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Coping with cleanliness

The dreaded Swiss apartment handover

Cleaning a Swiss apartment involves a lot more than sweeping the floors (Keystone)

Cleaning a Swiss apartment involves a lot more than sweeping the floors


Giving back a Swiss apartment after a move is a rite of passage, in particular for foreigners and first-timers. The level of cleaning required and the attention to detail can come as a surprise. Even to the Swiss.

“A famous place where the landlord would inspect was the water container above the toilet. They would lift the top and see if the scale had been cleaned out,” Thomas Köppel tells swissinfo.ch, recalling the handovers of his student years about 25 years ago.

Little has changed. On the last day of August four women stand in the tiny, empty kitchen of a Swiss flat in Bern. The former tenants are handing over to the new one. The representative of the firm that manages the property goes through the place with a checklist, inspecting one item at a time.

Taps. Lights. Doors. Window blinds. Cooker burners. Extractor fan. Toilet. Functional? The glass door of the oven, the chrome in the bathroom, the windows and shutters. Clean? Are keys to any of the doors missing? Are the parquet floors scratched? Have the holes left in the walls by pictures been filled in? Countless items are evaluated, tested, and recorded.

How clean does a flat need to be? “If somebody rents an apartment, he shouldn’t need to clean it before he moves in,” says Geneva-based François Enzler of Packimpex, a relocation company with nine branches in Switzerland.

Angelina Roth, 21, and Sabrina Meister, 23, spent five hours cleaning a three-and-a-half room apartment they shared for 18 months. They got help from a friend, a sister, a father, and both of their mothers – all Swiss. It was their first handover, and there were no guidelines. “We had the feeling it was clean,” says Roth, “but we weren’t sure if our idea of clean was the same as the landlord’s.” Their flat passed inspection, and the landlord gave them helpful tips for the next time. The feeling afterward was one of “relief”, says Meister.

Patricia Hubacherof  v. Fischer, a Bern property management firm, says her company provides tenants with a checklist for what needs to be cleaned after they give notice. “We do it out of goodwill, and also because it makes our jobs easier,” she says. “Many renters have absolutely no idea what needs to be cleaned. It’s a help for them and saves us a bit of time.”

Hiring a professional

Many people moving – particularly those on limited budgets – clean their own apartments. Others pay often substantial sums to professional cleaning firms.

Claudia Acklin, owner of an apartment in Zurich, recalls one tenant who failed to clean the apartment before leaving. He was a German citizen working as a chief financial officer for a Swiss company. “Maybe he just didn’t know what was expected,” she says. “I complained and he hired a cleaning company to do it.”

Taps have to be decalcified. Filters have to be changed. Carpets should be shampooed. “We definitely recommend using a professional cleaning company,” says Enzler of Packimpex. “Some transferees say, ‘No, I have a cleaning lady,’ but the standard cleaning lady who comes in every week to do the ironing and clean the bathrooms doesn’t really go all the way.”

Basel-based Bausch Immo-Clean cleans four to six apartments per month. On average, the firm spends 20 hours on a three-and-a-half room apartment. The price starts at SFr800. Some contracts for apartments in Basel, however, specify that a flat can be given back with a reduced level of cleaning, termed “Besenrein” (see sidebar). For these apartments, the renter is automatically charged a set cleaning fee listed in the contract.

Meeting Swiss standards

The Swiss Tenants' Association cautions that “not all cleaning companies work with the same level of care.” Renters should always obtain a written offer with a fixed price, payable upon successful handover of the apartment. If the firm doesn’t clean well enough it is the renter’s responsibility, not the landlord’s.

When American Keith Alverson and his family left Switzerland to move to Paris they hired a cleaning company they found in the telephone book. “It turns out they were a bunch of entrepreneurial eastern Europeans in a beat-up old van.”

Regardless of who cleans an apartment, sometimes it just isn’t clean. Often, new renters aren’t confident enough to object. Zoé Rochat remembers moving into her apartment in Biel’s old town. “I had to do everything better myself to be able to live in it and feel at home,” she says. “Especially the bathroom was dirty. Behind the cupboard I found a lot of dust, soap, and a comb full of hair.”

Hanna-Maria Girrbach, a German citizen who has lived in eight apartments during her 26 years in Switzerland, has plenty of handover experience. In 2011 she found a new apartment, packed all her belongings, and moved – all in a period of five days. On the sixth day she and two men from a Swiss moving company spent six hours together cleaning her old three-room apartment.

It wasn’t the lack of time that drove Girrbach to hire a cleaning company, though; it was the high standards of the company supervising the handover. Although the cleaning firm recommended by her landlady charged more than SFr1,000 to help Girrbach clean her apartment, she thought it was worth the money. “The apartment was first-class clean afterward,” she says. And the owner was “satisfied with everything.”

Swept clean vs. really clean

Besenrein—literally, “swept clean”—is the German term for a reduced standard of cleanliness required at a handover. According to the Swiss Association of Real Estate Management (SVIT), this includes: cleaning the kitchen, bathroom and toilet with normal household cleaning products; mopping floors and vacuuming carpets; emptying cabinets and closets and wiping them down; defrosting and cleaning the refrigerator and freezer; mopping the basement, attic, and garage. The cost of cleaning everything else is covered by a  flat rate fixed in the rental contract.

Grundreinigung—thorough cleaning—includes much, much more, ranging from tiles, chrome, and air vents in the bathroom to door and window frames, window panes, blinds and shutters to shampooed carpets to specially treating the parquet floors.




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