Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to [email protected].
Dear Hans-Torsten: I’m going on holiday and thinking of subletting or Airbnb-ing my flat for a little extra cash, but I’m worried about Germany’s strict downloading laws. How can I ensure that I don’t get busted for illegal downloading done by a short-term renter over my internet connection? – Sarah
Dear Sarah: Several recent German court rulings have found that a Hauptmieter (main tenant) is not liable for any dodgy online behaviour (downloading movies or music) by a subletter or holiday renter. The matter is most clear-cut when you can document that you actually weren’t in the flat at the time of the downloading! Remember, this is Germany, you have to document everything anyway – when tempted to throw out a receipt or contract of any kind, let your inner Prussian have the upper hand and file it away to avoid hassles later. Trust me. Things can get trickier in the case of flat shares. But either way, the burden is on the plaintiff suing for copyright infringement to prove that it was the Hauptmieter (whose name is on the internet contract) who actually downloaded the file and not one of the subletters. If you’re a Hauptmieter and you get a letter from a lawyer demanding damages for an illegal download over your router’s IP address, don’t panic. You should have a chat with your subletter(s) and probably will have to write a letter to the lawyer explaining the situation. If your German is crap, don’t rush out and waste hundreds of euros on your own lawyer quite yet. Get a German friend to help, or better, write to me ([email protected]) and perhaps I can help you out.
Dear Hans-Torsten: My flatmate left Berlin a year and a half ago and cancelled her gym membership before leaving. Holmes Place didn’t process it as a cancellation, but as a pause, and after a year, her account was reactivated and she began getting billed again. She got a bill for € 180 (two months at € 90 per month). I called on her
behalf and emailed them about getting it sorted out, but they refused to deal with me directly. Shortly thereafter, a lawyer sent a letter saying she not only owed the € 180, but would have to pay a full year of membership fees up front plus legal expenses, a total of about € 1200. Now my ex-flatmate wants to return to Germany so she’ll have to deal with this. What do you advise? And can you go to bat for someone else’s problems when they’re out of town? – Brian
Dear Brian: None of this surprises me. Businesses with a subscription-based revenue model can be ruthless about formalities regarding cancellation and whatnot – especially in Germany, where everything seems to auto-renew if you don’t send a registered letter by a certain date. A lot of companies won’t go out of their way to help a confused customer who’s cancelled her membership. The fact that you (and not she) tried to communicate with them gives them a good excuse to ignore your efforts and to get more money out of your ex-flatmate. Ideally, she should have written to them herself, no question. Emailing and phoning is easy, even if you’re out of the country. But what to do now that they’ve set the lawyers loose? There are many open questions. Of course, how to deal with this also depends on the terms and conditions of her Holmes Place membership. Were they justified in simply prolonging the membership by another year? She should get as much info and evidence together and then try to negotiate with this lawyer by herself as soon as possible, to avoid more fees and hassle. She herself should call both the gym and the lawyer, be patient and friendly and make a show of good faith, explaining that she cancelled the membership on time – and send them a copy of the original cancellation email. If she de-registered at the Bürgeramt when she left Germany, she should send them a copy of that document. Most lawyers are human beings and open to compromise if you act polite and sincere. If that fails, email me again before hiring your own expensive lawyer.
PS: Brits, save this date: on June 23, Britain will hold a referendum on the Brexit – whether or not the UK should remain in the EU. Brits living abroad can vote by post or by proxy. Register to vote and get all the info at www.gov.uk/votingwhenabroad.