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HOUSING

How Germany is reforming its rental law in favour of tenants

Starting next year, tenants in Germany won't have to fear so many drastic mark-ups after modernizations of their flats, and will be better able to rebuke price increases.

How Germany is reforming its rental law in favour of tenants
Flats to let in central Munich, one of the areas most affected by rental increases. Photo: DPA

They should also be able to defend themselves more easily against exorbitant rents – as Germany’s controversial Mietpreisbremse (rental control law) is to be improved accordingly. The law, enacted in the summer of 2015, set a cap for how high landlords in urban areas in Germany could charge above the so-called Mietspiegel, or rental average.

The coalition factions Christian and Social Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Social Democrats (SPD) agreed on a compromise on tenancy law, which the Bundestag wants to put into law on Thursday. Rents, especially in large urban areas in Germany such as Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, have risen massively in recent years.

SEE ALSO: What Germany is doing to keep rents down: special report

The rules, according to which landlords may allocate a part of the costs to tenants after modernizations, are to be tightened. Nationwide landlords may reclaim annually only eight instead of 11 percent of the costs from their tenants that they can now, to cover the costs of repairs or refurbishings to a flat.

The trend of “modernizing out” has been regarded as a major problem in the housing market – for example, when an apartment is luxuriously renovated and tenants can no longer fork down the higher rent.

“The situation, especially in large urban areas, is serious,” said Minister of Justice Katarina Barley (SPD). Young families and single parents in particular have great problems finding affordable housing in so-called conurbations, or vast urban regions comprised of a number of cities and large town, she added.  

The planned capping limit of three euros permitted rent increase per square meter of living space within six years after modernizations remains – but the law will be tightened: Where the rent amounts to less than seven euros per square meter, landlords may only add on an additional two euros per square meter within six years. 

SEE ALSO: Tip of the week: When can my landlord raise my rent?

Reforming the rent index

The current law states that the rental price can only be set at ten percent higher than the so-called Mietspiegel in certain cases – for new buildings, renovations or if the previous rent was already higher one year before the end of the tenancy.

Yet under the new regulations, set to go into effect on January 1st, 2019, tenants should now be able to see more easily why they pay more than previous tenants. If a landlord demands more, he will have to inform the tenant of this before the contract is concluded and state a reason – this was not the case until now.

If the tenant thinks that his landlord is asking too much, it should be easier in future to object, said a speaker of Barley.

The renter is now allowed to rebuke the landlord if the raise in rent is not reasonably justified. The landlord in turn will be obligated to state a reason before making an increase. If the renter still is not sure if the increase is justified, he or she can seek the council of the local Mieterverein, a renter's association which offers legal advice for minimal fees.

SEE ALSO: How to join a Mieterverein (renter's association) in Germany

The previous Grand Coalition introduced the Mietpreisbreme or rent price brake. It applies in regions with a tense and overcrowded housing market, which are determined by the federal states. Yet the law quickly proved to be ineffective – partly because tenants usually did not know how much their predecessors had paid.

“It has always been important to the union that people are not driven out of their traditional residential areas because they can no longer afford their rent,” said SPD Union tenancy law expert Jan-Marco Luczak.

However not everyone was satisfied with the the new legislation changes. Free Democratic  (FDP) member of parliament Katharina Willkomm said that the rent brake was fundamentally unsuitable for tackling the causes of the rent increase and that new residential construction was necessary.

Axel Gedaschko, President of the German Housing Industry Association, felt it would restrict rentals from receiving the refurbishings they needed. “An additional restriction for modernization – and this again especially for landlords with low rents – is completely counterproductive and jeopardizes the future viability of housing in Germany.”

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HEALTH

7 things to know about visiting a doctor in Germany

Going to the doctor when you're living abroad is a necessary part of life, but it can feel a little daunting. Here are some cultural quirks to look out for in Germany.

7 things to know about visiting a doctor in Germany

Germany is known for having one of the best healthcare systems in the world. 

But there are some cultural differences that can take a bit of getting used to when you’re not from the country. 

Here’s a look at what you should keep in mind. 

