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There is no neighbor law in Switzerland. Neighborly relations are regulated in the Civil Code in Articles 679 and 684ff. The Civil Code defines, for example, how far buildings must be from the boundary with the neighboring property, or prohibits excessive impacts from sewage, foul odors, noise, light extraction, smoke, soot and dust. The border distances for buildings such as garden houses, enclosures such as wooden walls, walls or fences and trees, a hedge or shrubs are regulated in the cantonal introductory laws to the Civil Code and in the public law of the Confederation, cantons and municipalities, among others in the building and distance regulations. They therefore differ from canton to canton, sometimes even from municipality to municipality.
Most disputes with neighbors start at the property boundary. For example, because a shrub is growing too close to the neighbor's property. If you want to play it safe and avoid disputes with your neighbors, don't plant or build until you know exactly where the boundary is. This is not always obvious at first glance. If you are unsure, look at the land register entry and the cadastral plans of the municipality. There you will see the boundary. If you are already at the municipality, it is best to ask for the boundary distances that apply to your project. If you are planning a garden shed, garage or carport, register the project and apply for the building permit you will most likely need.
In principle, for all structures that are firmly connected to the ground or firmly anchored in the ground, you need a building permit: Carports, skylights, garden sheds, tool sheds, walls, screens, seat roofs, bike houses, winter gardens or fences.
Once you have the building permit for the new garden house, you can start planning. Remember the border distances. In the canton of Bern, for example, you can build structures up to 1.20 meters high directly on the property boundary. Your garden house is certainly higher and therefore needs a border distance of 3 meters or more in the canton of Bern. The canton of Zurich is not so strict. There you may build the garden house up to 2 meters to the border of the neighbor's property. Article 684 of the Swiss Civil Code stipulates that the neighbor's soil must not be damaged or moved during construction and excavation. This applies throughout Switzerland.
In the canton of Bern, you may build enclosures such as wooden walls, walls or fences up to 1.20 meters high directly on the boundary. You must set back higher enclosures by their height above 1.20 meters from the property boundary. For example, if the fence is 1.80 meters high, you would have to set it back 60 centimeters (1.80 meters minus 1.20 meters), or a maximum of 3 meters. In the canton of Zurich, you are allowed to build enclosures other than green hedges, for example dead hedges, wooden walls or walls, up to 1.50 meters high directly on the boundary, and you are also allowed to raise trellises. In the case of higher enclosures, your neighbors may insist that you set the wooden wall or the wall back from the boundary with the neighboring property by half of its height above 1.50 meters.
In most cantons, you are allowed to build walls, screens or fences directly on the border, but depending on the canton, you may need a building permit and the consent of your neighbors for heights as low as 80 centimeters.
In the canton of Bern, the same requirements apply to hedges as to other enclosures plus an additional 50 centimeters. You are allowed to plant hedges up to 1.20 meters high on your neighbor's property; higher hedges must be set back by their height above 1.20 meters plus 50 centimeters. You would have to set back a 1.80 meter high hedge by 1.10 meters (1.80 meters minus 1.20 meters plus 0.50 meters), at most by 3.50 meters. As with wooden walls, walls or fences, measurements are taken from the higher ground and from the center of the planting site. In the canton of Zurich, green hedges may not be planted closer than half their height to the boundary, at least 60 centimeters. So a 1.80-meter-high green hedge you would be allowed to put up to 90 centimeters to the neighbor's property.
The boundary distances for trees or shrubs are also measured from the center of the planting site. In the Canton of Bern, the provisions on trees and shrubs are contained in Article 79l of the Law concerning the Introduction of the Swiss Civil Code:
In the Canton of Zurich, the provisions on trees and plants are contained in the Introductory Act to the Swiss Civil Code in Article 169 ff:
According to Article 670 of the Civil Code, hedges, walls or fences that stand exactly on the boundary between two properties are co-owned by the two property owners - unless otherwise agreed or customary in the locality. Cantonal law, however, may exclude this co-ownership or include it, for example, for a firewall that stands right next to the boundary. If the hedge, wall or fence is co-owned, the property owners are responsible for maintenance and share the costs, usually each paying half.
If you want to plant or build a hedge or a garden house closer to the property boundary, you should talk to your neighbor and come to an amicable agreement. For plants, a verbal agreement is usually sufficient. For structures such as garden sheds, you can agree on a proximity building right that applies only to you or to both parties. The proximity building right is available in three versions:
If your neighbor does not comply with the boundary distances and you cannot come to an agreement with him, you may take legal action against him. You can demand that the hedge or garden house be removed or that you receive compensation for damages, and enforce the future injunction. However, this should be the last step, because litigation strains the neighborly relationship.
For example, if your neighbor plants a tree too close to the border, it is quite possible that over the years branches will protrude onto your property. If your neighbor refuses to cut back these branches, you have the right to do so. You may remove the branches or cut them back to the property boundary. However, you must be able to prove that the branches or roots have caused damage or impairment. If there is no impairment or damage, you must tolerate the branches in the airspace above your property.
If the branches that protrude over the border bear fruit, you may, for example, pick the apples, pears or plums on your property and eat or process them. However, this so-called right of anry does not apply everywhere: in the canton of Appenzell-Innerrhoden, for example, it does not apply at all, and in the canton of Neuchâtel it only applies to fruit that has fallen from the tree and is on your property.