Yes in principle you can.
In Switzerland, when you sign a lease contract, you have the possibility to contest the initial rent if you consider it to be ‘abusive’ and ask for its reduction.
Your rights are listed on the official form that the landlord (or the real estate agency representing your landlord) gives you when you sign the lease.
This form is mandatory in the cantons where there is a housing shortage, as is the case in Geneva (art. 207 LaCC), Vaud, Fribourg, Neuchatel, Nidwalden, Zug and Zurich.
The challenge of the initial rent can be based on three alternative grounds listed in art. 270 al. 1 CO, namely :
1. The tenant was compelled to enter into the lease due to personal or family necessity (Art. 270 para. 1 let. a ab initio CO).
This implies that the tenant had no other suitable alternative and was therefore compelled to enter into the lease, for example for health reasons or because of an employment in another canton.
2. or due to the situation of the local housing and commercial property market (Art. 270 para. 1 let. a in fine CO),
This depends on the specific situation of each canton. For example in Geneva, a tenant who is relying on this ground to contest the rent only has to establish that there is a housing shortage in Geneva, for example by producing a Decree of the Cantonal government, for this condition to be fulfilled.
3. The landlord has significantly increased the initial rent (i.e. more than 10 percent) for the same apartment in relation to the previous rent (Art. 270 let. b CO).
On the official form which must be provided to the tenant in the cantons where there is a housing shortage, the tenant can see the amount of rent paid by the former tenant.
In the cantons where there is no housing shortage, the prices are less steep and this is less of a risk. The increase in 10 percent could be justified if the apartment has been renovated since the departure of the last tenant.
To contest the initial rent, you have a deadline of 30 days which begins to run the day after you receive the keys.
Once this period has elapsed, you are deemed to have accepted the rent and you forfeit the right to contest it (ATF 131 III 566).
Finally, if the judge grants you a reduction in rent, don’t forget to ask for a corresponding reduction in your rental guarantee.