Q: My landlord told me I have to register at the town hall in my village, but others have told me that is not required if I am here under U.S. government orders. Who is right?
A: “Thou shalt not register with the local town hall” is a commandment derived from Article 6 of the German Supplementary Agreement to the NATO Status of Forces Agreement. Only the U.S. forces have the right to keep records on their personnel with NATO SOFA status or share such information with German authorities.
Adherence to this law needs to be reiterated as it trumps the German Federal Registration Act, “Bundesmeldegesetz” in German or BMG. A change in German law that took effect on Nov. 1, 2015, requires that for any new leases, landlords must issue the tenant a so-called “Move-in/Move-out Confirmation,” or “Einzugs-/Auszugsbestaetigung” in German, for registration purposes or be hit with a fine of up to €1,000. That may be why your landlord told you to go down to the Rathaus to register. You should disregard such advice, and point out to your landlord that under Article 6 of the Supplementary Agreement you are exempt from such registration requirements.
Registering at the local town hall can have serious repercussions, including but not limited to:
• German registration records are electronically shared with the German institution, formerly called “GEZ,” which is short for “Gebuehreneinzugszentrale,” and rechristened “AZDBS,” which stands for “ARD, ZDF, Deutschlandradio — Beitragsservice,” in 2013, that collects charges for public broadcasting. This triggers a TV and radio tax.
If you receive such an assessment from AZDBS, the Stuttgart Law Center can provide you with a letter confirming that you are exempt from having to pay TV and radio taxes under Article 60, paragraph 5(b) of the Supplementary Agreement.
• German registration records are also shared with the Federal Office for Taxation, which triggers issuance of German tax ID numbers. The local finance office may start wondering about your source of income if they notice that no German tax return was filed for a particular tax ID number. Should you receive a letter from the German Finance Office, make an appointment to see a German legal assistance attorney right away.
• The Alien Registration Office may also probe into your situation to find out why a foreigner is registered at the town hall but does not appear in their legal alien records. This could only be straightened out by invoking the protections of Articles 6 and 7 of the Supplementary Agreement.
• An even more serious problem could arise if you are a General Schedule employee or service member and are thinking about retiring and taking a Nonappropriated Funds job or getting technical expert or analytical support status accreditation, under Articles 73 or 72 of the Supplementary Agreement. These jobs are by definition not available to those who have become ordinary residents of Germany, for which local registration is seen as a strong indicator.
Your local town hall has no incentive to oppose a registration request or turn you away because the state pays each and every county a community fiscal adjustment payment, “kommunaler Finanzausgleich” in German, based on its number of registered inhabitants. However, another contributing factor influencing that payment is the number of NATO SOFA personnel reported to be present by the U.S. forces. Consequently, if you were to register, the county or city might very well receive a double benefit.
So stand your ground and don’t give up your treaty-based right not to register. If you registered by mistake and experience any of the problems discussed above, make an appointment to see a German legal assistance attorney at the Stuttgart Law Center’s Legal Assistance Office on Kelley Barracks, Building 3312, 2nd Floor, Room 215, DSN: 421-4152 / 2609 or civ. 711-729-4152 / 2609
Editor’s notes: This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. You should always consult an attorney for specific legal questions.
Certain U.S. contractor positions, such as The Family and Morale, Welfare & Recreation (Family and MWR) program instructors may require registration with your local Rathaus in order to establish a German contractor tax identification number, however, SOFA exemptions on German registration and taxes still apply. Contact the legal office for any questions.