Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘apartments

And yet another apartment…

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(See two previous articles for background information: [1], [2].)

Just a few weeks ago, I was set on remaining in my Cologne apartment until the end of November (and my current project).

As of this Tuesday, I find myself living in a new one…

To give an overview of the events leading up to this situation:

On the 29th of August, I came home from work to see that someone had very obviously been in my apartment. Notable traces included a bathroom floor that now contained a very dirty towel that had previously been much cleaner and on a shelf, a wire-hanger that had previously been on the door handle, and a key that had previously been in the bathroom door.

As my landlady explained, there was a problem with water dripping into the apartment below mine and an emergency inspection by building management had been needed. She failed to explain why there were things on the floor…

Unfortunately, this inspection had brought no real result and several other inspections (and misdiagnoses…) and attempts to correct the issue followed, until the 29th of September, a full month after the initial event and probably the sixth(!) visit, when a final fix should have taken place, based on the worst-case scenario assumption of a broken pipe beneath my bathroom floor.

But no: Apparently, the problems were so severe that the entire following week would be needed—and until the conclusion of these repairs, for a full week, I was not allowed to use the shower*…

*Fortunately, the landlady was also the next door neighbor and I could use her shower: With a greater distance, I would more-or-less have been forced to move to a hotel.

The works started as scheduled on the following Monday, but consisted of nothing* more than tearing out the old shower, without any repairs of any kind.

*In my apartment: Some parts of the overall repairs were to take place in the apartment below. I do not know whether these did take place.

Tuesday was a public holiday and no work took place—as was to be expected. However, Wednesday brought two negative revelations: Firstly, no work had taken place on this day either (as verified by the landlady and the building management), for reasons unknown. Secondly, someone had been in my apartment again, accessed areas that had been unambiguously declared as out-of-bounds to the plumbers (and whatnot), and turned every single radiator in the apartment to the max—I was met with a tropical temperature after work. After various discussions, the landlady found the explanation: One of the neighbors had had a radiator problem and another crew of repairmen had been sent to fix it—and building management had given them the wrong set of keys/the wrong apartment number…*

*Which does not explain why the radiators were still all on max. Generally, however, I found that German handymen are extremely poor at restoring order after themselves, as well as considering the interests of others—even when these others are the ones paying the bill.

On Thursday, I came home to the next negative surprise: While the work had resumed, it mainly consisted of the removal of the toilet bowl! Now I could neither shower nor use the toilet… This despite both me and my landlady having been given explicit assurances that the only restriction would be “no showering”—the toilet was to remain fully functional through-out.

Repeated phone-calls and discussions led us to a re-newed assurances that the toilet would be restored on Friday. It was, but in a very sloppy manner: The flushing mechanism was not only severely weakened in its flow, but the automatic re-fill of the tank did not work properly. A typical tour consisted of my hitting the flushing lever repeatedly until the tank started to re-fill—not flush, just re-fill! After some wait, I could then actually flush. However, since the flush was weakened, I often needed to repeat this cycle several times…

Worse, Friday (or was it Thursday?) also contained the unpleasant diagnosis that the estimated date of completion had increased radically again—at least end of October, possibly mid-November, according to the landlady. At this point, she offered* a pre-mature termination of the contract and sent me some alternatives from an agent. Fortunately, everything came together in the search and I had the keys to the new apartment on Monday evening, moving the most necessary things before work on Tuesday morning and taking up residence on Tuesday evening. On the down-side, the new apartment is considerably smaller and worse equipped (if more modernly), despite only a marginal price difference—and there is no comparison to the view… (Obviously, this was a deliberate prioritization of speed on my behalf. I could have chosen to spend more time searching, but I wanted a quick end to the bathroom situation.)

*If she had not, I would quite possibly have terminated the contract anyway—or at a minimum shortened the rent: While this situation was not her fault, she was still in breach of contract.

However, as of last Friday (13th, hmm…) there was still no progress whatsoever in the bathroom* when compared to the preceding Friday (when the work should have been finished according to one prognosis), and precious little compared to the Friday before that (when the work should have been finished according to an earlier prognosis).

*As I noted when bringing over a few more bags to the new apartment.

