Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Follow-up: A German’s home is not his castle / a few issues around inspections and meter readings

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Last Friday, the exhaust inspection for my gas heater took place (cf. [1]).

My previous impression of a somewhat cooperative attitude on behalf of the chimney-sweep (responsible for the check) turned out to be very wrong.

Not only did the employee in question claim that I would be (illegally and unethically) billed for an out-of-hours visit, she also, for the second time in three years, tried to start a fight over my (calmly and factually) not agreeing with her often absurd claims—this time, that I pointed out that there was no legal justification for this bill. This is a highly unprofessional behavior that should be unacceptable in any service profession. (To which I note the difference between a factual discussion and the highly dubious behavior displayed here—she was an inch short of throwing a hissy fit.)

Looking at the bill issue, I note that:

  1. I had suggested a date and time within the narrow (cf. [1]) scopes that she had provided and that she had accepted them. Thus, either we were within regular hours or the out-of-hours aspect was solely her fault.

    I note (cf. [1]) that she had previously rejected a total of four suggestions: The 7th and 14th of June for being already booked,* the 19th and 26th of July due to company holidays. While the two former are understandable, the two latter are a pure own convenience. In effect: On the hand, customer suggestions are rejected; on the other, the customer is to be billed for a date and time practically suggested by her.

    *Here she had also explicitly mentioned that these (later in the day) suggestions were out-of-hours, removing any chance of applying the (already highly implausible) excuse of “because I did not state the opposite, you should have assumed that it was out-of-hours”.

  2. No mention had been made of any extra fee at the time of the agreement, nor had there been any reason for a reasonable third-party to expect an extra fee. This, in it self, rules a fee out.

    In particular, the day in question, I would have had no problem with arranging an earlier time—and would have done so, had there been any talk of an extra fee.

  3. The only possible angle of attack that she (and/or her employer) could have is that she had given intervals for possible times of day that would normally be interpreted as referring to the beginning of the visit, but which could conceivably be construed as referring to its end. If so, however, it would have been her responsibility to point out that the end of the interval was not an acceptable start time—but instead she accepted the suggested time… Moreover, considering the length of the visit, the latter interpretation would have been unconscionable in combination with a fee: subtract the delays through her belligerence and the visit could have been done in just several minutes, implying that just replacing 2 PM with 1:55 PM or, on the very outside, 1:50 PM would have put me within the interval.

All in all, and noting the reputation German chimney-sweeps (and e.g. plumbers) have, I suspect that this is just a trick to earn a few Euros above what the employer was actually entitled to. (German readers can look at e.g. a dedicated web-site/forum for many examples of disputable billing attempts and other problems relating to chimney-sweeps.

As for some claims made by her:

  1. She (again) went on about how hard the “late” Fridays were for her to arrange—at 2 PM. Apparently, she was now incurring over-time, needed a baby sitter (more expensive than her over-time pay), and whatnot (I do not remember all the details).

    Well, cry me a river…

    First, compare this to what many of the customers* have to go through every year because time ranges set for her convenience: What about all those who have to take several hours off work? Those that have to commute twice in a day? Those that are so far away and receive so unfortunate a time that they miss an entire day of work, as e.g. with me and my Cologne project? For the employed, the last amounts to using up a vacation day; for me, it would have amounted to a full day that I could not bill. For that matter, consider the potential negative effects on e.g. an employer. Or consider her complaints about arranging to have her children picked up from school—what about the children of the many customers who are force-fed an unfortunate time?

    *The word “customer[s]” is misleading, but I will stick with it for ease of use and the lack of something obviously better.

    Second, much of this is a pure luxury problem, amounting to “because of this customer, I do not get to enjoy an artificially short work-week” or “[…] a much earlier week-end than most others”. I note that the central collective agreement (Bundestarifvertrag) for chimney-sweeps sets the weekly hours at 38.5, whereas I have never had anything less than 40—sometimes with the expectation that overtime be performed without additional remuneration above the monthly salary. (Whereas the same source would give her her regular hourly pay + 25 % for every hour overtime.) I further note that by the standards of past generations (and some modern low-end jobs) even 40 hours a week would be a relief. Further yet, that when I have gotten off at 2 PM on a Friday, it has usually been because I have had a long weekly commute on top of my 40 hours. For instance, when I lived in Düsseldorf and did a project in Munich my weekly schedule was roughly: Monday, five hours of travel and another six hours in the office; Tuesday through Thursday, nine or ten hours in the office; Friday, five or six hours in the office and another five hours of travel—to which must be added time needed for hotel handling, time to pack and unpack, time lost due to unforeseen delays during travel, whatnot.

