Landlords will lower the rent

Rent cap in Berlin comes into force : This is how you, as a tenant, can lower your rent

Berlin's governing mayor Michael Müller (SPD) is certain about the start of the rent cap on Sunday: If the law passes in court, it will also become a model for other cities.

Because the Berlin tenants largely have to take care of the individual implementation of the rent cap themselves, the Berlin tenants' association is preparing for an increase in the number of consultations.

"We are expecting a lot of inquiries and are probably planning to increase our capacities," explains Wiebke Werner, deputy managing director of the tenants' association.

She calls it "a bit uncomfortable" that - unlike in the original Senate bill - the tenants now have to take care of compliance with the rent ceilings (see graphic) themselves. “I think it's a shame that the Senate doesn't get more backing for the tenants,” said Werner.

Your explanation of how the tenants should proceed after the law has come into force gives enough room for error.

According to Werner, this is how it works: If a tenant finds that his rent due from June 18, 2019 is more than 20 percent above the values ​​specified in the table of upper rent limits, he is entitled to a reduction in the rent.

However: For legal reasons, he can only assert this reduction claim nine months after the law came into force, i.e. probably in November 2020. Only the rent freeze applies retrospectively to June 18. The rent reduction based on the upper limits anchored in the law will take effect with a delay.

These are the options a tenant has:

First option: The tenant reduces his rent independently

If your own rent is above these limits, Werner advises you to have this certified by the respective district office. This notification in turn should be presented to the landlord. The background is: The rent cap law prohibits the obligation to pay excessive rent.

Once this step has been taken, there are two ways: Either, the tenant independently reduces the monthly rent to be paid. Then he should better put back the difference to the previous rent, because the law still has to overcome the hurdle of constitutional review.

Second option: the tenant gets the landlord's consent

Or, and this is what the tenants' association advises, the tenant gets the binding consent of the landlord and only lowers the monthly rent after the landlord's consent. The background is: Anyone who reduces the rent on their own initiative and without the consent of the landlord will be in arrears. If the law actually fails in court, the tenant suddenly finds himself there as a debtor, in the worst case, there is a risk of dismissal.

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"We advise our tenants to get the landlord's consent," said Werner. Alternatively, the tenant can obtain a so-called declaratory judgment from the local court.

This quantifies the allowable rent amount according to the rent ceiling table to the nearest cent. The tenant is then on the safe side. But even in this case, Werner advises: "The tenants should better hold back the money saved until the judicial review of the law is over."

SPD politician does not share criticism of the tenants' association

The SPD right-wing politician Sven Kohlmeier does not share the tenants' criticism. He is of the opinion that the amended version of the Rent Cover Act is even cheaper for Berlin tenants. Because in civil law, i.e. when a tenant sues the apartment owner, the amount in dispute is significantly lower than in administrative disputes.

Lawsuits before the administrative court also took much longer, says Kohlmeier: "Experience has shown that two to four years, whereas civil law proceedings usually take half a year to two years". In addition, tenancy law conflicts are covered by legal expenses insurance rather than legal disputes before the administrative courts, said Kohlmeier. This also reduces the tenants' cost risk.

Anyone who does not obey the law has to pay a fine of up to 500,000 euros

The Senate's draft law, which was corrected by the government factions of the SPD, Left and Greens, was designed to use the administrative courts ex officio in the event of a conflict. The newly drafted Rent Act is, however, a "prohibition law". If a landlord increases the rent illegally or does not comply with the corresponding upper limits, the tenant must, however, sue under civil law himself.

[More on the subject: The rent cap could cut prices in half in the center of Berlin]

Kohlmeier does not know how many civil lawsuits could be brought against the Berlin judiciary because of the rent cap. To the best of his knowledge, there has not yet been any reliable internal Senate estimate. The lawyer does not believe in a wave of lawsuits. Because if a landlord does not adhere to the new law, this is an administrative offense that can be punished with a fine of up to 500,000 euros. "That scares off."

Tenants should first contact the district office

Kohlmeier advises Berlin tenants, like the tenants' association, to first request information about the correct rent for their own rental apartment from the responsible district office. The new law provides for this.

It is also possible to have the permissible rent calculated from reputable online providers or tenants' associations. However, this is not binding information. Regardless of this, all district offices offer tenant advice free of charge. For this purpose, the coalition had made 100,000 euros available for each district in the 2020/21 double budget. These are likely to be in high demand now.

A decision by the Federal Constitutional Court is not expected this year

With the information about the officially correct rent, the tenant can then approach the landlord if the rent is excessive or an inadmissible rent increase is requested, says Kohlmeier. If the landlord does not give in immediately, he also advises paying the rent, but only "with reservations". In addition, the tenant should inform the competent authority at the Senate Department for Urban Development, which could then impose a fine. The alternative is to hire a lawyer.

Kohlmeier admits that real legal security for all sides only exists when the Federal Constitutional Court confirms, corrects - or rejects the Berlin rent cap in the abstract norm review complaint announced by the CDU and FDP. Even if the Karlsruhe judges established temporary legal protection in a "rapid process", a decision is no longer to be expected this year.

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