While I seem to have mostly bad luck with my various apartments (most of which has not yet featured in my writings), I cannot complain about them being boring…

Excursion on the overall situation in the old building: According to my landlady, those apartment owners* who were pushing for timely renovations formed a minority. This includes the plumbing and the elevators, which are apparently running with dispensations and only with repeated stop-gap repairs that would have been unnecessary had a proper renovation taking place—or, in the case of the middle one, not running at all. (Which explains why I always ended up traveling in the left or right elevator, never the middle.) It could also be the explanation for why the idiotic semi-electronic/semi-mechanical key system has been kept. As I gather from building management, a large part of the building (including my floor) has always been apartments, contrary to my assumptions in [1]. This makes the aged look of the bathroom easy to understand, but the unfortunate layout (notably, the too small shower area) harder. Of course, this also implies that the plumbing has not been significantly touched in roughly 45 years—making the current problems an accident waiting to happen.

*In the German system, much of an apartment building is owned collectively by the Eigentümergemeinschaft (“Owners association”). Because the individual apartment owner does not necessarily own whatever causes him a headache, he cannot unilaterally make changes, even repairs, to it. In addition, there is the obvious questions of coordination and cost-effectiveness of related repairs, e.g. when the overall plumbing is involved. (Some of this common property is obvious, e.g. elevators—unless owned by some other entity. Other is less so and can vary from building to building, e.g. in that the windows of a given apartment can belong to the Eigentümergemeinschaft, the individual apartment owner, or be divided based on an outside/inside parts criterion.)

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Written by michaeleriksson

October 15, 2017 at 11:16 pm

Update on my living conditions

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I have now owned an apartment (Wuppertal) for more than half a year and am approaching the one year mark of my rental of another (Cologne)—and feel the need for an update.

For starters, things have not gone as planned—but mostly in a good way: According to plans, my current project would end with the new year, I would give up the rented apartment, and take a few months off to (among many other things) set up the purchased one. In reality, I have received several project extensions, spent almost all my time in Cologne, and have done almost nothing to the new apartment.

Correspondingly, I have a lot less to say about the purchase than the rental, but let us start with the purchase:

What little I can judge already about the apartment (it self) and Wuppertal more or less matches expectations, apart from the property manager appearing to be extremely incompetent. There is one major disappointment/annoyance in the bigger picture, however: I chose Wuppertal based on rational deliberations where train connections featured heavily*. Here there has been a three-fold disappointment (contributing strongly to my hardly ever being in Wuppertal):

*I often travel heavily for work reasons.

  1. There are major construction works going on around the central station, which make it harder and more time consuming to get to and from the station. According to the information published in and around the station it self, these works should have been concluded in 2017/2018*, and I decided that this was an acceptable time frame, especially with the promised resulting improvements. Unfortunately, it appears that the claim of 2017 was limited to the planned shopping area** (a nice-to-have), whereas the overall works, what would have been relevant for my planning, was on a very different time scale. As is, even 2018 is a highly optimistic estimate and a worst case could conceivably land in 2020… Knowing that in advance, I would very likely have made another choice.

    Lesson: Ignore public signs and pull more complete and reliable (in as far as this is possible where construction is concerned) information from the actual, official plans.

    *Officially: 2017. Knowing how construction work tends to run in Germany: 2018.

    **I would speculate that the misinformation arose through a wish to brag about this selling point for the project and too little concern for other effects.

  2. Deutsche Bahn (“German Railways”) have arbitrarily decided to cancel all (!) train traffic to and from Wuppertal for a period of six weeks (!) starting around two weeks ago. To boot, they did the same thing for roughly two weeks earlier in the year. While the cause (long neglected maintenance work) is worthy, the way of doing this is utterly unacceptable, especially bearing in mind that the railway lines involved are among the most commuter heavy in Germany. To the best of my knowledge, this type of complete interruption, for so long a time, is without precedence.

    Those who have tried the “Schienersatzverkehr” (“rail-replacement traffic”; effectively, travel-by-bus-while-we-pretend-that-it-is-still-a-train-line), appear to be less than satisfied with the travel time and comfort—even when just comparing the planned level of Schienersatzverkehr-service with that actually delivered. (As opposed to when comparing with the original travel by train.) I strongly suspect, but have admittedly not investigated, that this is also economically to the considerable disadvantage of the passengers, with no discount being offered for the lesser service or normally lower price level of bus traffic—and even with such a discount many would be left without compensation, e.g. because they travel with tickets valid for a month or a year at a time (or a similar construct*).

