Hans-Torsten Richter gives you advice on surviving and thriving in Berlin. Send your questions to [email protected]
Q Dear Hans-Torsten: I own my own flat in Berlin, and this is my first winter here. I was dismayed to find out that when I turned on my gas heater (Gasetagenheizung) on the first chilly day in October, it didn’t work. I called a heating company and they said that in order to fix it, I’d need to sign a Wartungsvertrag with them. What the heck is that? – Steve
A Dear Steve: Of course you don’t have to sign a Wartungsvertrag with anyone. At least not in theory. A Wartungsvertrag, or maintenance contract, is a kind of subscription-based maintenance plan under which a heating technician will come by once a year to inspect your heating system. Without a Wartungsvertrag, a one-time inspection might cost €100-150 plus any spare parts.
It should be a little cheaper with such a contract. The advantage, of course, is that you’ll never again forget to get your heating inspected. And you’ll probably save quite a bit of money. A well-maintained boiler which has been correctly programmed for your flat can reduce fuel consumption by 10 percent. The main disadvantage is that it’s easy to forget about auto-renew contracts like this. Familiarise yourself with the most important word in the German language: Kündigungsfrist, the cancellation period. When you sign the contract, make sure you are informed of the Kündigungsfrist, usually something like “four weeks before the end of the calendar year”.
If you don’t cancel your contract in writing by that date, it will renew automatically – the heating company isn’t going to remind you of it. My tip: print out the contract and keep it in a folder labelled “Tricky German contracts”. When you’re home alone, bored, on a cold winter night, flip through all those contracts, re-read the fine print and make sure those Kündigungfristen are marked in your calendar! And when it comes to looking for a heating technician, don’t just take the first one you find advertised on Google. Virtually every neighbourhood has a Heizungsinstallateur shop. Get at least three quotes on prices before signing a contract.
Q Dear Hans-Torsten: An American relative of mine bought a lovely Altbauwohnung in an in-demand neighbourhood inside the Ringbahn, as an “investment”. This was almost a year ago, and she still hasn’t started renting it out. Now she’s talking about letting a rich couple she knows live in it for two weeks a month, while letting it stand empty the other two weeks. She considers herself a progressive leftist and I know if she understood the gravity of the housing crisis in Berlin, she might rent the place to someone who actually needs it – how can I convince her? Statistics? Documentaries? – Janine
A Dear Janine: Why not get her issue 160 of Exberliner (“Save Berlin”), which came out in May? Plenty of horror stories in there paint a portrait of the dire housing situation in the city. Your relative should also be made aware of the German consitution or Grundgesetz in which it is stated, “Eigentum verpflichtet. Sein Gebrauch soll zugleich dem Wohle der Allgemeinheit dienen,” which translates as “Property comes with responsibility. Its use must also serve the common good.” Your relative could serve the common good by renting out the flat to normal people for a fair price instead of just the highest one she can get on the market. Maybe she’ll sleep better at night.