Construction law

Spation (urban and rural) planning

Laws and regulations applicable to all construction projects:

  • Federal Law on Spatial Planning (SPL)
  • SPL regulations
  • construction law of a given canton
  • township construction regulations.

The aims of Swiss spatial planning are:

  • economical land use
  • orderly expansion
  • sensitivity to population and commercial needs
  • appropriate separation between residential, commercial and industrial areas.

Spatial planning proceeds in three steps:

  • master planning
    • deals with cantonal spatial development plans
  • utilization planning
    • binding to owner, it limits purpose, location and degree of land use for a given plot of land
  • building permit application process
    • examination of a building project as to compatibility with master and utilization plans and applicable regulations.

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Utilization planning

Utilization planning, together with spatial planning and township zoning laws, determines the permissible extent of land use. There are three zones:

  • building zones
  • agricultural zones
  • protected zones (including open and recreational zones).

Special building regulation

In certain regions, following uniform design principles of special building regulations may facilitate development.

Design plans

Design plans can aid in realizing major projects such as shopping malls, residential developments, revitalization of city or village centers and fallow areas.

Private design plans comprise:

  • dispensation of a given area from existing construction and zoning regulations
  • creation of special construction regulations
    • specifying
      • number of buildings
      • location
      • outside dimensions
      • purpose
      • use
    • to ensure
      • urban development requirements
      • residential hygiene
      • building esthetics.


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Building permit application

New constructions, conversions or changes of use call for building permits. Only very small projects are excepted.


  • conformation with zoning law
  • adherence to local building regulations
  • site infrastructure
    • adequate access
    • accessibility to public services
    • utilities
      • fresh water
      • power
      • sewage
      • snow clearance
    • number of parking spaces, including for visitors.

Further information:

» (German)
» (German)


Private construction law

Three organizational forms exist:

  • individual contracts awarded by builder-owner, construction with construction management
    • through general contractor (GC) who subcontracts in turn.

Main aspects of the most commonly used contracts:

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Legal or design standards

In subcontracting, SIA standards (Standards of the Swiss Association of Engineers and Architects) have largely superseded building regulations. If problems arise, owners would often find the law’s subcontracting regulations more helpful because SIA standards only allow for subsequent fault correction and do not allow for withdrawal from the agreement or compensation in the case of problems in performance. SIA standards (cf. for instance, SIA standard 118 Art. 181) are preferable only with regard to honoring sellers’ warranties.


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Awarding a contract

A contractual relationship obligates the authorized agent to provide contract-specified performance. The objective is to obtain careful work, rather than procure a pre-defined success.


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Architectural and engineering contract

Architectural contracts allow the architect or engineer to exercise various functions to various legal effect:

  • performance-related contract
    • planning
    • budget
    • expert opinion
    • etc.
  • performance with due care clause
    • awarding work
    • construction management
  • mixed transactions
    • annulment of contract pursuant to OR 404, Swiss Code of Obligations.


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Construction contracts

The contract for services [Werkvertrag] is an undertaking specifying compensation for the completion of a piece of work (building shell or the like). The contractor undertakes to deliver specified work (construction and delivery of a physical object, according to previously agreed specification, such as a flat roof, or a non-physical service such as generating construction plans, or works of art to decorate a building).

In case of a contract for work done and materials supplied [Werklieferungsvertrag], the contractor supplies work as well as movable objects, to be manufactured or created.


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General and sole contractor agreements

In general contractor agreements [Generalunternehmensvertrag], the general contractor (GC) builds one or several buildings according to the owner’s project, usually at a predetermined price (package, global or unit price), by a predetermined date, to predetermined specifications, subcontracting for individual parts and paying the subcontractors, all in coordination with other construction processes.

Under a sole contractor agreement [Totalunternehmervertrag] the sole contractor (SC) also takes care of planning and project work on behalf of the owner.


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Construction stages

In Switzerland, construction stages are as follows:

Overview: Construction Stages

Click on image to view full size


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Exceeding the construction budget

Years ago we courageously headlined our website thus: On-budget construction is the aim of all parties to a project.

Sadly, reality is often different: The builder-owner and the architect confronted with increased liability might share this objective. But the bidding process and portals favor awards to the lowest bidder. Price is all that matters because quality and on-time performance are taken for granted. A price-driven process such as this tempts some contractors to exploit rather than draw attention to deficient specifications, only to get away with exceeding the budget later on by suggesting improvements and getting paid for them thanks to writing the contract in a certain way. Owners are advised to check the reputation and construction management competence of the lowest bidder and to sign a watertight contract.


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Value-added tax option

In the case of real estate for current or projected commercial use, value-added tax liability may be chosen voluntarily while claiming tax deductions on supplies.

Your real estate or tax adviser can determine whether this makes sense in your specific case.


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