    Lesson: Deutsche Bahn is a passenger hostile horror. (But that I have known for many years…)

    *I do not want to discuss various ticket models, discount systems, etc., here, but those with pre-existing knowledge might want to consider e.g. the effective value loss of a BahnCard 50 for someone who normally travels a certain line once a week and now chooses to go by car, as a better alternative to bus.

  3. (A mere annoyance in comparison with the above; especially since regional travel was not a planning priority.) To my surprise, it turns out that not all the “regional” trains that travel past my local station, just a few minutes walk from my apartment, actually stop there. All the “S-Bahn” and “RB” trains do, but the much to be preferred “RE” trains are inconsistent. The RE to and from Düsseldorf, my point of reference when searching for apartments, does stop; the RE to and from Cologne, which is far more interesting at the moment, does not. I now have the choice between going by “RB” (takes considerably longer) or taking the “RE” (or a non-regional train) to the central station and then going by some other means* to my local station some four kilometers away.

    Lesson: Do not make the assumption that Deutsche Bahn (especially; but likely many other entities in general) handles things in a consistent and reasonable manner.

    *So far mostly by the local specialty of “Schwebebahn”; occasionally, by foot or by S-Bahn; theoretically, taxi or one of the other trains.

On to the rented apartment, specifically revisiting some items from my earlier post (see there for background information):

  1. There have been no real temperature issues so far. If anything, likely aided by the comparatively cool summer, temperature has been less of an issue than in most other apartments I have had.
  2. The noise levels, e.g. through out-door music, have been considerably worse than average—but nowhere near as bad as I feared. It is certainly an improvement over my old Düsseldorf apartment. Likely, I just had a bit of bad luck during the short time preceding my original post.
  3. (Unpleasant content warning) The “platform toilet” has proved to be far more problematic than expected: Often, notably after I had eaten fiber-rich bread, simply flushing (once) has not been enough to move the feces on from the platform. On a number of occasions I have had to flush half-a-dozen times (annoying, time consuming, and bad for the environment); several times, I have actually given up, grabbed a piece of toilet paper and shoved it on manually… It puzzles me how such an idiotic, and so obviously idiotic, construction ever saw the light of day.
  4. The electronic key is and remains a disaster. The problem has been mitigated by some experience, specifically that it pays to not turn the key immediately after insertion. Still, this combines the weak points, but not the strengths, of both regular and electronic keys. I am amazed that they have not changed this idiocy, with the long term savings easily exceeding the short term costs—even user friendliness aside. (Note that the key contains a battery that has to be replaced now and then; that maintenance requires more specialist knowledge, which reduces the number of potential contract partners; that the solution is likely inherently more expensive than an ordinary key/lock; and that since there are other general locks with keys in the rest of the building, it is not necessary to switch out the keys—just the one lock.)
  5. The elevators have mostly lived up to the early days, but there have been exceptions. Notably, there was one time when I first had to wait for a perceived eternity for the elevator to arrive, then had to share it with four people who all stepped out on different floors—and then had it halt at the 23rd floor, one short of my floor, because someone going down had pressed the wrong button… I would have been faster walking* the 24 floors. Over the last few weeks one of the elevators has also had problems getting the doors on my floor closed.

    *Recently, I have done this twice for the exercise/out of curiosity and plan to do it once a week or so for the remainder of my stay. While hard work, this turned out to be less grueling than I had anticipated: I took two breaks the first time, one the second; but, contrary to my expectation, was not forced to give up half-way.

  6. The view remains amazing, it self almost worth the rent—or it would be, had I not grown jaded over time. One of the problems of having something great is that a just appreciation rarely lasts. (But will I miss the water once the well has gone dry.)

    Even apart from the greatness of the view in general, there have been many specific instance where I have been brought an experience that would not have occurred with an ordinary view. A few examples:

    A few weeks ago, I had not one but two very long and extremely impressive fireworks in perfect sight on the river, possibly two hundred meters from my window. (During the local “Kölner Lichter” event.) Barring the people in the 25th and 26th stock, I may well have had the best view of these fireworks of anyone in the city. To boot, there have been a number of smaller and/or more far away fireworks on the river over the months.