You might have to pay at the doctor

People used to a healthcare system that’s free at the point of contact, such as the NHS in the UK, may be a little confused if they are asked to pay money at a doctor’s appointment. 

But the fact is that certain things will not be covered by your health insurance in Germany, and some optional extras could require that you have to dip into your wallet. 

For instance, many gynaecologists may offer to carry out an optional pelvic ultrasound check during a Pap smear test. If it’s not covered by your insurance, they will state in the appointment that it is an extra cost so you can decide if you want to pay for it or not. 

You should also ask if you have to pay for it upfront at the practice or if it will be sent out as a bill. 

Similarly, other specialists may also offer extra services that you could pay extra for. 

READ ALSO: ‘It works’: Your verdict on the German healthcare system

You’ll get different types of prescriptions

Another point to watch out for is that there are different kinds of prescriptions. A prescription (Rezept) given out on pink slips is usually given to people on statutory health insurance. People have to pay a reduced contribution – usually around €5-€10 – when picking up prescription medicine at the pharmacy. 

Patients with private insurance in Germany are more likely to be given a blue-coloured prescription slip. Private customers have to pay for their medicines in full before their insurance company reimburses them. You can also be given a blue slip if your public health insurance doesn’t cover the treatment.

Green slips include treatment that the doctor recommends. Meanwhile, yellow prescriptions are issued by the doctor for special controlled substances and are only valid for seven days. 

Polite waiting room etiquette

Germans may not be well known for being super friendly. But there are a few unexpected spots which are very welcoming. And one of those places is the doctor’s waiting room. 

Yes, it can be very surprising for foreigners when they are greeted with a little “Guten Morgen!” or “hallo!” in the waiting room when someone arrives. It’s customary for patients to give a polite hello and goodbye in the waiting room.

A person being vaccinated against Covid-19 in Hamburg in 2021.

A person being vaccinated against Covid-19 in Hamburg in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

… But you may face a stern receptionist or doctor

Ask a group of international residents about their experience of going to the doctor in Germany – or indeed other German-speaking countries – and you will likely hear about how the bedside manner is “different”.

This is because some doctors, and even receptionists, have a stern and direct approach when dealing with patients, which can be intimidating for newcomers to the country.

It can also be a little weird if you have to take some clothes off for an examination. You probably won’t be handed a gown, towel or even asked to undress behind a curtain. Everything is out in the open in Germany!  

Don’t worry though – none of this is personal. It’s just a different way of doing things. 

If you do come across a grumpy doctor, the best way to handle it is to either accept it or find a different doctor.

Be prepared to wait

Most Hausarzt (GP) practices in Germany operate on a drop-in basis during set times, known as Sprechstunden (consultation hours).

This means you can simply pop in during a two or three-hour window. During these times, it’s also first-come, first-served.

The advantage of this system is that it’s possible to see a doctor, for example, on a Wednesday morning without an appointment, as long as you have time to wait.

But if you are in a rush, or have a strict schedule, then the drop-in approach can be time-consuming. Depending on when you arrive, it could mean a short wait of several minutes or up to an hour.

The best advice is to arrive just as the doors open to secure a place near the top of the queue.

You can also book an appointment or Termin. But even if you book, you’ll probably still face a wait of at least 15 minutes. 

You are usually referred to a specialist

In Germany, if you are covered by public health insurance, you usually have to visit a GP to be referred to a specialist doctor.

There are exceptions in some cases, such as for gynaecologists and ophthalmologists where you can make an appointment without a referral.

If you have private insurance you can book appointments with specialists more easily.

READ ALSO: How to get a faster appointment with a specialist in Germany

Visit (or call) a GP for a sick note

If you’re sick from work then you have to get a sick note – Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung or Krankschreibung – after three days of illness to give to your employer. Some bosses may require this sick note earlier, so check your contract or ask HR. 

Generally, you have to visit your doctor to get this document. But during the pandemic, people have been able to get a sick note over the phone from their GP for mild respiratory illnesses, including Covid-19. 

READ ALSO: The 10 rules you need to know if you fall ill in Germany 

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