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Old 08.09.2011, 09:59
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Increase in Utilities Charges

I moved to Zürich in Jan 2010 and after a few months in a serviced apartment while getting a feel for the city, I chose a 4.5 in Seefeld. The lease is between the landlord and my employer (employer's policy) and the commencement data was August 1, 2010. In addition to the lease amount, there is a monthly charge of CHF 350 for building maintenance, heating, water and electricity. All good so far.

About two weeks ago, my employer received a letter from the managing agent giving an accounting of the expenses and outgoings paid by the landlord from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011. The total amount has been allocated to the 3 apartments in the building based on size. It turns out that the CHF 350 per month is just an "advance" against the landlord's actual expenses and that the tenants are responsible for making up any shortfall (or receiving a refund of any excess). I didn't understand this, but my employer did, so again, all good so far.

Except that the total outgoings allocated to my apartment amount to CHF 540 per month and the agent is demanding payment of the CHF 2,280 shortfall. The agent has justified going 50% over budget on the basis of "higher energy costs" but looking through the accounts, this simply can't be true. I don't have the previous year's accounts to compare with, but even if their energy costs had doubled, it wouldn't have added to more than an additional CHF 1,000 to my allocation.

Almost half of the total outgoings are payments to a third-party company that provides the building maintenance service ("Haus- und Gartendienst"), basically a gentleman who shows up once in a while to cut the grass or change a hallway lightbulb. Keep in mind that we have paid separately for all the minor (and not-so-minor) maintenance tasks within the apartment, including over CHF 700 for repairs to a clothes dryer that the agent refused to pay on the grounds that it was "minor maintenance" and therefore the tenant's responsibility.

My employer has graciously agreed to pay the CHF 2,280 (despite the fact that this is all in excess of my housing allowance) but I want to know if we just have to take this lying down. My questions for the EF cognescenti are:

1. What rights do tenants have to inspect the owner's accounts as they relate to "ancilliary charges"? During the year, the landlord renovated a basement storage area and turned it into a 4th apartment. It's not impossible that some of these costs have been booked against the ancilliary charges account.

2. Assuming that this is simply very poor budgeting by the managing agent, what obligation do the tenant's have to pay a 50% increase over the amount in the original rental contract? Isn't this, at a minimum, a bit of "bait and switch"?

3. CHF 540 per month seems a very substantial amount for a 4.5 in Zürich - speaking to my colleagues, even those renting detached homes pay less than this. In a system where the liability for cost increases lies entirely with the tenant, what incentive is there for the owner to ensure that services like heating and hot water are modern and well-maintained? The building is an older house that has been subdivided into apartments -what if the gas boiler is 50 years old and horribly inefficient? There is no incentive for the owner to put their hand in their pocket to buy a new and more efficient one - the tenants pay for the gas, anyway.

4. Is there an organisation, government or otherwise, that adjudicates in disputes between landlords and tenants on such matters?

I am in the process of contacting the other tenants to get their take on the situation and to see if any of them have a copy of the previous year's reconciliation, so we can try to determine where the additional costs really occurred.
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Old 08.09.2011, 10:09
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Re: Increase in Utilities Charges

CHF540 does seem quite high. I have a 4.5 apartment and I don't get to half of that (I actually keep getting money back). Apartments do differ from each other in itself, but it seems quite high (unless you have a garden the size of a football field)...

Joining http://www.mieterverband.ch/zh_top.0.html is probably a good option. I am just not sure how it's done in your case, since it's your company paying the bills. I'm sure one of the EF's experts can give you a hand with that

Did you get a detailed bill, with categorized items of expenses?
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Old 08.09.2011, 10:47
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Re: Increase in Utilities Charges

You are allowed to inspect all the original invoices and receipts at the owner's offices.

I would definitely contest the bill for the dryer, normally it is a limit of CHF 150 per apartment, ask the http://www.mieterverband.ch/zh_top.0.html for their opinion.

You have to pay for building maintenance, services, hot water and heating. I live in a 4 ½ room apartment in a house with 8 apartments, I pay CHF 300 per month on account and after each year I receive a little refund.

