A ‘Respectful’ Scheme

This piece is a continuation of the Part 1 — Once Upon A Time I Moved to Geneva…

As we have learnt from our Swiss friends, in Geneva, when in trouble inflicted by one’s landlord one goes to ASLOCA, a non-for-profit organisation that was established in 1942 in order to protect tenants’ rights and represent their interests.

Back in 2017, when we appealed to this organisation with our own dilemma concerning the reduction of the rent due to the CEVA construction works in front of the building on Plateau de Champel where we lived, the ASLOCA website and all the information on it was in French. Rather inconvenient, considering that 40% of the residents in Geneva are foreign nationals working for international corporations. Nonetheless, nowadays, thanks to Google automatic translation the information on ASLOCA website can be easily accessible in any language to anyone.

Our meeting with an ASLOCA representative brought light not only on the rental discounts, but helped to piece together a puzzle of our own rental contract and clearly see the ‘scheme’ that the real-estate agency, Bory & Sie Regie, supposedly with the approval of the landlord, Henri-Louis Maunoir, applied in our case.

Based on the information collected, and the evaluation of the actions of the real-estate agency, it appeared that in order to not lose any profit but increase it during the CEVA metro construction years, the following scheme had been applied. At least, we believe it was true in our case.

The real-estate agency shows a desired apartment, agrees on its rental and when the rental contract is signed starts renovation of a kitchen or a bathroom. The renovation is a quick and not too expensive one, but good enough to justify the ‘original’ higher price. To conceal the rental increase resulting from the renovation a discount of 15% due to the CEVA construction works is offered on the increased price, but just for the first two years. And here is comes the catch. The overall increase in price is higher than the discount of 15% and therefore the landlord doe snot lose anything but instead gains.

Furthermore, in Geneva, the rental contracts are normally drawn for five years and can be exited by the tenant once a year with a three months notice. Thus, the hope is always that a new tenant will stay longer than two years, paying the increased price for the rest of the contract.

If, after two years, the tenant would move out, then the real-estate agency would find a new tenant with the same conditions. In this way, the landlord does not lose anything at all, nor can be blamed for not giving the discount due to the construction works.

Those expatriates who have dealt with Genevan real-estate agencies and landlords know that this scheme is not an uncommon thing. It can vary in complexity, form, and execution but the principle is the same — to bypass certain inflexibility of the rental laws.

In our case, the scheme seems to have served to avoid lowering the rent due to the construction works, and therefore keeping the profit at the same level as before the construction works started.

The only way to know if any scheming has been applied is to see how much the previous tenant used to pay and compare that price with the one paid by a new tenant. But if one does not know about the intricacies of the scheming, one is unlikely to spot the problem.

The challenging bit in our case was that the CEVA construction works were huge but nonetheless difficult to assess from the disturbance point of view before living through it. Thus, the discount price of 15% can be regarded as a nominal one and not the one that reflects the reality of the disturbance to come.

As we had got acquainted with our neighbours, we were able to ask them about their experience living through the CEVA construction works and whether they received any discounts on their rents. As it turned out, the long-staying residents did not get any discount, and the newcomers, mostly expatriates, had got similar to our rental contracts. Some of the tenants got an additional clause included that stipulated that they cannot complain about the disturbance created by the CEVA construction works or appeal to any discounts due to that.

If Genevans who are fluent in French, stay unaware of their rights, then expatriates who know neither the Swiss rental laws nor speak French are even the easiest target for all sort of manipulations, especially so when it comes to rentals.

One of the problems is that until recently most of the international giants and corporations that bring expatriates to different locales around the globe, Geneva, Switzerland included, would not make a fuss over one thousand or so Swiss francs or euros more in rent per month. For, it is just a drop in the ocean of international corporations’ expenses.

Another one is that once one becomes a tenant one is not able to get out of the rental contract whenever one wishes without paying for the remaining months. An expense that very few, if any at all, can afford. However, even if one can afford it, one would not want the hustle of looking for another apartment right after one has moved into the current one.

However, there is a little ‘exit’ door in this complex rental schemes, provided by the Swiss law itself. A tenant can press charges if he/she is unhappy with the rent or has any complains against the landlord, but within the first thirty days of singing the rental contract and receiving the disclosure of the previous tenant’s rental sum. Unfortunately, very few expatriates are aware of this or have time and energy to look into.

Moving countries is not the same as moving from just around the corner. It is challenging and stressful. One obviously wants it to go smoothly with least problems. Lucky are the ones whose smooth move is paid for by international companies. But in our case, we paid for it out of our own pockets, which makes all the difference.

A thousand Swiss francs more on the monthly rent is a big deal for us. Especially so that we also have to put up with the construction works. While corporate expatriates could go to their offices during the day, therefore reducing the nuisance of living next to the construction site, we worked from home and had nowhere to escape from the noise, the dust, and the ugly view.

Talking to an ASLOCA lawyer aided us in finding out that although it would have been much easier to take the landlord to court right after the discovery of the unfair rent raise, there was something we could still do in regards to this matter. The ASLOCA lawyer did some checking and discovered that the landlord in a rush to do the renovation of the kitchen did not apply for the permission to do so. The usual procedure for renovations in all listed buildings of which the building on Plateau de Champel is. In Geneva, alterations and renovations are approved by the Architectural Bureau — Office cantonal du lodgement et de la planification fonciere

The ASLOCA lawyer got in touch with the Architectural Bureau and a visit of their representative to our flat was arranged. In October 2017, the Architectural Bureau representative came to inspect the flat, took pictures, did some sketches, and… disappeared.

The enquiries and emails were sent to the Bureau but with no avail. Finally, the ASLOCA lawyer got a reply that neither her nor us are entitled to be informed about the decision on the subject in question, for we are not the interested or directly affected by the decision parties.

The file containing documents regarding the renovation of the apartment on Plateau de Champel 20 and the decision, if such was made on the case at all, had become inaccessible.

Throughout 2018 the ASLOCA lawyers unsuccessfully tried to gain access to the file and prompt the Architectural Bureau to disclose the information. The file remained ‘locked’.

Eventually, ASLOCA had to appeal to the Tribunal and ask it to order the Office cantonal du lodgement et de la planification fonciere to disclose the information contained in the file, which was done. Finally, ASLOCA lawyers could gain access to the withheld information and the case was filed against the unlawful increase of the rent due to unapproved renovation of the kitchen. However, in December 2018, the Architectural Bureau asked the landlord to supply a back-dated application for the missing permission — a four-years-old belated ‘correction’.

Another year of writing backwards and forwards between ASLOCA, the Architectural Bureau, the Tribunal administrative de premiere instance — Constructions, and the landlord had gone by.

Eventually, the Tribunal administrative de premiere instance — Constructions pulled out a decision that since the landlord applied four years later for the permission to renovate, the subject is closed.

In June 2020, as a response to the Tribunal’s decision, ASLOCA filed an appeal with the Court of Justice. In December 2020, the Court of Justice overruled the decision made by the Tribunal and asked for proper investigation to be done. As of today, the outcome of that is still to be seen.

Part 3 — The Client is Always Right… Or is He?

Part 1 — Once Upon A Time I Moved to Geneva…

Special post scriptum based on the recent event of trying by the interested in concealing the information and mentioned in this and two other articles parties to put pressure on me to remove the publications.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The right to freedom of expression is recognised as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and recognised in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the UDHR states that ‘everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference’ and ‘everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice’.

Seraphima Bogomolova

Personal stories and investigations

Articles based on personal experiences and investigations

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