Flat too hot, what to do?
July 27, 2012 10:45 PM   Subscribe

I rented an apartment in Bonn on very short notice, and it turned out to be a loft. When he weather was cold it was ok, but once it got to 85 degrees it became unliveable. Of course there is no ac, so me and my pregnant wife went to a hotel till it cools off. Is there anything we can do regarding the rent? Do you think it's reasonable for someone to rent out a loft without mentioning that it is one? If I can't sleep in the apartment and he offers no solution but a fan, is this ok somehow? I was referred to this guy through the institute we are visiting, so maybe the secretaries can make him pay if I have a case.
posted by Mai2k3 to Travel & Transportation around Bonn, Germany (16 answers total)
A quick google search shows that there are cases where the courts have decided that rent can be reduced if the apartment gets too hot (the keyword is "Mietminderung", rent reduction). However a lot depends on the details - could you have known when you rented it, did the isolation correspond to the state of the art in the year it was built, etc.
posted by dhoe at 11:56 PM on July 27, 2012

Are you from the US? Asking because there are places in the world, including many parts of Europe where AC is not standard, nor would the lack of AC be anything an apartment listing would need to disclose. I think you have no cause at all to have your landlord pay for hotel nor any other steps you take, like purchasing your own AC.

For tips on sleeping with no AC try this recent question.
posted by 6550 at 11:56 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

If this were the US, I'd tell you to just break the lease, but I don't know what the consequences are for that in Bonn. You may have better luck posting in a forum where people are likely to have specific knowledge of what resources and rights you have as a renter in Germany, such as Toytown Germany. It's possible that your wife's pregnancy may make it possible to break the lease...I saw a post on there that mentioned a change in family size/status as a potential justification for lease breaking at least in some jurisdictions in the country.

I assume the reason you mention that it's a loft is that it's not feasible to install your own A/C (either the windows are funny shaped for mounting, or the space is too big to support a powerful enough window unit without blowing a fuse). You could try blackout shades to keep the heat down, if you haven't already done so.
posted by phoenixy at 12:08 AM on July 28, 2012

No a/c is par for the course in Europe, so that can't be a reason to complain. Are you upset that it was the top floor? Or is there something special about this apartment that makes it unusually hot? Is it not insulated? I think people are getting tripped up on what you mean by loft.

Where we live there are renters protection agencies for each city. I don't know about Bonn, but you can ask around or call the central administration and ask. I would try to document the temperature somehow and then call the renters protection agency and ask if it exceeds the maximum permitted. If it does they might allow you to break the lease, get money back, or require the landlord to make modifications.
posted by ohio at 12:35 AM on July 28, 2012

Your best option is talk to the local Mieterverein, rather than random people on the Internet.

Do you think it's reasonable for someone to rent out a loft without mentioning that it is one?

Of course he doesn't have to mention that it's a "loft" if it's legally habitable - what does that have to do with anything? If you rented the place sight-unseen, that's your gamble to take.
posted by cmonkey at 12:42 AM on July 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Regarding Germany specifics, by all means follow the advice of others here about who to contact.

Also wanted to second that this is normal in Europe. I have never had an apartment with air conditioning. Only offices and stores tend to have them (even then, not always).

I'm also having a hard time understanding what you mean by "loft", generally because they seem to refer to 1900s warehouse-type buildings that have been repurposed into apartments? Those are very few and far between in Europe. It seems you're more in something like a very large studio (single room) on the top floor? I have a friend who lives in a 2-bedroom apartment on the 6th floor, no air conditioning (as mentioned this is the norm here), and she went through her pregnancy and is raising her son in it. It gets over 100F (40C happens often enough) in summers here. We deal by using fans and eating lots of refrigerated foods. Not saying it's fun.

Fans do help. Keep your windows open at night, shut them as soon as the sun comes up. If you have shutters, keep them closed during the day too. It will make a big difference. If it gets to be too much, rest assured, those of us who live through summers without AC do still indulge by going to the cinema or just hanging out in air-conditioned malls.
posted by fraula at 1:24 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

If your apartment is up to standard re. heating, window insulation and plumbing, and is as big as they said etc., the question of whether you're up under the roof or not is secondary. If they, on the other hand, did put you in a "loft", as in "Dachboden" (i.e. uninsulated, raw wooden floor, tiny tiny windows, a tap and a sink and two flights of stairs to the toilet, that type of thing), you may have a right to protest.

