Steinhausen, 03.04.2019

Director of one-man tenancy advisory service company misled clients into thinking it was a big concern

A 48-year-old man from Wollerau in the canton of Schwyz appeared in court in Zug on Monday facing charges of misleading clients about the size of his company and services it offered, among other offences.



The man’s company, called “Tenants’ Protection Switzerland” (MSS GmbH) and based in Steinhausen, allegedly had some 8,000 members. A number of them began to complain because they initially thought they had become members of a very similar-sounding tenants’ association, were disappointed by the advice they were given and shocked to find out to where their subscriptions were ending up.


When the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) began to receive complaints, they investigated MSS GmbH and brought charges against its director relating to unlawful competition.


It was mentioned in court how the defendant, who appeared in a three-piece suit and with his grey hair tied in a pony tail, had used website addresses such as Tenants’ Advisory Service (.ch) and Tenants’ Protection Association (.ch) along with words such as “Central Office” and “Advisory Centre” on his website giving the impression his company was much bigger than it was, and thereby deceived his clients. Further terms falsely gave the impression that there were advisors across the country who could provide advice in the various cantons, advertising, too, that the company proffered advice “even in the most complex of cases”. Apparently, he had even paid Google a sum to ensure that when enquirers searched for the official Mieterverband (Tenants’ Association), the similar name of his company (Mieterschutzverband - Tenants’ Protection Association) would also be listed prominently. On his own webpage he inferred all these similar sounding organisations, including one in Germany, were one and the same. Prosecution is calling for fines totalling CHF 37,500.


For his part, the defendant felt he was victim of the left-wing press and the official Swiss Tenants’ Association (SMV) and claimed the only reason he had been charged was because he felt he was the only real competition to the SMV. “Had there been twenty competitors, it would never have come to this,” he insisted.


He claimed it was evident there was a clear distinction between the organisations (as mentioned in the third paragraph) and denied ever using the word “Mieterverband” in a Google advert, claiming the search engine company must have done this itself, and claiming he had used the other similar term only in relation to the time when his organisation was an association, prior to it being a company. He admitted he was no lawyer but through various courses he had undertaken with regard to property matters and years of experience he considered himself qualified to give advice on complex matters relating to tenancy.


When questioned about the different pages of his website relating to the differing cantons, he said the appropriate laws on tenancy were basically the same across the whole of Switzerland. Hence he felt he could advise people in whatever canton they lived. As to using the term “legal experts” he said he had indeed engaged external advisers to give advice on occasions.


The case continues.