    Having the house surrounded by so dense* a fog (several times) or rain (at least once) that nothing else could be seen—no ground, no surrounding buildings, no whatnots. When I was a child, I sometimes fantasized about touching a cloud—now I have**.

    *Keep in mind that it is exceedingly rare that a fog grows so dense that not even close-by objects can be seen—but here there are no close-by objects. The ground, e.g., is almost a hundred meters away. Even so, this fog was unusually dense, giving me a better understanding of why fog is occasionally referred to as “pea-soup”.

    **Barring some technical differentiation between cloud and fog that is uninteresting for this purpose.

    Having had, in contrast, days with a sky so clear that I could see for many miles; days with incredible, border-line scary, storm clouds; days with mixtures of heavy rain in one direction, sun shine in another, dark clouds in yet another; days with unbelievably majestic constellations of clouds; … (Apart from standing on very large hills or actual mountains, there are very few opportunities to really see something of this level through just being “in nature”. The land would have to be very flat and free from obstacles, and it would still likely fall short.)

    A winter’s day where the pond beneath my window became one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. While a description can not make something like that justice, imagine a circle of ice-free water (kept so by a water spout), a ring of birds (most likely ducks) resting on the ice immediately next to the water, the remaining majority of the pond being covered by very white ice, and on that ice near perfect, very dark reflections of the near-by trees—and then the actual trees and a layer of snow around the pond. Escher* would have gone nuts over the scene.

    *Note that much of his work was not geometrically surreal and that he had a particular interest in reflections.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 6, 2017 at 4:53 pm

Problems with buying an apartment in Germany

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I am currently considering buying an apartment, especially in the light of the inexcusable and utterly absurd behavior of my current landlord*. This has turned out to be extremely frustrating, even when discounting the predictable complication of attractive locations having high prices and low prices having unattractive locations (or some other problem). Consider:

*The one for my official residence in Düsseldorf. Not the one for my temporary apartment in Köln. I am very likely to write a long post on this at some point—but I am not certain that anyone will actually believe it! (Sometimes reality makes fiction look unimaginative…)

  1. In the flawed German system, I cannot hire* a realtor to search for me, because they only provide services towards the seller—for which the buyer has to pay.** Ask them to search for the buyer and they may or may not give a listing of the entries they currently have available***, but that is the last ever to be heard from them. If they do any work for the buyer, well, then they have additional work and no additional money…

    *In any sense that matters. As a matter of form, a “hiring” is implied at the latest when an agreement to buy is reached with the seller, but for all practical purposes this just means that the buyer acquiesces to pay for the realtor’s services towards the seller. The real hiring is done by the seller—the buyer just pays.

    **This used to be the case for rentals too. Fortunately, this idiocy has since been stopped—but only for rentals.

    ***More likely than not, they will either not respond at all or just tell the prospective buyer to have a look at their website—which is usually border-line unusable and highly uninformative.

  2. Realtors are highly problematic in other regards to, including that many of them only provide listings through meta-service providers like “Immobilienscout24” (effectively, Craig’s List for real estate), where they upload information provided by the seller, make the disclaimer that they make no guarantees whatsoever (just repeating in good faith), and wait for the prospective buyers to search. (Remember that the buyers are the ones who pay for this farce.)
  3. The lists of potential objects provided by most realtors and the large meta services often make no clear separation between apartments for buy-for-own-use and apartments for buy-and-rent-to-someone-else. These two use-cases are so different from each other*, however, that at least the buy-for-own-use-er will find half of the entries worthless— and often only finds this out somewhere towards the end of the page… The buy-and-rent-to-someone-else-er, OTOH, will be less than enthusiastic about the other half, because if he does not find a tenant, he is just leaking money.

    *In theory, the buyer can get rid of an existing tenant through invoking “Eigenbedarf” (“own need”); however, this brings a considerable risk that the tenant will be uncooperative and possibly requires a costly and time-consuming detour over the courts. To boot, I have considerable problems with the ethics of this, its legality notwithstanding. “Pacta sunt servanda” is otherwise the theoretical cornerstone of German law, as well as of ethical business practices in general.

  4. Similarly, a very considerable proportion of the objects turn out to be “Zwangsversteigerungen” (court auctions; literally, “forced auctions”) that imply a considerable additional risk and a lot of bureaucracy that many are not willing to take. (However, it can have advantages for those who are willing to take the risk.) Of course, the price listed is then not the actual price but some vague estimate or minimum that could turn out to have nothing to do with the actual price paid by the winner of the auction…
  5. The usability of most web sites in this area is extremely poor, including not working with JavaScript disabled, but being border-line unusable with it enabled (through factors like animations, marquees, requests that the user participate in surveys, and the like). Other common problems include poor search criteria, a minimal number of listings*, and “functionality” that breaks tabbed browsing—-something that would otherwise be extremely useful with this type of content (i.e. lists of entries where the user wants to review many of the individual entries at his own leisure and/or concurrently).

    *There appear to hundreds of realtors (be they individuals or companies) who each have just a dozen objects, of which just one or two are relevant to any individual buyer. It would be far better to have a dozen realtors with a few hundreds objects each. This too is likely a result of the flawed German model: The only reason that realtors do not have money effortlessly pouring in, is that the potential profits have lured too many people into this business…

  6. Due to utterly idiotic and over-killing money-laundering laws, the prospective buyer needs to give up a lot of information, typically including a copy of an ID document, even when just approaching a realtor with the wish for information on an object*. Not when he buys it, not even when he inspects the object in person, but when he makes a simple inquiry!

    *Or so a number of realtors claim. I have not checked whether they are telling the truth, but am somewhat skeptical, because not all do require this.

  7. If everything seems to pan out, the object being really interesting, then the “Hausgeld”* turns out to be 400-something Euro instead of the the 100-something typical for the size of apartment I am looking for—might as well be renting.

    *Frankly, I have no idea what this is in the English speaking world, but it amounts to a monthly fee to the apartment owners’ association to cover various costs, including for parts of the house not belonging to the individual apartments.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 13, 2016 at 12:00 am

Living it UP with the HIGH society

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Preamble: Through my work, I have spent a lot of time in hotels and apartments rented on a monthly basis, in addition to a number of more permanent residences. I intend to write down some of my experiences in a blog series (of which this is the first post), especially with an eye on several recent negative experiences, but also some more general, some (as below) dealing with unusual situations, and one dealing with how to live in hotels in the best manner.

A few days ago, I moved into an (at least by German and Swedish standards) very unusual apartment, roughly a hundred meters above the ground and with one of the most amazing views I have ever seen—better than many dedicated observation decks. This includes a fair bit of the Rhine, most of central (and not so central) Cologne, and a straight line of sight to the world-famous Cologne Cathedral (once the highest building in the world).

It is not quite the proverbial highest room in the tallest tower—but it is the third-highest (24th) floor in the 55th tallest building in Germany (according to Wikipedia; and, yes, the building does have its own Wikipedia page), with a clear majority of the taller buildings being used for offices and the like. By co-incidence, the second highest I have lived was also in Cologne, somewhere in the range 12th–14th floor, in a building clearly visible through my window, despite being several kilometers away.

After living here for just a few days, I cannot give a full evaluation of the house or positive and negative aspects of living so high above the ground; however, a few observations are possible:

  1. The exposure to the sun is not interrupted by other buildings, trees, and the like. The temperature within the apartment has been considerably higher than would have been expected from the outside temperature (by the standards of an ordinary apartment). While sub-optimal in the summer, this could be an advantage in the winter.
  2. This is compensated for by air movements being similarly uninterrupted: Open a window* and fresh and cooling air will pour in.

    *The windows can all be opened, unlike in many newer buildings. In a building where they cannot, we had better hope for good air conditioning…

  3. A very unfortunate disadvantage, although I am not certain whether through the building’s tallness or its placement within Cologne, is disturbances through idiotic noise-makers—and that could get old very fast.

    For instance, this weekend there was a demonstration of some sort that featured several hours of loud drums and several (or one multi-day) near-by events with third-rate music and hysterically shouting MCs. If such things happen often, they could poison the situation entirely.

