day tenant can demand a new coat of paint on the walls. “Especially in wall and floor coverings or painting work, there are often such misinterpretations of the law,” emphasizes lawyer Thomas Oberle. Even in the case of parquet or carpets, tenants today expect a renewal or replacement of older carpets at shorter intervals. However, due to the fact that a surface treatment of parquet or certain types of veneer flooring exhibit a ten-year life, a claim for renewal (i.e., ground and resealed) cannot be inferred every 10 years.
Rented apartment renovation: The life-cycle table
It is obvious, however, where these mistakes come from: There is a life-cycle table of components published jointly by the homeowner and tenant association. In this document, for example, both sides have agreed that a wall coating already will have reached its end-of-life after eight years (e.g. normal dispersion). The life-cycle table has a different purpose. Above all, it serves to determine the time value of components. For example, if it is necessary to to replace the floor covering due to excessive wear or if the wall painting needs to be renewed when the tenant moves out, the tenant must pay part of the cost. If the life cycle has reached 10 percent, the tenant must assume 90 percent. But if the usual life is exceeded, the repair is completely at the landlord’s expense. Furthermore, the life-cycle table plays a role if the allowable rent increase is to be determined for renovations.
Tips for the practice
Even if there is no legal right to renovations in the legal sense, tenants have some options open. “The readiness of the manager to carry out certain renovations or painting work will certainly depend on the amount of rent,” says Thomas Oberle from HEV. With rental apartments that are far above average and expensive, the tenant is often in a better negotiating position. “In principle, a tenant can take the position that he only signs the contract if certain renovations are warranted,” says Oberle. Of course, to be able to prove and enforce such an arrangement requires a written agreement – ideally right in the rental agreement.
- Assurances: Already on the day of the visit you should have this in mind and explore the scope of negotiation. Be careful if there are only vague statements or mere verbal assurances of the landlord. In case of dispute, these are of course not provable and enforceable.
• Do-it-yourselfers: It is also conceivable that the tenant take on some improvements himself and, for example, renews the wall paintings; whoever wants to can also indulge the desire to do some home improvement. However, it requires prior written consent, even with simple painting work.
What is lack and what small maintenance?
When it comes to the subject of “apartment rental,” it is worth mentioning what tenants basically have a claim for: repairs and maintenance. Thus, if the oven or the refrigerator does not bring the necessary performance, the landlord must take care of replacing or correcting the defects (at his expense). Other examples of defects are paints or wallpapers that loosen from or or peel off the wall or a broken intercom. In order to request a repair or rectification of the defect, the renter must notify the landlord of the defect – ideally in writing and by registered post. For laymen, however, it is not so easy in practice to distinguish the difference between deficiencies in the technical-legal sense and optional “cosmetic repairs”; here it can be worthwhile to get competent advice.
If the parties cannnot agree, the case can be brought before the arbitration board. To be treated separately are small defects the tenant has to fix and pay for himself: such as defective fuses and light bulbs, a defective shower hose, gaskets or tooth glasses. This so-called “small maintenance” is the tenant’s responsibility; in the tenant association’s opinion, only minor repairs and improvements are necessary, for which you do not need to hire experts. Often it is also mentioned as a rule of thumb that the “small maintenance” may cost in individual cases at most 150 francs. Somewhat different is the interpretation of the homeowners association (HEV): What matters is what is in the contract. Most regional contracts define what “small maintenance” includes. Therefore, depending on the region, a slightly different practice applies, for how to repair or clean.
All details about the life-cycle table: