By Capt. Austen Swaim (U.S. Army)
Stuttgart Law Center
Editor’s Note: Do you have a legal question you would like to see answered in a future edition of The Citizen? If so, contact “Ask a JAG” at email@example.com.
Question: “I just arrived to Germany. What legal issues should I look out for?”
Cell phone contracts: Under German law a cell phone customer may be able to prematurely terminate their cell phone contract if they are moving to a place where that cell provider cannot offer their services. To get around this, many cell phone providers reject early termination by arguing that the customer can use the cell-phone all over the world. This may be true but it won’t be cheap! We advise that before signing any cell phone contracts you understand the terms and know when you must terminate the contract in order to avoid it auto-renewing for a year or more.
Other kinds of contracts: Additionally, A lot of people do not realize that they are supposed to return the hardware (fancy cell phones, HD-Receiver, Smart Card etc.) to the provider or at least to offer to return it to them at the termination of a contract. If the customer fails to do so, they can be charged for these items.
How to terminate a contract: You must know the terms of the contract you are signing. If the terms are in German and you cannot read German, don’t sign the document! For instance, sometimes the contract provisions require a written termination (by post) with the signature on it. If a customer fails to terminate in this way, the contract may continue.
Also, keep in mind that if a dispute over whether a customer properly terminated their contracted arises, the burden of proof that the company received the termination letter is on the customer/sender. The best way to avoid this type of issue is to send signed, written termination letters via the German postal system with a delivery and return receipt (“Einwurf-Einschreiben mit Rueckschein”).
Question: “I heard sometimes people get a TV or pet tax and that I need to register in my local Rathaus. Will I get taxed and what is a Rathaus?”
Individuals with NATO-SOFA status (that is Servicemembers and US Civil Service employees and their command sponsored dependents), are generally excluded from the Rathaus registration requirements in Germany. A Rathaus is the town hall and administration office for your city or town. However, if you purchase property in Germany beware that you may be subjecting yourself to registration requirements. Similarly, most individuals with NATO-SOFA status are exempt from the TV tax and the pet tax. If you do receive a letter for the TV tax please come to the Legal Assistance Office on Kelley Barracks in Building 3312 for assistance.