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Ask Hans-Torsten: Getting your deposit back and snowy sidewalks

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

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Dear Hans-Torsten:

I moved out of a flat in Schöneberg three months ago and my landlord still hasn’t paid my deposit back. I suspect he’s taking the piss because I’m an Ausländerin who’s timid about sticking up for myself in German. But I desperately need the money. Help me, Hans! 


Dear Vic:

I feel your pain. I’ve moved house five or six times since arriving in Berlin 15 years ago and each time, I lost countless hours of sleep wondering how I’d pay my various debts if I didn’t get my deposit back. But I always did eventually get it back. According to the law, landlords have an “appropriate consideration period” (angemessene Überlegungsfrist) to ponder whether they should return the full deposit to a tenant. Practically, that means figuring out whether you caused any damage to their property and waiting for the yearly bill for heating and other side costs. Your landlord or building manager should send you an itemised Nebenkosten-endabrechnung (final statement). If you ran up unusually high costs (like if you cranked up the heat during a particularly chilly winter), they can deduct the overage from your Kaution. But if you were especially frugal (like if you only showered once a week), you might get back some additional money. If your bill’s been settled, you’ve left the flat in good shape and you still haven’t seen your money a couple of months later, send a letter to your landlord politely stating that you’ll take legal action if the money is not in your account by a set deadline. Search online for “Musterbrief zur Rückforderung der Mietkaution” and you’ll find plenty of standard letters you can fill out (with the help of a German friend). Still no cash? Try applying for a Mahnbescheid (court order to pay) – just fill out the application at www.online-mahnantrag.de, the official online service of the German court system. Once the order is delivered to your delinquent landlord, he or she will have two weeks to reject it. If they don’t, you’ll be eligible for a Vollstreckungstitel (enforcement order) which will enable you to get their bank account blocked by the court until they pay you what they owe. This system can be used to collect any kind of debt – you just need lots of time and a good command of German (or a patient German-speaking pal). If it all sounds too bewildering, I would opt for a lawyer! Usually one letter with an attorney’s letterhead is enough.

Dear Hans-Torsten:

This may seem petty, but the bizarre way they clear the snow from the sidewalks in Berlin really bothers me. First of all, if there’s more than an inch or two of snow, they (whoever ‘they’ are) seem incapable of coping with it. Second, only certain stretches of sidewalk are properly cleared, some never seem to get cleared, or else just a few grains of salt are sprinkled and that’s that. Moreover, most shopkeepers don’t even bother to remove the snow from their doors. What’s up with that? 


Dear Pat:

It’s a mess out there, agreed. Four or five years ago we had a very snowy winter and the icy pavements led to a spike in broken arms, especially among the elderly. There are two reasons for this seemingly un-German chaos. One: the law stipulates that it’s up to individual owners to remove snow from outside their buildings. That’s why you’ll see those little trucks with the rotating brushes, operated by private companies, clear the pavement in front of a single house and then drive off. It’s an incredibly inefficient system, and a few days of heavy snow can overwhelm these companies. Two: the city sanitation company BSR is responsible for everywhere else (intersections, public squares and so on) and they’re also underfunded, hurried and overwhelmed. As far as shopkeepers go, the prevailing attitude seems to be, “Not my problem”. It’s probably a jaded Berlin thing: one can’t imagine the citizens of Munich or Stuttgart being so resigned about icy sidewalks.

Originally published in issue #146, February 2016.