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Aug. 10th, 2012 @ 06:02 pm Prefer not to rent via friend-of-a-friend relationships
Das gleiche in Grün, äh, auf Deutsch.

Do not rent with friends of friends of friends. Preferably go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect £ 200.

But let’s start from the beginning...

Some time ago I decided to move out of Cambridge and settle in Berlin. To this end I asked among my friends and acquaintances to see if anyone would be willing to support me in this and in what ways. Initially everything went smoothly: my parents offered to drive me from Cambridge and carry all my stuff, while amuzulo was prepared to allow me to stay at his place while I go looking for a flat (or a place in a shared house). Furthermore he got me in touch with his friend Anja, who kindly allowed me to stay in her shared-house room for a month while she was on holiday. My parents drove me and my possessions to Essen on 7th June; on 1st July I went on to Berlin by coach and moved into Anja’s room. I really liked it there; very spacious room, great neighbourhood and a very friendly housemate.

I got lazy in June while staying with my parents. I assumed that I’d just take care of everything when I’m in Berlin. But when I was there I quickly realised that finding a flat in Berlin was going to be much harder than it was in Cambridge. I assumed I could just open a bank account and transfer my money from England within a week; but it turned out it wasn’t quite so easy. Most banks wanted to see a regular influx of money (I don’t have a job right now). But more importantly, I was supposed to send in copies of all sorts of documents I didn’t have; for example, I didn’t have a personal ID card (I lost it when I was mugged in Cambridge); of course I should have obtained that while I was in Essen. The passport would only be acceptable in conjunction with a confirmation from the civil registry, but to get that, I would have had to show the tenancy contract of my current accommodation, but I was just temporarily staying at Anja’s place and Anja was on holiday. Thus I had no personal ID card, no civil registry confirmation, and no proof of income. A guarantee from my parents should do it, or so I was told; and a notarially certified copy of my birth certificate.

My parents joined me in Berlin on 13th July (they had actually already planned this trip before I was even considering moving to Berlin) and brought a guarantee and the birth certificate (along with all my stuff of course, which we stored in Moritz’s basement — thanks, Moritz!). A local lawyer, Mr Schneider, a friend of my dad’s, certified a copy of the birth certificate. So far, so good.

This certain Mr Schneider happened to be friends with a certain Mr King, a real-estate agent working for a foreign investment company, who lets and sells properties in Berlin for a certain Mr Hooker from England (whom I never met). So, through my parents, I was brought in touch with this Mr King by Mr Schneider. It was sold to me as a “unique opportunity” to rent an apartment “easily and free of hassle”. I was supposed to take a look at the apartment, but always remember that ultra-long-time friendships are involved. Supposedly Mr Schneider’s reputation as a lawyer was at stake because he supposedly “recommended” me as a tenant to Mr King. This was where I first started to feel suspicious. It sounded as if I were supposed to jettison my rights as a tenant and under no circumstances ever make any demands, because otherwise poor Mr King would be really really angry with Mr Schneider, and Mr Schneider would be really really angry with my dad, and then they wouldn’t be friends anymore and everyone would become sad. So I didn’t say anything.

During the house viewing, I clarified multiple times that I needed to move in on 1st August. After all that is when I agreed to vacate Anja’s place. I did not get the impression that Mr King was particularly fussed about that, but I didn’t say anything. The apartment was being restructured and a complete renovation was still to happen — one which according to my estimatation would probably not be doable within two weeks. But again I didn’t say anything. I’m not supposed to raise the impression that I’d be accusing anyone of incompetence. Heaven forbid. Anything but that.

A few days later I received the tenancy contract from Mr King by mail. Wait, that’s not completely true — I received most of the tenancy contract; the second page was missing. The first page specified a move-in date of 1st September. Also, parts of the contract were printed to look somewhat like a questionnaire, and only about half of those questions were filled out in handwriting (e.g. the size of the deposit, the notice period, etc.). I got really skeptical. Of course I read through the rest of the contract, and while doing so discovered two clauses that I disagreed with. Then I called Mr King to ask about those clauses, the questions not filled in, the missing page and the wrong move-in date.

