Ask Hans-Torsten: Money matters

Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to [email protected].

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Hans-Torsten Richter answers your questions about surviving and thriving in Berlin. Write to [email protected].

Q Dear Hans-Torsten: I recently got my electric metre reading and – praise Jesus! – I’m getting money back! A nice sum, actually. The problem is that the account is under my old flatmate’s name and, instead of giving the account Guthaben, they want to transfer the amount to a bank account she doesn’t have anymore. I’m afraid the money (which I paid entirely myself ) is now being transferred into the ether and no one will see it. Do you have any advice on how to rectify this, and fast? — Phil

A Dear Phil: Don’t worry, the money won’t disappear into the ether. If your ex-flatmate’s bank account no longer exists, it will just be returned. Assuming you two are on good terms, I would suggest providing her current bank account to your power company. It would be better if she phoned herself. She’ll probably have to fill out a form with her new bank details and send it back to them. If she’s left the country, any account in the European SEPA area should be fine. She could then transfer the money on to you. Another option is having your ex-flatmate sign a letter authorising the power company to transfer the money to your bank account, something along the lines of “Bitte überweisen Sie das Guthaben an das Konto von Herrn Phil…” and then provide your bank details. There’s no reason this shouldn’t work. For the future, though put the electricity into your name to avoid such hassles.

Q Dear Hans-Torsten: My Hausverwaltung just started renovations on the façade of my apartment building. The whole works: scaffolding, plastic sheets over the windows, drapes over that… So now I can’t see out of my own window, except for vague shapes of men passing by! And the noise! My neighbour told me I could claim a rent reduction for this (I noted the day it started), but I’d like to know how to officially do that, what it’s called, what I can claim as a disturbance and how to calculate it. Germans are precise and want the rules followed, but once you do it, they roll over. So how do I go about this?— Max

A Dear Max: Rent reduction in cases like this is referred to as Mietminderung, and there is a whole particularly German way of going about claiming it. You’re off to a great start: Noting the exact date the disturbance began is exactly right, because you’ll have to calculate your reduction down to the day. If you want to do this without a lawyer, you’re going to need some pretty good German skills! The amount of Mietminderung that renters are entitled to is not written in any law, so it’s basically based on previous court cases. To find out how much your rental payment can be reduced, go to mietminderungstabelle.de, which lists all relevant legal precedents. By searching for Baulärm (construction noise) on the site, you’ll find the details of a case that was heard in Amtsgericht Wiesbaden on June 25, 2012, in which a renter whose windows were blocked by a scaffold and who had to tolerate considerable noise pollution was awarded a 20 percent reduction on the total rent (Warmmiete). So here’s what you’re going to do: click on “Musterschreiben” on the above website for a free template for the letter that you’re going to send to your Hausverwaltung – by registered mail (Einschreiben), to be on the safe side. If your German is shaky, get a friend to help. Be sure to describe the Mietmangel (deficiency) in as much detail as possible and then state how much you are going to deduct from the rent (in your case, 20 percent). You don’t need to wait for the HV’s approval; just deduct the amount from your rent month and every subsequent month while the disturbance lasts. A warning: don’t get greedy. If the HV gets the feeling that your Mietminderung is unreasonably high (meaning higher than described in the Mietminderungstabelle, a standard legal reference), they could have grounds to terminate your rental contract. If you feel at all unsure about what you’re doing, go and talk to a Mieterverein (renter’s association), a lawyer or at least some proper German grown-ups, who usually have experience dealing with this sort of crap.