    Third, none of this is my problem—it is a matter between her and her employer. If she has a complaint, she should direct it at him—too “harsh” working hours, too little over-time pay, whatnot.

    My grand-mother, I suspect, would have called her a spoiled brat to her face…

  2. She claimed that her working hours would be regulated by law. Not only do I find this implausible, but I have also not found any support for this claim on the Internet. Moreover, other companies appear to have different working hours (and/or a different distribution between “office” and “customer” hours). For instance, a magazine article discussing the field in general says “[…] der Außendienst, der meist so gegen 16 Uhr endet” (“[…] customer visiting hours that tend to end towards 4 PM”). Another company lists time intervals from 7–7:15 AM to 4–4:15 PM for possible visits. In other words, it seems highly unlikely that there would be such a law—and her employer appears to be unusually restrictive.

    More likely than not, she is deliberately lying, with the expectation that the customer will just accept the customer-hostile situation “because its the law”. (I cannot rule out that she is deeply ignorant or that her employer has earlier lied to her.)

  3. She claimed that I should be happy that replacement dates were offered at all, because I would have a legal obligation to let her in at her convenience. It is true that there are some jobs performed by a chimney-sweep that have a quasi-governmental (“hoheitliche”) character,* and for which this claim could to some degree apply. However, the exhaust check is not one of these and this reasoning does not apply. Extending it to general tasks is like a land-lord claiming that “because I have the right to enter an apartment unannounced and on short notice when there is an emergency requiring immediate action, I always have the right to enter an apartment unannounced and on short notice”. Or consider a police officer who reasons that “because I can violate some traffic rules when on duty, I can violate them when off duty too”.

    *Due to a very unfortunate and highly outdated legal situation in Germany. To be specific, this does not refer to chimney-sweeps in general, but to the designated local “Bezirksschornsteinfeger”; however, this company happens to be Bezirksschornsteinfeger in my area.

    Again, she is likely deliberately lying to trick customers into compliance.

  4. She claims that the works would be done for my benefit and paints the situation as if she were doing me some type of favor. She is not—on the contrary, her employer relies on outdated and disproportionate regulations to perform a service for the government, which in many cases amounts to cheap money-making for the chimney-sweep. I have very little to gain from this farce, and am stuck with considerable extra efforts. This claim is as absurd as when governments claims that issuing passports would be a service to the citizens, when the need for a passport only arises because of governments and their artificial impositions.

    What benefit there is to gain, could be achieved much better by having e.g. the maintenance company* do the same check and/or doing the same check every five-or-so years—or by use of some type of detector**. Such a detector would actually be vastly superior through giving a timely warning, while the yearly check could lead to exposure over a full year before detection…

    *When this suggestion has been raised on the Internet, chimney-sweeps tend to answer that this would increase the risks, e.g. through giving the maintenance company incentives to approve its own work. This argument is not entirely without merit, but the benefits of avoiding this risk are not in proportion to the additional costs of the current system, making it specious. More likely, it is an excuse to justify own money-making than something honestly believed. In particular, the “incentives” part is highly dubious, because a maintenance company that does both work and check would be liable for any health damage without excuses, while the current system allows blame pushing between maintenance company and chimney-sweep.

    **I wish to recall having seen such in the past, but have not researched the availability and details. Even if I misremember, however, such detectors should be comparatively easy to provide.

    From another perspective, entering someone else’s apartment, outside of rare emergencies, is a privilege and should be treated as such—no matter the law. Indeed, even when a legal right is present, even e.g. when we talk of police with a search warrant, the self-invited visitor should show a corresponding humility and respect. The attitude displayed by this woman is entirely lacking in this regard. The same applies to the impositions regarding e.g. time: even to the degree that she might be legally entitled to force people to forego work and whatnot for her benefit, she should show a corresponding humility and respect, and realize that she causes a major imposition* for her own benefit—but she does not.

    *Indeed, so large an imposition that I consider it outright unethical, even to the degree that it is legally allowed. A more ethical company would still provide times for the convenience of the customers, not for its own.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 17, 2019 at 8:17 am

2 Responses

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  1. […] amount through fix monthly fees and that I can avoid the annoying chimney sweep (cf. at least [1], [2]) .* I received a notification from the gas supplier that my contract was terminated—and, a little […]

  2. […] amount through fix monthly fees and that I can avoid the annoying chimney sweep (cf. at least [1], [2]) . I received a notification from the gas supplier that my contract was terminated—and, a little […]

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