Property owners say German rental laws make it too hard to evict non-paying tenants. So-called 'nomad tenants' simply cycle from one apartment to the next-without paying a penny.
The majority of Germans rent, rather than own, their apartments
Property owners are growing increasingly vocal in their opposition to "nomad tenants" - tenants who avoid rent by hopping from lease to lease. Unlike ordinary tenants who have fallen behind on payments, nomad tenants never planned to pay their rent in the first place. Often, they trash an apartment before abandoning it all together.
Unfortunately for landlords, it can be hard to weed out the nomads from the potential tenants.
Landlord associations estimate 1,500 cases of nomad tenants every year
"The classic nomad tenant makes a respectable first impression, often wears a suit to the meeting, and he's generally a younger man," says Gerold Happ of the landlords' association Haus und Grund. But there are also cases of whole families - mother, father, three kids, who move from apartment to apartment, he said. "It's hard to say, 'This is the typical nomad.' "
The enemy in the apartment
Germany's rental laws stem from the 1950s and '60s, when there was a shortage of apartments and tenants needed protection from being thrown on the streets. But now these laws make getting rid of a non-paying tenant a long and arduous process, says Happ.
"Up until now there has been little chance to evict a non-paying tenant," Happ told Deutsche Welle. A landlord must first terminate a lease, before he initiates the legal process of evicting a tenant, which requires a court order. It's a process that can take two years - or more.
It's also not cheap. The landlord has to foot the initial court costs himself; the tenant repays them only if he is found to be in the wrong. According to Haus und Grund, the cost of a non-paying tenant can easily reach 25,000 euros ($35,000) with legal fees and lost rent.
But the problem of "nomad renters" is exaggerated, says Michael Roggenbrodt of Berliner Mieterverein, a tenants' association in the capital.
"These rental nomads represent a tiny fraction of landlord-tenants relationships," he told Deutsche Welle, adding that the issue is sensationalized by the media.
"It makes for exciting television, these images of completely trashed apartments, where the sinks and bathtubs are ripped out. And it creates the false impression that this is happening all the time," he said.
Pay up or pack up
Even so, a government proposal to change the legislation - part of a comprehensive reform of rental law - would make it easier for landlords to get rid of tenants who don't pay their rent.
For landlords, a non-paying tenant is like a case of bed bugs - only harder to get rid off
But Roggenbrodt doesn't see much point in the amendments to the law.
"We don't think it's necessary to put new legislation on the books for a few exceptional cases,"
Oddly enough, the landlords' association doesn't support the proposed reform either - although for an entirely different reason.
"What's been proposed are new lease termination clauses. But the problem is not that we need new reasons for lease termination; The problem is that the whole process of eviction needs to be accelerated," Happ said.
For the time being, landlords will have to continue to rely on their own judgment to keep nomad tenants from getting a foot in the door in the first place.
Author: Sarah Harman
Editor: Nancy Isenson