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Acquisition of a holiday home in Switzerland by foreigners or non residents

I.   Introduction

The Federal Act on the Acquisition of Real Estate by Persons Abroad (LFAIE; SR 211.412.41), also known as the Lex Koller, is a law which aims to limit the acquisition of real estate by persons domiciled outside the country in order to "prevent foreign ownership of Swiss soil".

This law varies according to the type of residence permit, the country of origin and the place of residence. Its operation is therefore complex. Moreover, the law changes according to the type of use one wants to make of it: secondary residence, main residence or holiday home. Foreign investors are not entitled to acquire residential property, but are still allowed to invest in commercial, craft and subsidised property.

The acquisition of a property subject to the authorisation regime requires the granting of an authorisation by the competent cantonal authority (art. 2, para. 1, LFAIE). Thus, the application of this law is first and foremost the responsibility of the canton in whose territory the property is located. It is the competent authority designated by the canton in question that decides whether a legal act is subject to authorisation and whether authorisation should be granted (art. 15, para. 1, letter a, FL). Authorisation is granted only on the grounds set out in the FL and, where applicable, in cantonal law (Art. 3, 8 and 9 FL).

II.  Conditions

In principle, three cumulative conditions must be met for a legal transaction to be subject to the authorisation regime:

- The purchaser must be a person abroad within the meaning of the FL (subjective liability).

- The object of the legal transaction must concern a property that is subject to taxation under the FL (objective taxation according to the use of the property).

- The acquired right must be assimilated to an acquisition of real estate under the FL (objective liability according to the type of right).

Even if these three conditions are fulfilled, further exceptions to the obligation to obtain authorisation in accordance with Art. 7 FL may apply.

III.   Persons abroad

The Lex Koller defines persons abroad in art. 5 para. 1 let. a and abis FL (supplemented by art. 2 OFL). These are foreigners domiciled abroad and foreigners domiciled in Switzerland, but who are not nationals of a member state of the European Community (EC) or the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), nor do they possess a valid C settlement permit.

This regime also applies to companies with headquarters abroad even if they are Swiss-owned and considered to be Swiss from an economic point of view.

IV. Holiday accommodation

A foreigner subject to authorisation may acquire a flat in an aparthotel or holiday home (Art. 9, paras. 2 and 3, and Art. 10 FL). The location of the accommodation must be designated as a tourist area by the canton in question. Each authorisation is subject to the annual quota allocated by the Confederation to the canton for holiday homes and flats in an aparthotel (art. 11 FL, art. 9 OFL and Annex 1 OFL), although there is an exception if the authorisation for the acquisition of this home or flat had already been obtained by the seller at the time.

Quota units may also be transferred to non-taxable persons to enable the sale of dwellings to foreign nationals (so-called "de principe" authorisations). Consequently, individual purchases by foreign nationals still require authorisation, but no longer have to be counted in the quota. Cantons and tourist municipalities may impose restrictions. For example, they may decide to block a location completely, or allow the purchase of multi-storey properties and only up to a certain quota, or limit the annual number of permits, or restrict the purchase of dwellings that are already in foreign hands (Art. 13 FL).

The following cantons allow the purchase of a holiday home or flat in an aparthotel: Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Bern, Fribourg, Glarus, Graubünden, Jura, Lucerne, Neuchâtel, Nidwalden, Obwalden, St. Gallen, Schaffhausen (only for flats in an aparthotel), Schwyz, Ticino, Uri, Valais and Vaud.

Holiday homes cannot be rented out on a year-round basis, but can only be rented out on a short-term basis. The purchaser must be able to use the accommodation himself in accordance with the purpose for which he has applied. The flats in a hotel apartment must be left at the disposal of the hotelier so that he can operate them as a hotel, especially during the high season (Art. 10, letter b, OAIE).

According to Art. 8 OAIE, holiday homes can only be acquired by natural persons directly in their own name; indirect acquisition of a home through a legal entity is not possible.

In principle, according to Art. 10, paras. 2 and 3, OAIE, the net floor area of a property may not exceed 200 m2 and the plot area 1,000 m2 (Art. 10, paras. 2 and 3, OAIE). In accordance with established practice, in the event of additional need, up to 250 m2 of net floor area and 1,500 m2 of plot area may be permitted, and in exceptional cases, higher excesses.

Mizgin CADIR, Alain AGUPYAN & Cassandra JOCHUM