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Property Legal Issues

Switzerland - Property Legal Issues

Swiss property purchasing laws at time of writing come under a piece of legislation called Lex Koller (formerly Lex Friedrich). This regulates who may buy property and how many properties may be sold annually to non-Swiss citizens. The law was to have been abolished in 2010 but has been kept in place until strict planning regulations can be put in place at cantonal level. Therefore, please check for the most up-to-date information on property legislation with the relevant canton authorities. The rules on property purchase under Lex Koller have been outlined below.

Citizens of EU and EFTA states have the right to buy property for any legal residential or commercial purpose in Switzerland under the Freedom of Movement agreement between Switzerland and the EU. You must however be resident in Switzerland under a residence permit and not have your ordinary home elsewhere. If you do not satisfy these criteria, you are classed as a non-resident and would only be able to buy a property for commercial purposes without applying for a licence. For L and B permit holders there are also restrictions on the maximum size of the property you can buy without a licence, with a limit of 200 m2 per family. For nationals of countries outside the EU/EFTA, a residence permit C is required to buy property without restriction.

In all other cases, property purchase will be limited to a holiday/vacation home or to a second home. A vacation home may only be purchased in specified tourist areas of Switzerland and is subject to quotas and to maximum living area and plot size limits. Further regulations restrict the use of purchased vacation homes by non-residents, with no single stay permitted beyond 3 months and no total visit of greater than 6 months permitted during a year. Nor can you rent out your property with a full year's lease if a vacation home. In the past there has also been an obligation to sell the property if it remains unoccupied for 2 years (if this is likely to apply, please check current rules with your canton). If on the other hand your property in Switzerland is a second home, you will need to request authorisation and, if granted, will have a possible 14 cantons in which you may buy property.

You may sell your property without restriction, provided your buyer also meets the property purchasing criteria in force at time of sale. The exception to this rule is the non-resident buyer of a vacation home who may have a minimum number of years before the property can be sold. In Valais there is a 5 year (pre November 2007 purchases) and 10 year (post November 2007) period before which a property can be sold, in Ticino there will be a wait of 3-5 years before you may place a property on the market. Historically, Geneva and the canton of Vaud also had restrictions but these are no longer in place as of 2011.

You can use a company who will assist you with your property purchase for a fee, and will also bill you for notary costs, or you can buy direct from the owner or off-plan. If not using the services of a company, you will still need to use the services of a notary who will take care of the legal requirements.

There are a few potential pitfalls to look out for. When buying a property, you can find yourself liable for the seller's capital gains tax if this has not been fully settled, but your notary will be able to advise on options to prevent this. If buying land on which to build, you need to first establish that it is classed as residential land and not agricultural, or you will not obtain planning permission. An architect should be consulted before attempting to alter or renovate a historic building to ensure planning regulations are properly observed. These will be regulated by the Planning Office (Bauamt) of the commune in which the building is located. Expats have warned that it can be difficult to obtain permission to renovate a historic builiding and will involve a great deal of paperwork.

Useful Resources

European Nationals in Switzerland: Information on the Free Movement of Persons
PDF guide available from www.ch.ch/schweiz/

Read more about this country

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