Moving: Planning ahead can ensure renters get security deposits returned

Reimbursement of security deposits are due at the time of move-out to those renting on the German economy, if there are no claims in dispute.

However, all too often renters do not receive their security deposits —which are typically 1.5 to two months’ rent — in full or at all, due to landlords’ claims of reimbursement for damages and other charges at move-out.

Housing and legal assistance officials agree that one of the best ways to help ensure that you receive most, if not all, of your security deposit back is to have a pre-inspection with the landlord and a housing office representative at least two weeks prior to the move-out date.

The pre-inspection is a recommended step that some renters unadvisedly skip when it’s time for a permanent change of station, said Iris Jones, U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Housing chief.

“Most people come to us after they don’t get their deposit back, and we contact the landlord and try to resolve it,” Jones said. “But the best thing to do is identify damages, if any, to those off-post quarters during the pre-inspection and try to resolve those issues before [lease] termination.”

Jones said renters should notify the Housing Office when they receive PCS orders and suggested they attend a housing out-processing briefing, preferably within 45 days of PCSing.

The Housing Office uses a standard form contract with a military clause that allows a tenant to cancel a lease in one month, due to reasons such as PCSing, early return of dependents, deployments and a command directed move onto post.  

However, as soon as the date of departure is known, a renter should give the landlord notice of termination of the lease in writing, said Werner Sukup, German attorney advisor for the Stuttgart Law Center.

Sukup said it is the tenant’s responsibility to know the landlord’s expectations for things such as repairs, cleaning, garden maintenance and leaving items behind.

 “There should be a list made from that pre-inspection so that you know what to fix,” he said. “It’s a good way to save a lot of money.”

Sukup said the burden of proof is on the tenant when it comes to damages, so digital photos should be taken at final inspection as documentation in case of a later dispute. Landlords will not typically return the security deposit on the spot at the final inspection, Sukup said, because very often there are some unpaid charges — such as reconciliation of utilities.

In Germany, utility bills are based on estimates. At the end of the accounting period, the meters for water and heating are read and the tenant will either pay more money or be reimbursed, based on the actual usage. German courts grant landlords up to 12 months after the meter readings to provide the tenant with the reconciliation statement.

If the tenant moves out within the accounting period, the meters have to be read at the time of the move-out. However, the bill is not due at this time. The landlord is allowed to withhold an appropriate part of the security deposit if an additional utilities payment is expected, based on the last year’s reconciliation.

For out-processing information, contact the USAG Stuttgart Housing Office at 431-2230/civ. 07031-15-2230. For information on German landlord/tenant laws, contact the Stuttgart Law Center at 421-4152/civ. 0711-729-4152.