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MONEY

Tenants in Germany need eviction protections during energy crisis, says housing boss

German housing experts say tenants who can’t pay additional costs - known as Nebenkosten -- during the energy crisis shouldn’t be evicted.

A gas metre in an apartment building.
A gas metre in an apartment building. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jan Woitas

The Federal Association of German Housing and Real Estate Companies (GdW) is calling on the German government to give tenants more protections from having their leases terminated if rising prices leave them unable to pay add-on costs (Nebenkosten).

GdW President Axel Gedaschko told Funke Mediengruppe newspapers on Tuesday that housing companies belonging to his association wouldn’t terminate any leases due to late utility bill payments. He says instead that tenants should be able to pay back late costs in instalments over time – with the payment plan determined together with tenants individually.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s €300 energy relief payout

About 13 million people in Germany live in places owned by one of the 3,000 housing companies belonging to the GdW.

At the same time, slightly more than half of Germany’s 83 million residents rent, rather than own, their home. Already in 2021, one in eight German tenants was financially overburdened due to housing costs.

Partly to help tenants who don’t live in a GdW member place, Gedaschko says the federal government should put a cap on the price of gas used to heat homes.

So far, that’s something Economics Minister Robert Habeck has ruled out, saying that the government’s relief packages are already designed to help people offset rising costs.

READ ALSO: What’s in Germany’s support package for rising energy bills?

The German Tenants’ Association says protections need to go even further. “What we really need is a moratorium on terminations, like the ones we saw at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic,” President Lukas Siebenkotten told the Funke papers.

But there’s no sign yet that the government is willing to go that far.

For now, Federal Building Minister Clara Geywitz says she’s in favour of extending the grace period for late payments.

At the moment, tenants who have been served with an eviction notice due to unpaid bills have two months to pay back any arrears. If they do that, it voids that eviction notice and they can stay.

Geywitz says she wants to make this grace period longer and have it apply it more situations. But the federal cabinet of ministers would still need to agree to this step.

READ ALSO: Who benefits the most from Germany’s inflation relief package?

Some tenants in Germany facing steep rent increases

People with rental contracts that are indexed to inflation (indexmiete) are particularly affected by rising costs, with their rent going up at the rate of inflation–or as high as 8 percent next year. 

The German Tenants Association called for a freeze on indexed contracts earlier this year, while rent policy spokespeople Bernhard Daldrup for the Social Democrats and Canam Bayram for the Greens have already called for a limit on how much landlords can raise indexed contracts by.

However, the liberal Free Democrats have been cold on the idea recently, saying the government’s relief packages will help address these costs by allowing people to hold on to more of their money through tax relief measures.

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ENERGY

Germany and Denmark investigate Russian pipeline pressure drop

Germany said Monday it was investigating an unexplained pressure drop in the inactive Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia, which was blocked by Berlin in the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine.

Germany and Denmark investigate Russian pipeline pressure drop

The operator said it was “relatively likely that there’s a leak” in the underwater pipeline, which runs beneath the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.

Authorities had spotted a “large bubble field near Bornholm”, a Danish island in the Baltic, Nord Stream 2 spokesman Ulrich Lissek told AFP.

“The pipeline was never in use, just prepared for technical operation, and therefore filled with gas,” he said.

There was, however, “no clarity” over the cause of the pressure drop in the underwater link, or whether the issue was related to a section of the pipe in “German sovereign waters”, a spokeswoman for the German economy ministry said.

Officials were working to “clarify the situation,” the spokeswoman said, adding that Danish authorities had been alerted to the issue.

The pipeline, which runs parallel to Nord Stream 1 and was intended to roughly double the capacity for undersea gas imports from Russia, was blocked by Berlin in the days before the invasion of Ukraine. Germany, which was highly dependent on imports of fossil fuels from Russia to meet its energy needs, has since come under acute stress as Moscow has dwindled supplies.

Russian energy giant Gazprom progressively reduced the volumes of gas being delivered via the Nord Stream 1 until it shut the pipeline completely at the end of August, blaming Western sanctions for the delay of necessary repairs to the pipeline.

READ ALSO: Germany’s gas storage facilities ‘over 90 percent full’

Germany has rebuffed Gazprom’s technical explanation for the cut, instead accusing Moscow of wielding energy as a weapon amid tensions over the Ukraine war.

Kremlin representatives have previously suggested that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline should be allowed to go into operation.

It was “technically possible” to continue deliveries, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in August.

Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who signed off on the first Nord Stream pipeline in his final days in office, has also called on Berlin to reconsider its position on the blocked second link.

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