ACs are not standard in Germany, as others said. Be consoled by the prediction that your summer will be short. You'll soon need the heating to function...
posted by Namlit at 1:52 AM on July 28, 2012

I definitely feel for you and your wife. Did you talk to the landlord? Does this ("If I can't sleep in the apartment and he offers no solution but a fan, is this ok somehow?") sum up your communication so far?

Looking at the court rulings, the rent was cut by 20% (Mietminderung) if it was consistently warmer by 6 degrees celsius inside the apartment than it was outside. [i.e. Az. 46 C 108/04 -- not less than 30 deg. c. during the day & not less than 25 deg. c. at night despite proper natural ventilation (opening windows and doors)(also: Az. 3 U 83/98 & Az. 30 U 131/06); however, in other instances the court ruled that tenants of Dachgeschosswohnungen should be aware of the generally higher temperature before renting, see Az. 2 U 106/06]

I would suggest you measure the temperature at home (in celsius) and then talk to your landlord (again). Let him know that your particular situation (pregnant wife) is a driving factor in this (people do sympathize!) and if the conversation is not going well, point towards the court rulings.
The Mieterverein might suggest what legal recourse there could be but frankly I am not sure what legal standing you have (how long is the lease in total/ is it a regular lease or did he make some kind of exceptions for you (pos./neg), etc.).
Sometimes it scares landlords if the Mieterverein writes them an important sounding letter. Be aware that the Mieterverein charges a member's fee before the consultation (like 15 € or something IIRC). Bring your lease so they can check it.

Did you check your lease yourself? In Germany landlord's rights are fairly strong and often a notice of 3 months is required. But maybe your lease states otherwise and you could move out sooner.

Above all, like others have pointed out, there is no guaranteed A/C in Germany - it sounds a bit like you are not aware of the differences between your home country (US?) and Germany. It does not hurt to get informed. It actually gives you more power if you know your rights.
I personally think the landlord offering a fan is a step in the right direction - I don't quite understand your statement: "he offers no solution but a fan". What would you like him to do? Install more blinds/window treatments? Install an air conditioning unit? Be clear on what you want, negotiate with him - if you have a long term lease he might be more inclined to help you out but if you are in Bonn for a couple month, it might be unlikely for him to invest in stuff that other tenants don't value.
Also, with all due respect, you might have unrealistic expectations: flats in Germany are often empty (not furnished, no appliances, sometimes even no equipped kitchen -- like no sink&cabinets). The tenant is expected to bring their own. At the same time tenants are obviously allowed to drill holes into walls, hang shelves and wall cupboards, paint/wallpaper walls and so on. So the landlord is not legally obliged to provide a whole lot really.
Your situation might be different if your apartment is fully furnished or if the lease is only short-term.

(I also assume that you are talking about a regular flat on the top floor, that might have a big window front, but generally is considered a normal flat. If you live in an attic that is not suitable for living, the situation is different.)

Good luck for everything! Hope your wife feels better soon.
posted by travelwithcats at 3:17 AM on July 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm also having a hard time understanding what you mean by "loft"

I'm not the poster but I also live in Germany and I assume he means 'top floor' of the building, ie. under the roof, and you have no idea how unbearably hot it can get in on a fourth or fifth floor directly under the roof in a city (especially in Germany, really, must be something about how the roofs and walls are built and most of all those lovely big windows letting in a lot of sunlight which is great in any other season - and all floors above the ground floor also lack window shutters, the next best thing after AC to keep out the heat.)

I don't know much in detail about the Mietminderung laws except that ah, they're not unequivocal and most of all their interpretation is very much at the landlords' discretion, so if they're not accomodating whenever you raise an issue that could fall under the Mietminderung provisions (usually it's about noise from temporary construction work), then you could contact the local Mieterverein, the association for tenants rights (seems in Bonn it's called the Mieterbund) for a consultation and see if they can provide some advice. I'd recommend talking to them as soon as possible.

But if the only route turns out to be lawyers and court proceedings then well apart from generally being a nuisance it'd be no use to you because by the time anything gets done it will be autumn and you won't have this problem anymore.

You can totally break the lease, normally at least - unless your contract has some specific provision about a minimum period but that seems unusual in Germany. Usually you will only need to give three months notice.

And for what it's worth, no I don't think it's reasonable at all that they didn't tell you it was the top floor! For one thing, for buildings that have only stairs and not lifts/elevators (which is most old city buildings in Germany), it's obviously ridiculous to omit that fact, even a perfectly healthy person with healthy joints would want to know if they're gonna have to climb up all those stairs to carry their shopping. And I think since most Germans are aware top floors can become very hot, it's ridiculous to omit that detail even based on that fact alone, even if your building has a lift.
posted by bitteschoen at 4:12 AM on July 28, 2012

And yeah, it's true that there is no guaranteed A/C in Germany or pretty much anywhere in Europe, and that is a well-known fact, but that in this case is secondary to the fact that they didn't tell you it was a top floor. That makes all the difference, if you were on the first or even second floor (in a fourth or fifth-floor building) you wouldn't have such uncomfortable temperatures even during the hottest days of summer, so you wouldn't even have had to to consider the availability of A/C because it'd be mostly unnecessary.
posted by bitteschoen at 4:22 AM on July 28, 2012

I had dealings with the Mieterverein, Mieterschutzbund and similar and I frankly don't think they can get you anywhere. It's well-known that top floors get hot in the jokes of summer we have here, and it's also known that AC isn't the standard here. It is also normal to ask about a place you are interested in renting if it's not stated in the ad/listing. The usual process is that people go and look at a place they want to rent (mainly to make an inventory of the renovations and such), so how can you blame your landlord for not telling you if you never asked? And what do you want him to do if not giving you a fan? I'd be happy if my landlord gave me a fan, because that's the only thing he can do about a natural occurance like "heat in summer". No Mieterverein can force him to install AC or more windows.
posted by MinusCelsius at 4:56 AM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is Germany's summer unusually hot this year? A German friend last night said her siblings' places of employment closed for the day because of the abnormal heat. So, no AC might be the norm, but this summer might be especially rough.

Seconding fraula's advice for keeping your place cool(er) without AC. We only put our central air on when guests come over, and we're in the middle of the US Midwest's heat/drought wave.
posted by katyh at 6:57 AM on July 28, 2012

You rented "on short notice" but I'm assuming you got to physically inspect the place before moving in and paying rent?

I sympathize. I once signed a lease in July for an apartment that turned out to be unbearable in the winter -- the extremely high ceilings meant that all the heat from the pitiful gas heaters (which I had to pay to fuel, whereas most places have heat included) went straight up to the ceiling and left us shivering on the couch below.

If I hadn't been in such a hurry, I might have considered these details. But how was it my landlord's fault that I didn't?

It's well known that heat rises, and the higher up your apartment is situated, the warmer it will naturally become. Ask the landlord for suggestions for cooling the apartment, or find a way out of your lease and get a new place altogether, but I think you're going to have a hard time convincing anyone you are owed any kind of financial compensation.
posted by hermitosis at 7:44 AM on July 28, 2012

Is Germany's summer unusually hot this year?

No: here (somewhat down the page; German link). Rather on the contrary.

Closing things because of relatively not-even-that-hot weather seems typical for Germany. My girlfriend always laughs when I tell her that our school closed as soon as it was 86F in the shade at 10 in the morning. Hitzefrei...

It would be good if the OP would come back with a few more particulars about that loft thingy, because useful answers totally depend on how, er, lofty this place really is. I'm feeling that there's a bit of a 'different culture' issue at hand about what's reasonable to expect, but based on your description it's not so easy to guess what your situation really is like, even for a German like myself. Sorry about that your wife had to go to a hotel, though...
posted by Namlit at 9:51 AM on July 28, 2012

Thanks a lot for all your answers!
In the end we moved to an apartment provided by the institute, so it was ok. I am still pissed about getting deceived, but I guess there's not much to do at this point since we we sale each back home.
I'll keep all this stuff in mind when we go to ermany next year, hope I don't need it! :-)
posted by Mai2k3 at 3:12 PM on August 19, 2012

About the questions about what is a loft - I meant the space under the roof, which usually is he attic in America, but in this case it was converted to an "apartment".

Ps. If heat wasn't enough- this is what we had to hear two three times a day (NSFW)
posted by Mai2k3 at 3:21 PM on August 19, 2012

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