Which costs can landlords include in their ancillary cost bills – and how can I challenge unexpectedly high bills? Check out the answers to our twelve key questions to avoid getting ripped off.
Which services can my landlord include in the ancillary cost bill?
Ancillary costs are charged for services related to the usage of the rented property. These can include heating, hot and cold water, caretaker service, electricity, lift, cable TV/radio subscription, sewage, domestic refuse collection and a flat administration fee of around 3 per cent.
Can the landlord also include maintenance costs in the ancillary cost bill?
No. Maintenance, investment and repair costs are not considered ancillary costs, even if they are listed as such in the tenancy agreement. The same applies to taxes, insurance premiums and the cost of connecting to the cable network or drainage system. If the landlord bills the tenant for maintenance costs as ancillary costs, the tenant is not obliged to pay.
Should the tenancy agreement explicitly state what services are covered by the ancillary costs?
Essentially, yes. If ancillary costs are described as “other operating costs or other general costs”, the tenant does not have to pay them. The ancillary costs must be named specifically, e.g. hot water, electricity, caretaker service. In addition, the breakdown of the ancillary costs must appear directly in the main form of the tenancy agreement, where the cost of the rent is stated, and not simply in the general terms and conditions.
Which ancillary costs do not need to be stated explicitly in the agreement?
Boiler servicing and chimney sweeping costs are considered part of heating costs and do not need to be mentioned separately in the tenancy agreement. It is sufficient for heating costs to be listed as ancillary costs in the agreement. The same applies to boiler descaling. This is included if hot water costs are listed as ancillary costs. Other costs not stipulated in the agreement are those billed directly by an agency or cable network provider, and these must be paid by the tenant.
What happens if the actual ancillary costs are much higher than specified in the tenancy agreement?
In this case, the tenant can ask to see the landlord's original receipts. If it is established that the landlord can indeed claim much higher costs than stipulated in the tenancy agreement, the tenant is required to pay. This even applies if the landlord knew that the ancillary costs stated in the agreement were too low. This was ruled by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland in 2005. Tenants should therefore obtain written confirmation from the landlord as to whether the ancillary costs in the agreement also represent the actual costs.
What is the difference between paying a flat rate and paying on account?
When you pay a flat rate for your ancillary services, the annual amount is fixed by agreement in advance. When you pay on account, the landlord can bill you for the actual ancillary costs incurred, provided they are itemized in the tenancy agreement.
I pay a flat rate for my ancillary costs. Can the landlord demand more money?
No. Landlords cannot demand more money if they have set their flat rate too low, and the actual costs end up being higher. The same applies the other way round. If the landlord receives too much money from the fixed rate, the tenant cannot request a refund. The flat rate should not differ too greatly from the actual costs incurred as the landlord has to calculate it on the basis of the actual costs of the past three years.
This year, the costs incurred by an oil tank inspection were very high – do I have to pay?
Yes – a proportion of them. For work that is not carried out every year, like chimney sweeping or oil tank inspections, the landlord must split the cost into annual instalments. For example, if the oil tank is inspected every five years, the landlord must spread the cost of the inspection over five years – and of course split it among the tenants.
Is there a deadline for requesting a refund on the ancillary costs?
If the landlord sets the payments on account too high, the tenant has one year in which to request a refund of the excess costs. The landlord, on the other hand, has five years in which to request ancillary costs.
What do I do if I don’t agree with the bill?
You should, of course, take action as soon as possible, but in theory tenants have up to a year in which to claim back any overpayment of ancillary costs. Tenants wishing to request a refund of their ancillary costs are advised to contact their local authority for rental dispute resolution. The procedure is free of charge.
You should definitely have a look at your tenancy agreement to see what ancillary costs are listed in it. Tenants only need to pay those costs that are expressly mentioned in the tenancy agreement. General phrases, like “all ancillary costs must be paid by the tenant” or similar are not permitted, but if they are used, the tenant doesn't have to pay any ancillary costs at all.
Ask to check the original receipts: the landlord is obliged to allow the tenant to view them. This gives you the opportunity to see in black and white whether the ancillary charges were passed on correctly.
Check the way the costs are apportioned: landlords are required by law to apportion the ancillary costs among all tenants according to a fair and appropriate formula. If this formula is not stipulated on the bill, you can ask the landlord to let you see it.
My landlord refuses to let me view the invoice receipts. What can I do?
The landlord is obliged to let tenants see the receipts. Tenants can make copies of the documents at their own cost. Some tenancy agreements specify an objection period of 30 days, after which period the ancillary cost bill is deemed to have been accepted. This clause is unauthorized. Tenants can ask to see invoices after 30 days and can claim back any excess costs within one year.
How should I respond if my landlord prosecutes me because of ancillary costs?
Landlords can instigate a prosecution if tenants do not pay their ancillary costs – even if the payment demand is unjustified. Tenants can file an objection to this. This stops the prosecution and the landlord must consult the authority for dispute resolution.
If you want to learn more about the subject of heating and ancillary costs, visit the website of the Tenant Association for more useful information and documents (in German only).
If all else fails and the issue of ancillary costs gets out of hand, then maybe it's time to consider looking for a new apartment: