Am I being extorted?
February 16, 2011 7:14 AM   Subscribe

I've a question about apartment rental in Germany : Am I being extorted?

I'm a visiting researcher a university in Germany (NRW), the department here booked a guest house for my stay. I never submitted the housing request form, as I wasn't sure I'd need the apartment for the first month, but the department apparently did so on my behalf.

In the end, my previous visiting researcher position extended my contract by one month. We all agreed that I should start this position one month later. I made an attempt to inform the guest house about the change, which they apparently never understood. I never worried my about their unresponsiveness because I finally submitted the housing request form with the proper dates. I did not however contact the department secretary who handled my booking with the guest house.

On my original start date, that department secretary said my key was available. I explained the error to both her and the guest house, observing that the housing request form had the correct dates.

At this point, the guest house stopped responding to my emails, instead going to the professor on who's grant I'm being supported. Initially, I'd imagined this was just a language issue, but I wasn't terribly worried since all paperwork from me gave the correct dates.

After I started, the guest house eventually sent me a housing contract giving the original incorrect dates. I corrected the dates, signed the form, and returned it to them, assuming they just hadn't done anything. Again, they responded not by contacting me, but by contacting my boss, this time threatening the departments relationship with the guest house.

I finally just decided to simply pay them, but I've not yet signed any contract with their dates. I could presumably withhold rent towards the end, assuming they've even figured out that my corrected dates give a departure date one month later, but surely they'd again harass my boos.

I vaguely understand their reasons for going after my boss, as the original error belongs to the department in some sense. And they can therefore try to extract the rent form the department. Yet, their behavior feels like extortion from my point of view. And they did ignore my emails about the correct start date. Btw, my employment contract is totally separate from the housing contract.

Is this criminal extortion on the part of the guest house? In any case, I'd imagine the police will prefer that I discuss the matter with university facilities people above the guest house people first. Any tips on preventing the guest house from going back to my boss again when I do so? Any ideas if/how the the police might prevent the guest house from harassing my boss? Any other rent dispute procedures in Germany that'd be useful for dealing with a university?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (3 answers total)
One thing you can do is talk with the local Mieterverein (Tenants' Association). They will be familiar with the law, and I have found the one here in Heidelberg to be extremely helpful in dealing with such issues.

(Essentially, IANAL, but there are almost certainly people who are lawyers hanging around the city with the job of helping you out cheaply.)
posted by kyrademon at 7:20 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I definitely recommend going to a lawyer first before contacting the police. Otherwise, you imply you expect them to get violent. The Mieterverein sounds like an excellent idea.
posted by Triton at 7:50 AM on February 16, 2011

Very annoying situation, but does not sound like "extortion" in the legal sense. What do you mean when you say they "harrass" your boss? If they do not want to do business with the Uni department anymore, that is not a "threat", it's well within their rights (probably the department has f*ed up several rent contracts already and they've had enough. Typical of German universities...). Also, it's not your fault and has nothing to do with your work contract.

Just withholding payments at the end sounds like your best bet. If you don't feel OK with that, could you go there (I mean the Guest House) yourself and try to sort it out in person? I would definitely not try to get police involved, lawyer sounds like overkill as well and will probably just cost you a lot of money. I'd try to talk to the guest house in person, then to the department secretary (in person!). Does your university have some kind of counseling for foreign visitors (international office)? If yes, I'd also go there. In person. German admin staff is often a bit strange in that regard. E-mail is seen as something that one doesn't necessarily read (much less reply to...), and phone will probably not work well if you have language problems.

Mieterverein is usually an excellent idea, but since this sounds like some kind of institutional arrangement between university and guest house, they may not be able to help much. But they are always nice and helpful, and maybe they can point you towards additional resources.
posted by The Toad at 2:01 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

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