    Generally, I am of the opinion that such demonstrations and events simply should not be allowed in populated areas. If you want to have an event, an outdoors rock-concert, or similar, find an area outside of town, let those interested come to you, and leave those not interested (likely, a clear majority) in peace. If you have a political message to spread, start a blog or a party, talk to politicians, whatnot. Political demonstrations are only a legitimate tool for people artificially cut-off from otherwise expressing their opinions, e.g. through state censorship, or in situations involving a direct escalation against an unlistening and undemocratic* regime. Even in these cases, it is rarely sensible to demonstrate in general public areas and far better to do so in front of the appropriate government buildings.

    *To which I count regimes that were democratically elected, but then ignore the will of the people or the peoples interests, go back on election promises in a large-scale manner, and similar.

  4. The apartment is a little run-down, but by-and-large well organized and thought through, including the provided furniture.
  5. An exception is the bath room which is small and has a shower bordering on too small*, a bathroom cabinet that partially blocks the sink, and a “platform toilet”**.

    *According to the above Wikipedia page, the building was originally an office building, and it is conceivable that showers were added as an after-thought to existing toilets when converting to apartments, rather than setting up new bathrooms from scratch.

    **A regrettable idiocy of the German plumbing are occasional toilets with an artificial platform that collects excrement above the water until the user flushes. Apart from the distasteful optics and increased risk of smell, this virtually guarantees that the user needs to apply the toilet brush after every “number two”, whereas a “normal” toilet is cleaned by the flushing alone possibly two thirds of the time.

  6. The water pressure is quite OK, contrary to my expectations, but it is hard to get cold water from the taps, probably because the long way from the ground or use of an internal water-tank (to ensure water pressure) gives the water time to grow tepid.
  7. The house-door uses a weird electronic key that requires a battery while still needing the key to be inserted into the lock and turned. Conceivably, this too is a left-over from the office-building days; likely the technology is a failed pre-cursor to later key readers, where a battery-less object, often a card, is simple held to the reader.
  8. The elevators have so far come in a timely manner and traveled with very few interruptions on the way. This is a positive surprise, seeing that elevators are often an issue even in buildings with less than a dozen floors. The explanation is possibly that the number of apartments per floor is low (three at “my” floor), while e.g. a hotel often has ten, twenty, or more rooms per floor.
  9. Did I mention the amazing view? If not: The view is amazing.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 4, 2016 at 7:28 pm

Absurdities around apartments in Germany

with 6 comments

I have recently been looking for a new apartment. Doing so, signing the new lease, and making first preparations for the move, a number of annoyances with apartments in Germany have been brought to my mind again. The likely two worst are discussed below:

Realtors:

These provide a service exclusively to the landlord—but for which the tenant must pay… In effect, the landlord gives a listing to the realtor, the realtor does everything the landlord would otherwise have done himself (e.g. advertisements and showings), provides the prospective tenants with no value added, and then requires a fee equaling two months rent + VAT from … the new tenant.

In fact, from a tenants perspective, the service provided is actually on a “value subtracted” basis: The realtor is usually unable to answer even basic questions (but refers to the landlord), does not know the house or the neighborhood (let alone the neighbors), and generally seems keen on giving the most pleasing answer. Indeed, having found that I was always given positive answers when enquiring about how quiet the house or the neighbours were, I once reversed my questions (something on the lines of having regular parties or playing music late in the evening)—and was once again given a positive answer! The information given by these expensive “value subtracted” providers cannot even be trusted.

Similarly, a landlord (at least a private one) will be available for phone calls and inspections of the apartment outside of normal working hours, while German realtors keep hours that are highly unfriendly to the prospective tenants—with no possibility to call during the weekend and often forcing a call from work during the week.

A particular quirk is that the realtors are only allowed to charge their fees to tenants who were not previously aware of the apartment in question. This has the side-effect that ads by realtors will not contain the street address, but only a general area—which means that it is not possible to e.g. look up the house and the closest surroundings through Google Maps without first contacting the realtor. This, however, is something that a net-savvy user would want to do as a first step before bothering to call. (Of course, this rule is of dubious value, because if a prospective tenant with previous knowledge does show interest, the realtors will discriminate against him.)

And, no, it is apparently not possibly for a prospective tenant to hire a realtor (at least not in the rental market) to actually do some leg-work for the tenant instead of the landlord: I have over the years tried this on two occasions, simultaneously enquiring at several realtors, with the results being either no response at all (!) or a one-time listing of the apartments they at that moment had on offer (which was then the very last I ever heard).

