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Mietminderung: The German housing market 101

FIL9220Mietminderung (the right to withhold all or part of your monthly rent payment) was one of the first words that sprang to mind as I read this article, part of the Guardian’s series on “Generation Rent,” on my way to work this morning.

 

High rents + poor housing = frustration

 

It seems that lots of tenants are not only complaining about the high cost of renting an apartment or house in the UK, but also about the condition of the properties on offer and the reluctance of landlords to deal with problems. Many of the comments, about landlords not fixing broken boilers, heating, etc., made me think that it might be worth explaining one aspect of the German regulatory framework that makes it possible for some German cities to have between 80-90% of their populations living in rented accommodation. So, here we go, German housing 101: Mietminderung.

 

What if UK law offered the same protections as German law?

 

One of the first comments that made me think about the right to Mietminderung was this one, We were left without a boiler for months at the start of the year,” Anonymous, Manchester.

As a German tenant, if your apartment’s heating completely gives up the ghost, especially if it happens sometime in the cold winter months, between September and February, you may well have the right to withhold up to 100% of your monthly rent payments until the problem has been fixed. Such a right clearly puts a tenant in the driving seat when such a major fault occurs and puts a great deal of pressure on a landlord to get things fixed as quickly as possible. No landlord would want to risk an extended period without rental income.

 

How much are German tenants allowed to withhold?

 

Although German tenants have the right to withhold some (or all) of their monthly rent, there is no magic list in German law that outlines faults/problems and the amount of rent that can be withheld. There are tables, many of which are easily available online, such as this one, that collate judgements made by courts across the land and provide a guideline for tenants. It is important to point out that courts will address each case individually and no tenant should withhold rent without first seeking advice from their local tenants’ advisory association or a lawyer specialising in tenancy law. Still, the tables do provide an interesting point of reference for tenants that find their quality of life limited by disrupted housing conditions.

 

The courts decide

 

For example, a court decided that a tenant could withhold 100% of their rent because a fitted kitchen specified in their tenancy agreement was missing from the apartment when they moved in. Other courts have approved withholding between 50-75% of the rent for mould and damp in some or all of an apartment’s rooms. Noise from restaurants or other business that goes on into the early hours of the morning has also been seen by courts as a justification for withholding anything between 37-50% of the rent. A court in Berlin-Charlottenburg decided that living in a building that also housed a brothel was reason enough to deduct 30% from the rent. A non-functioning shower was seen by a court in Cologne as a good enough reason to knock 17% off the rent and even stray cats are enough of a justification (at least according to a court in Bonn) to withhold 15% of the rent if they make it impossible to use a balcony comfortably.

 

Is change coming?

 

I guess that any British tenants reading this will be doing so with a growing sense of disbelief. It’s almost impossible to imagine such a strong legal framework for the pretty much unregulated UK rented housing sector. Although, as more and more of the population find themselves belonging to “generation rent” and the numbers of tenants continues to rise, pressure on legislators will undoubtedly increase.

Are you a tenant in the UK or Germany? Have you maybe experienced being a tenant in both countries? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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