They smell “Difficult to separate”
If the suspicion of the Bochum public prosecutor’s office is correct and employees of Germany’s largest landlord Vonovia were bribed by construction companies, the tenants may have to foot the bill, explains a tenancy law expert.
WirtschaftsWoche: Mr. Schmalfeldt, the public prosecutor’s office is investigating possible corruption at Vonovia. Employees are said to have given preference to certain craft companies when placing orders. Vonovia sees itself as a victim. But don’t the tenants rather bear the damage if craftsmen have billed too much?
Stefan Schmalfeldt: That cannot be ruled out. Who paid for the excessive bills depends on the type of construction work. If modernization measures were affected, then the tenant bears the damage because the costs for such measures are passed on to the tenants. But we don’t know that exactly yet.
When is a modernization measure available?
If, for example, the facade is insulated or better insulated windows are installed, which increase the quality of living in the long term, then this is a modernization measure. Of course, the higher the costs, the higher the rent increase. If the costs were too high – keyword corruption – the rent increase might also have been too high.
Stefan Schmalfeldt is a legal expert from the tenants’ association in Hamburg.
Have you ever had the impression that bills could have been too high?
That is often difficult to say. If craftsmen come to repair a defect, for example because something broke, then the landlord has to pay. Maintenance can be separated from modernizations, which the tenant has to pay for, but in practice it is not so easy to separate them. It happens again and again that modernization measures are carried out when a repair is due. Defects that the landlord would actually have to remedy at his own expense are then packed into a modernization measure. It’s generally difficult to separate, and not just at Vonovia.
Suppose Vonovia arrives to replace the windows. Do tenants then have the right to see the receipts to check what the cost of each service was?
Yes, the tenant has the right. That’s important too. Only then can he see, for example, which costs have been allocated to the individual trades. Whether, for example, the costs were too high due to unlawful agreements between craftsmen and employees on the landlord side and the tenant is now paying too much rent as a result, cannot be checked in any other way.
Vonovia provides many day-to-day services itself that other lessors outsource to external companies. Does Vonovia then have an interest in keeping tenant costs low?
This is always an issue that affects many large landlords, not just Vonovia. It is permissible to provide services yourself, but billing is often very opaque. The tenants notice again and again that, for example, caretaker services were much cheaper when they were still bought externally. If the landlord himself benefits from higher prices, then there is simply a risk that too much will be charged.
In addition, there is no call for tenders. The subsidiary does not have to compete with other providers, for example by offering the cheapest price, and could always be a bit more expensive for that reason alone.
The suspicion is not unfounded. The challenge for both the tenants and for us as a tenants’ association is then to prove this in individual cases. It is usually worth just taking a look at the service description and the underlying contracts, for example to check whether the caretaker service, for which the tenant has to pay, also bills for small repairs that the landlord should actually pay for. But that’s still a simple case. In order to check whether market prices have been calculated, on the other hand, comparative offers have to be obtained from time to time. That takes a lot of effort.
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