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German housing co-op slammed for restricting access to tenants’ hot water

A housing cooperative in Saxony has taken the drastic energy- saving measure of restricting access to hot water over fears that Russia could turn off the gas taps in Germany this winter.

Shower in Germany
A shower with running water. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Philipp von Ditfurth

In a Facebook post that swiftly went viral on Tuesday, the Dippoldiswalde Housing Cooperative in Saxony announced that it would be restricting tenants’ access to hot water at certain times of the day. 

“The prices for gas and electricity continue to rise,” the co-op wrote. “As already announced at the members’ meeting, we now have to save for the winter.”

The notice included a list of times of day (including in the mornings and afternoons on weekdays) that no hot water would be available in their buildings. On Saturdays, tenants will only be able to take a warm shower in the late afternoon, the co-op said.

It also announced that heating would be switched off entirely until September.

Within hours, the post was being widely shared on social media channels, with one user describing it as “fathomless cheek” and another describing it as “crazy”. 

Speaking to the Funke Media Group on Wednesday, Housing Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) slammed the decision to manipulate the hot water supply as unlawful.

“Simply turning off the hot water temporarily is illegal,” she said. 

The decision to limit tenants’ access to hot showers and heating also drew consternation from ministers in the Saxony state government and from tenants’ rights associations.

The Germans Tenants’ Association pointed out that issues with the hot water would entitle the tenants to a rent reduction.

Since July 1st, just under half of Dippoldiswalde’s 600 apartments have been affected by the new rules. These are the 300 flats that are heated primarily with gas, WDR reported. 

READ ALSO: 

Housing Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) at an SPD event

Housing Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) at an SPD event in Berlin.

‘Life is expensive’

The security of Germany’s gas supply has been a growing issue in recent months as the country scrambles to save enough energy to tide it through winter.

Despite the efforts of the Economy Ministry to rapidly diversify the energy supply, Europe’s largest economy still receives around a third of its gas from Russia, which the government fears will put the country in a weak position when the cooler months roll around. 

President Vladimir Putin has already reduced or cut off the gas supply to several EU nations in retaliation for its sanctions over the Ukraine war. 

In Germany, gas deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline have been docked by 60 percent. 

Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) has launched a campaign to encourage people to save energy voluntarily, for example by taking fewer showers in summer. 

The German Network Agency has also called for legal minimum temperatures for tenants to be reduced in light of the current crisis. 

READ ALSO:

Defending the plans to restrict hot water in the Saxony properties, Dippoldiswalde housing co-op board member Falk Kühn-Meisegeier said the move was to ward off the price hikes for next year. 

“It’s not a matter of bullying the tenants, but rather of adjusting to what we might otherwise not be able to pay next year,” Kühn-Meisegeier told WDR. “We want tenants to get through this crisis well. Life is expensive enough as it is.”

The co-op says it also wants to “generate electricity on our roofs” and pass it on to the members without a levy or charge.

“That would be a real relief,” the housing association said. “No one in Berlin or at the ‘E.on’s of this world’ wants that”.

Member comments

  1. This is all kinda silly given that current gas boilers for water are so efficient that they use very little gas to heat the water required, but also, they could use off-peak electricity or solar to heat water in a storage tank, then the amount of energy required to go from warm to hot is not as much as cold to hot.

    Would be great to see the government heavily invest in getting every building to use more sustainable heating systems, and also to invest in industry in german to produce said systems, though we’re unlikely to see that.

    So far there’s been no mandate for solar roofs in germany, that I’m aware of.

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MONEY

What gas customers in Germany need to know this autumn

Germany's gas levy has been dropped and a price cap is on the way. But there are some other changes coming from October including a VAT cut and smaller surcharges. Here's what it means for your bills.

What gas customers in Germany need to know this autumn

The German government is reducing the value-added tax (VAT) on gas consumption. The rate will be reduced from 19 to seven percent, for a limited period from October 1st until the end of March 2024.

But that is not the only change for gas bills this autumn, though the government says it will no longer levy the gas procurement surcharge of 2.419 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), which was also originally planned to take effect on October 1st. Instead, two other smaller levies will be due: the gas storage levy and the balancing energy levy. 

Here’s a look at what it means for households.

READ ALSO: Why did Germany make a u-turn on gas levy – and what do the new plans mean?

What does the VAT cut mean?

The VAT cut was originally meant to offset the major gas levy. Even though these plans have been shelved, the VAT cut – down from 19 to seven percent – is still happening. This should have a big effect on people’s bills.

According to the comparison portal Check24, this change would relieve a family by around €306 a year. A single person would see savings of around €87. These calculations are based on a yearly annual consumption of 20,000 kWh for a family, and 5000 kWh for a single household.

What about levies?

The gas procurement levy is off the table, but two other new surcharges will be added to bills from October 1st. These are the balancing energy surcharge or Regelenergieumlage (0.57 cents/kWh) and the gas storage surcharge or Gasspeicherumlage (0.059 cents/kWh).

For a household with an average yearly consumption of 20,000 kWh, the balancing energy levy increases the gas bill by €114 a year, while the gas storage levy adds another €12.

For a single household, the new surcharges will increase the annual gas bill in total by about €31.45.

However, the bottom line is that the various changes on October 1st will result in an average reduction of €180 for a family in Germany while a single person will have save on average €55.55.

Despite these changes, there is no escaping the general trend for rising gas prices compared to a year ago.

And the gas price for consumers reached a new record value of 21.9 cents per kilowatt hour in September.

That means a sample household with a consumption of 20,000 kWh pays on average €4,371 a year for gas usage. In September 2021 the same quantity of gas cost €1,316, according to Check24, meaning that the average gas bill has more than tripled within a year.

This will particularly affect people coming to the end of their contract or starting a new one where they will face the steep prices. 

Gas price cap coming

In view of the rapidly rising gas costs, relief for consumers provided by the reduction in VAT is probably only a drop in the ocean, especially as it will be counteracted to some extent by the two new levies effective from October 1st.

The gas price cap, which the government has agreed on in principle, is therefore the only measure likely to bring tangible relief for households and also companies.

Details of how this will be implemented are not yet available, although proposals are to be presented soon. Much will depend on how high the state-subsidised “base consumption” of gas for households is set.

READ ALSO: Germany to spend €200 billion to cap soaring energy costs

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