Landlords come up with a lot of ideas to get around the rent cap. A user contract instead of a rental agreement? Let’s take a look.
Viewing an apartment (symbolic image) Photo: dpa
On Tuesday morning, freelance writer Tom Kraftwerk posts a tweet: "Have ne apartment viewing tomorrow and was just informed by phone that no rental contract, but a ‘contract of use’ is awarded to circumvent the rent cap. So much for implementation."
One day and more than 5,000 likes later, Tom and his new acquaintance, i.e. me – but for this viewing Henri, the startup employee – are standing in front of a house at Agnes-Wabnitz-Strasse 6, a new development on Landsberger Allee, the southeasternmost tip of Prenzlauer Berg. So here it is, our "charming and spacious three-room apartment". Cold rent 1,395 euros.
The broker is already waiting, smoking, in front of the gray, somehow faceless four-story building, which is described in the brochure as a "city jewel with metropolitan flair. The roughly 50-year-old with the down-to-earth plaid shirt introduces himself; in this text, his name is supposed to be Mr. Schuster. He doesn’t need a minute, the cigarette still glowing, to get to the usage agreement: "We just do that to get around the rent cap. Strictly speaking, it could only cost 1,000 euros." We nod. After all, he said it as if it were in our interest, too.
Strictly speaking, the apartment should cost 1,095 euros cold under the rent cap law that has been in effect since mid-February: 9.80 euros as the maximum value for an apartment completed in 2009, plus one euro for the good furnishings times 101 square meters. It is offered to us for 300 euros more. In addition, there is an obligatory 140 euros for the underground parking space. Tom has a motorcycle, after all.
All I have is the advice of a well-known lawyer who wrote to me earlier, "Every lease is a user agreement by operation of law." Bypassing the rent cap because you don’t call it a lease is impossible, he said: "A completely helpless, ineffectual attempt at circumvention." So you could just move in and just remit the rent cap rent.
A dream of an apartment
Mr. Schuster blows smoke in the air, we follow him into the house, second floor on the right. Looking into the large, sun-flooded rooms, at the fitted kitchen, the parquet flooring and the floor-to-ceiling windows, one could almost feel stingy. It is clear that such a dream is not awarded for the socialist five-year plan rent.
As a tenant, you can put up with the fact that it’s a limited seven-year contract. "And after that?" I want to know: "Then the apartment will probably be sold," says Mr. Schuster. But she was really a "fair offer". I think about Tom and I each having our own bathroom. Maybe we’d like to try it together?
Actually, this apartment was not built for tenants. Even in the construction phase, the project was listed as an "investment property"; condos were sold by the parcel. Our owner, Mr. Schuster’s client, has 15 apartments here. Across the street, he had just rented one out, that is, left it for use, Mr. Schuster tells us. Whether a contract of use would be somehow disadvantageous for us, Tom wants to know. "Well, there’s not such a great protection against eviction if the owner goes bankrupt," says Mr. Schuster. Well then.
No lawsuits against lid breakers
Mr. Schuster also tells us that tenants could "sue" – he makes the quotation marks with his fingers – if a rent is above the rent cap. But no one is doing that, he said; on the contrary, lawsuits against the cap are underway. "Experts say it will be overturned in the summer."
Taking a look in the basement – "we could sublet it," says Tom – we also meet the following pair of prospective tenants. Perhaps Mr. Schuster will have better luck with them.
Tom will seek his luck elsewhere. He doesn’t want to move in and simply push the rent down to the applicable maximum value: "I don’t have the nerve for a legal dispute from day one," he says. He has already seen 15 apartments and sent in his application documents for even more offers. The rent cap is "well-intentioned," but doesn’t help him in practice. Elsewhere, landlords submit two contracts at once, one legally compliant and one with the actual rent. Frustrating.