Ask a JAG: Laws to be familiar with living off-post

Q: I recently arrived in Germany and have to live off post. However, I’m apprehensive due to the differences in culture. Specifically, I’m curious about the differences in landlord and tenant laws. With which laws and issues should I be familiar?

A: Living on the local economy and integrating yourself with the German community is an exciting endeavor. However, you are correct to note differences in law and legal culture. Herr Werner Sukup, the German attorney at the Legal Assistance Office, advises clients regarding landlord and tenant issues. He often encounters clients who, before leaving Germany, experience problems with their landlords that may impact their finances; specifically, their security deposits.

Unfortunately, in some instances, it is too late to ensure the client is fighting a winning battle. Thus, the LAO recently began to offer a landlord and tenant briefing for the community. The briefing targets newcomers to Germany, but all members of the Stuttgart community seeking to learn more about local landlord and tenant law are welcome. The briefing is held every second Thursday of the month at 11 a.m. in the courtroom, Building 3312 on Kelley Barracks. Contact the Central Processing Facility to verify dates for the briefing. Here are a few key points that everyone should keep in mind when living off post:

• Everything, and I stress, everything, should be in writing. Oral agreements with your landlord are highly discouraged and most likely unenforceable.

• You have a duty to notify your landlord in writing of required repairs. Failure to notify your landlord can result in severe penalties. Real-life example: A client notices a small leaking pipe in his basement prior to going on leave for three weeks to the U.S. The leak is minor, and a small bucket catches all leaking water. When the client returns from the U.S., the entire basement was flooded and the walls were barely standing because the pipe exploded. The client breached his duty to notify the landlord of required repairs and, as a result, was liable for nearly €100,000. Approximately €1,000 is withheld from his check each month.

•If you request an upgrade to your apartment, such as a whirlpool, the landlord may relay up to 11 percent of the cost to you each year that you remain at the apartment. Thus, over nine years, you’ll pay the entire cost. Contact the Legal Assistance Office for more information.