The regulations should by changed so that it is always the party hiring and benefiting from the service (currently only the landlord) who pays any fees involved. This would not only be a fairer system, but would also lead to more customer-oriented realtors where even a tenant has the possibility to receive value-added services from a realtor—including decent telephone hours and the odd realtor who is actually willing to do some amount of work for prospective tenants.

Security deposits:

German apartments usually require a security deposit equivalent of three month’s (!) rent. While the wish for a security deposit is understandable, I cannot consider the size justifiable. Further, the way the system is implemented, the security deposit can very easily be abused by the landlord, e.g. to recompensate himself for rent held back for legitimate reasons or otherwise disputed, without having to take the initiative to go to court. (Something I fear will happen with my old apartment: The 2009 water bill for the 10-apartment house was inexplicably divided with my share amounting to half (!)—and despite this being absolutely preposterous and obviously incorrect, the landlord has refused to correct the bill and insists on payment of more than 800 Euro + an additional 70 Euro per month since. Considering his highly unethical behaviour throughout my years in the old apartment, I strongly suspect that he will simply help himself to the security deposit and force me to go to court over the money.) In contrast, the intended uses for the deposit appear to have become secondary (to cover unrepaired damages caused by the tenant and later differences in utility bills, as well as preventing a dishonest tenant from just skipping the last few months payment).

Other complications around the security deposit include landlords taking unduly long to repay it after the tenant moves out—often more than a year, rarely less than a half. (A time during which the tenant has six months’ (!) rent unavailable between the new and the old security deposits.) A better solution would include a smaller amount, some stringent form of escrow (no party is allowed to access the money without consent of the other or a court order), and a need for prompt re-payment: The landlord has e.g. two weeks to raise any objections and must then re-pay the major part of the sum, keeping at most a fraction to cover any differences in later utility charges.

And, no, this security deposit does not include the first or last months rent—these have to be provided separately at the beginning of the first, respectively last, month of the lease period. As can be noted, the sums involved are quite large: There is potentially a one-time payment of seven months’ rent (first, security deposit, realtor fees, and a last at the old apartment, seeing that an overlap in leases is hard to avoid)—and this not even counting the costs of the actual move and any needed repairs.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 7, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Apartment frauds

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I am currently looking for a new apartment (my current being both over-priced and provided by a less than white-vested landlord—he, however, is not the topic of this post). Doing so, I stumbled upon an everything-included 65 m^2 apartment at a mere 300 Euro—not entirely unheard of, even in the middle of Cologne, but certainly a rarity where some catch could be suspected: Possibly, the location was smack on top of a discotheque? Possibly, the ad was a bait-and-switch from a dubious realtor?

No: A first electronic contact resulted in a return email, describing how the apartment’s owner, Laurentiu Marian Ganea, had to relocate to London for a few years and needed to let the apartment.

All-in-all, not entirely implausible, but with an added tale of the sole key being in London with the owner and a discrepancy in the names used, the situation remained suspect. I refrained from an early judgement, however: The great amount of detail included seemed to give the offer some realism.

Now, in a first step, I wrote a pleasing email, wanting to live up to the owner’s stated “perfect person” criterion (I would certainly be highly selective in his shoes). Within 12 minutes of sending, I received a surprisingly lengthy answer that made me very, very suspicious: The problem with the key was solved, UPS would handle this through some sort of escrow and, by all appearances, he had settled on me as his tenant. Really? Would anyone in his right mind give the key to an apartment with electronics and furniture in it to a complete stranger? Why was he not more choosy, considering that he could offer an extremely good deal, which should have had the people lined up to apply? Why did he seem to stress the benefits of quick action? Even with his relocation issues…

(Also, the UPS solution is slightly suspect, in and by it self, UPS being a not uncommon tool for fraudsters.)

Next step: See if his name was known to detective Google. It was. One page declared him the new star on the fraudster skye.

Well, as the saying goes: If it seems too good to be true…

As an aside, in the future, I will likely consult detective Google at an early stage as a matter of course. The time wasted on a failed search is shorter than that wasted on writing emails or hunting someone down on the telephone.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 21, 2010 at 12:38 pm