The new Bundesmeldegesetz (Federal Citizens‘ Registration Act) came into force on 01.11.2015 and it looks like many of Germany’s tenants and landlords are not quite up-to-speed on their obligations under this new piece of legislation. German lawmakers seem to be among the most effective in the world at increasing red tape and adding to the burden of both the country’s businesses and ordinary citizens—and this is no exception. Read on to find out just what the new law means to you as a landlord or tenant.
What is the Bundesmeldegesetz?
Everyone who lives in Germany on a permanent basis is required to register their address with their local Einwohnermeldeamt (citizens‘ registration office) to let the authorities know where they live. For the last ten years or so this basically meant that in the first couple of weeks after moving into a new apartment or house, everyone had to traipse along to their local registration office and present their photographic ID and maybe supply some form of confirmation that they were either the tenant or homeowner. In the case of rented apartments, a copy of the lease was normally enough to satisfy the authorities.
What was the situation before 01.11.2015?
Federal legislators simplified the legal framework behind the registration process in 2002-2004, but gave each federal state a degree of freedom in specifying the exact details of the process in their jurisdiction. This meant that if you lived in Berlin, for example, you had to register within two weeks of moving into your new home, whereas in Hanover you were only given a week to do the same. In some states you simply had to turn up at the registration office and tell them your new address, in others you needed to present your lease (the original, signed by the landlord) or proof that you owned your house. Even with these fairly strict time limits (and fines for non-compliance) anchored in each state’s laws, many citizens simply ignored the regulations and either took much longer to register themselves, or simply never did.
Why a new Bundesmeldegesetz?
Angela Merkel’s coalition government decided in 2013 that the whole system was ripe for reform and needed to be standardised. It may have taken the politicians a while, and there have certainly been delays along the way, but from 1st November 2015 the new Bundesmeldegesetz rules apply across the whole of Germany. The Bundesmeldegesetz is designed to make more difficult for criminals and terrorists to register at fake addresses or under fake names.
Different types of “Scheinanmeldung”
It has been estimated that in Berlin alone more than 200,000 people are registered at addresses where they don’t actually live (Scheinanmeldungen). However, abuse of the registration system isn’t just limited to hardened criminals—many normal citizens have registered themselves or their children at fake addresses (or the addresses of relatives/friends) for more practical, down-to-earth reasons such as:
- to get their children into the catchment area of a “better” school or kindergarten,
- to benefit from cheaper car insurance (“lower risk” neighbourhoods have lower premiums), or
- to stay registered in Germany during an extended stay abroad.
Criminal abuse and “Scheinanmeldungen”
Along with the reasons mentioned above, the more criminal-minded have abused the system to:
- set up bank accounts and gain access to credit,
- commit fraud, set up fake businesses, claim benefits for which they are not entitled, and
- make it impossible for the police, tax, child support or other authorities to find them.
It has been estimated that the added administrative workload for the country’s registration offices will cost the state upward of €600,000. Nevertheless, the costs to society of abuse of the previous system has been estimated as running into the billions of euros, so the financial benefits far outweigh any additional costs.
The new Bundesmeldegesetz for tenants
Within 14 days of moving into a new apartment or shared apartment (Wohngemeinschaft, or WG for short), residents need to register their address with the relevant authorities. They need to do this in person, with photographic ID and written confirmation from their landlord that they are really living at the new address. If someone isn’t renting directly from a typical landlord, for example they rent from a family member or live in a shared apartment as a subtenant (Untermieter), then they need to provide confirmation from the main tenant (Hauptmieter). The 14-day limit is not really new, but the fact that a €1,000 fine can be imposed for late registration is certainly an added incentive. Landlords are required to provide their written (or electronic) confirmation within the 14-day period. A tenant won’t be held responsible (or fined) for delayed registration if their landlord is to blame because they have taken too long to provide the confirmation (Wohnungsgeberbescheinigung).
The new Bundesmeldegesetz for landlords
Either the landlord (or someone with the authority to act on behalf the landlord), or the main tenant in the case of a shared apartment, needs to provide the following information for the registration office:
- Name and address of the landlord/main tenant
- Nature of the event being registered, i.e. moving in or out
- The date the tenant is / tenants are moving in or out
- The apartment’s address
- The name of the people being registered / deregistered
The information can be provided either as a hard copy or electronically, but it is important that this is done within 14 days. If not, the same €1,000 fine that can be imposed on tenants can also be imposed on landlords and main tenants. If landlords are not sure of the format or formalities, they should contact the registration office to find out exactly how to proceed.
Benefits for property owners
The new Bundesmeldegesetz doesn’t just create obligations for landlords, main tenants and property owners, it actually gives them a number of rights they previously didn’t have:
- a landlord can ask the registration office to confirm that a tenant has actually registered, and
- property owners can ask for the details of everyone registered at their property
This makes it easier for landlords and property owners to raise concerns, find out if a tenant is sub-letting an apartment and find out exactly how many people are actually registered as living at an address. There have been cases in Berlin of 40 people registered as living in a two-bedroom apartment.
Knowingly providing false information
For a number of criminals, it has been a successful business model to provide fake addresses for registration purposes, and this will probably not change as a direct result of the new law. However, anyone who is thinking of providing written confirmation for someone not really living in a named apartment should think extremely carefully before they do so—they could face a €50,000 fine.
Are you a landlord who has had to provide confirmation for new tenants, or a tenant who has moved since the beginning of November? Is the 14-day deadline realistic (especially as it is difficult to get appointments at the registration office so quickly)? What do you think of the changes?
Let us know in the comments section below.
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