German court rules renters rarely obliged to renovate apartments | News | DW | 22.08.2018
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German court rules renters rarely obliged to renovate apartments

To paint, or not to paint? For renters who are moving out of an old apartment in Germany, the question has been a contentious and legally tricky one to answer. A new court ruling gives tenants and landlords more clarity.

Germany's Federal Court of Justice (BGH) strengthened the rights of renters when it comes to renovations in their old apartments in a ruling on Wednesday.

Tenants who are moving out of their apartments are not required to carry out cosmetic repairs — such as painting the walls, ceilings or heaters, or hanging up wallpaper — even if they made an agreement with the previous tenant to do so, the court found. (Note: This part of the ruling pertained to a common practice among renters in Germany, that tenants leaving homes earlier than scheduled are often obliged to find their own replacement on the property owner's behalf.)

There was one catch — the apartment had to be unrenovated with no repairs when the renter initially moved in.

The ruling backs a previous 2015 BGH decision that said renters cannot be forced to take over the costs or renovations without adequate compensation from their landlord if the apartment was unrenovated when they moved in.

Overruling agreements with prior tenants

For many years, there's been confusion among renters and property owners in Germany about who is required to carry out the cosmetic repairs once a tenant moves out.

To circumvent conflict, there are numerous cases where the previous tenant and new tenant cut a deal about who should take over responsibility to paint, typically without involving the landlord or landlady.

The court on Wednesday ruled that an agreement between the two tenants does not have an influence on the responsibilities outlined in the renter's contract with their landlord. The contract with the property owner takes precedence over the agreement with the previous tenant.

This means that future cases where it is unclear whether the new or old tenant is required to carry out such repairs will be, in theory, easier to solve — as long as there's a painting clause in the rental contract.

Court case over bad paint job

Wednesday's case concerned a renter in the northern German town of Celle whose allegedly lackluster paint-job sparked a lengthy court battle.

The man painted his apartment before moving out, but the property owner was dissatisfied with the quality of the work. She called in professional painters to redo the apartment and wanted the new tenant to foot the nearly €800 (more than $900) bill.

The landlady argued in court that the man had an agreement with the previous tenant that he would take over certain items in the apartment in exchange for assuming all renovation responsibilities.

The renter pushed back, saying that since the apartment was unrenovated when he moved in, he was not legally responsible for assuming the painting costs.

Initially, a state court in the northern city of Lüneburg ruled in favor of the landlady. The BGH reversed the state court ruling, pointing to its 2015 decision concerning cosmetic repairs and saying that contracts between tenants and property owners override agreements between tenants.

rs/msh  (AFP, dpa)

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