I really think you and your neighbours should look into this. If there is such poor management, you could argue for a reduction of their fees.
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Old 08.09.2011, 10:51
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Re: Increase in Utilities Charges

Certainly too high. I lived in a 150sq. meter semi-detached house for several years, and although we didn't have so much maintenance in terms of hallways and so on we did have plenty of common spaces (tiefgarage, corridors, mailroom, etc). I think we never paid more than CHF250/month, including the yearly "Endrechnung".

I currently live in a single family house, and although there are no "maintenance" charges, watering our large garden and heating this behemoth of a house should be more expensive, and our overall utilities go up to CHF300/month or so.

As Helm suggested, do join the Mieterverband. You cannot demand that they change the heater to more efficient heating equipment, not even claim that you wouldn't have expected such a high NK. But still they can mediate in topics such as sudden unjustified hikes in costs, or mis-management.
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Old 08.09.2011, 11:25
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Re: Increase in Utilities Charges

If half of the bill is from this maintenance man, could you ask to see the competitive quotes that the owner received and the scope of the contract.
If you have this, you could do your own research into competitiveness.

If you think about it, this handy-man is getting approx 20K per year from your house and he probably does the same job for another 15-20 houses.
I think we would all change our jobs if this is true.
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Old 08.09.2011, 12:52
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Re: Increase in Utilities Charges

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I moved to Zürich in Jan 2010 and after a few months in a serviced apartment while getting a feel for the city, I chose a 4.5 in Seefeld. The lease is between the landlord and my employer (employer's policy) and the commencement data was August 1, 2010. In addition to the lease amount, there is a monthly charge of CHF 350 for building maintenance, heating, water and electricity. All good so far.

About two weeks ago, my employer received a letter from the managing agent giving an accounting of the expenses and outgoings paid by the landlord from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011. The total amount has been allocated to the 3 apartments in the building based on size. It turns out that the CHF 350 per month is just an "advance" against the landlord's actual expenses and that the tenants are responsible for making up any shortfall (or receiving a refund of any excess). I didn't understand this, but my employer did, so again, all good so far.

Except that the total outgoings allocated to my apartment amount to CHF 540 per month and the agent is demanding payment of the CHF 2,280 shortfall. The agent has justified going 50% over budget on the basis of "higher energy costs" but looking through the accounts, this simply can't be true. I don't have the previous year's accounts to compare with, but even if their energy costs had doubled, it wouldn't have added to more than an additional CHF 1,000 to my allocation.

Almost half of the total outgoings are payments to a third-party company that provides the building maintenance service ("Haus- und Gartendienst"), basically a gentleman who shows up once in a while to cut the grass or change a hallway lightbulb. Keep in mind that we have paid separately for all the minor (and not-so-minor) maintenance tasks within the apartment, including over CHF 700 for repairs to a clothes dryer that the agent refused to pay on the grounds that it was "minor maintenance" and therefore the tenant's responsibility.

My employer has graciously agreed to pay the CHF 2,280 (despite the fact that this is all in excess of my housing allowance) but I want to know if we just have to take this lying down. My questions for the EF cognescenti are:

1. What rights do tenants have to inspect the owner's accounts as they relate to "ancilliary charges"? During the year, the landlord renovated a basement storage area and turned it into a 4th apartment. It's not impossible that some of these costs have been booked against the ancilliary charges account.

2. Assuming that this is simply very poor budgeting by the managing agent, what obligation do the tenant's have to pay a 50% increase over the amount in the original rental contract? Isn't this, at a minimum, a bit of "bait and switch"?

3. CHF 540 per month seems a very substantial amount for a 4.5 in Zürich - speaking to my colleagues, even those renting detached homes pay less than this. In a system where the liability for cost increases lies entirely with the tenant, what incentive is there for the owner to ensure that services like heating and hot water are modern and well-maintained? The building is an older house that has been subdivided into apartments -what if the gas boiler is 50 years old and horribly inefficient? There is no incentive for the owner to put their hand in their pocket to buy a new and more efficient one - the tenants pay for the gas, anyway.

4. Is there an organisation, government or otherwise, that adjudicates in disputes between landlords and tenants on such matters?

I am in the process of contacting the other tenants to get their take on the situation and to see if any of them have a copy of the previous year's reconciliation, so we can try to determine where the additional costs really occurred.
CHF540 seem high but could be justified if your heating, boiler and oven runs on electricity. From experience, our quarterly bill tops CHF900 but the annual maintenance bill hovers around CHF200; being the true up amount to the monthly advance payment included in the rent.
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