The move-in date, I was told, I should just cross out and write the correct one, that’s “not a problem”. The missing data I should just fill in. But he was stumped with the rest; he had no idea about the missing page and he said he didn’t know what those clauses really meant, so I should come to his office in person on Friday the 27th July and we would clarify this and then sign the contract. My suspicions were getting serious here, but of course I wasn’t allowed to say anything.

When I was at his office on said 27th July, I emphasised once again that I needed the property by 1st August. “Sure, not a problem.” Did I put in the correct infor“Yes, yes, I’m sure it’s fine.” Is it all right for me to cross out these clau“Yes, that’s all right.” I did not get the impression that he knew what he was saying.

So what about the missing page of the contract? “What missing page, hm, let’s see. (looks at the contract) This is ‘Page 1’ and this is ‘Page 2’, what do you mean something’s missing?” Mr King didn’t notice that “Page 1” contained sections 1–2 and “Page 2” sections 7–9. The next page containing sections 10–16 did not have a page number, but a line at the bottom saying “continued on page 3”; and “Page 3” finally contained the remaining sections and the box for the signatures. It was obvious to me that the contract was designed to be printed double-sided; the pages labeled “Page 1”, “Page 2” and “Page 3” were the front sides and the page with the sections 10–16 obviously the reverse of Page 2. Therefore, the reverse of Page 1 (containing sections 3–6) was missing. “No-one ever noticed this. You’re quite the nitpicker.” Remember this guy’s main profession is to let properties and to sign tenancy contracts. But I wasn’t allowed to say anything. The impertinent accusation of nitpickery went unretorted. At least I finally had a fully-signed tenancy contract (albeit only after 3–4 attempts of his to photocopy the missing reverse of Page 1 in such a way that the text near the margin wouldn’t be cut off).

Finally!, I thought. Finally I can move in on 1st August and then embark on a relaxed search for some proper accommodation with a sensible letting agent or landlord. That’s what I thought. But I had not heard the last of the King of Disorganised.

Come the 31st of July, one day before the agreed-upon move-in date, I get a call. “Our chaps are working hard on the renovation, but we still gotta do XYZ and then there’s foobarbaz, but don’t worry, you can move in on the 7th of August.” ... Uhm. I see. You think I should sleep under the bridge for a week? But wait, I’m not allowed to say that. So I say I’ll ask around to see if anyone can accommodate me for the interim period. Great. Really great. Anja was kindly prepared to allow me to stay for a couple more days, but by 4th August she’d need her room back. amuzulo was already accommodating someone and on top of that he was ill; I couldn’t really sleep at Moritz’s place because I have great difficulties tolerating crying babies at night; and Dennis didn’t respond on Facebook. I couldn’t think of anyone else. (In hindsight it turned out I could have asked Mr Schneider, but I didn’t think of that in the rush, after all he was only a nodding acquaintance.) Moritz’s Google skillz came in handy: Rented property not ready for moving in at beginning of tenancy (Ask A Lawyer). The established practice in this situation appears to be to book accommodation (e.g. a hotel) and to charge the landlord for it. I’d only have to inform him immediately. So I did. I booked a room at Amstelhouse, some sort of traveler’s hostel, and sent an e-mail to Mr King stating the incurred costs and the amount by which the first month’s rent will be reduced. This is where trouble really started. This is where the King of Disorganised mutated into the King of Unlawful Demeanour.

First, I got an e-mail claiming that he had had a disagreement with the owner of the property (Marcus Hooker) over the costs of the renovation and that the owner revoked his power of attorney to sign contracts. Therefore our tenancy contract is not legally in force. (This is incorrect. It is still in force even if he had never had the power of attorney.) At the same time he calls Mr Schneider behind my back and complains what an incredible troublemaker I am and what an amount of stress I cause and how no-one in their right mind would ever consider me for a tenant. He in turn calls my dad and discharges the same tirade at him, and then of course my dad calls me. I explain the situation, including the fact that I got legal advice. He responds by saying I should call Mr Schneider and apologise to him. (Apologise? For something that isn’t my fault? Oh that’s right, I’m not allowed to say anything.) Well, The Snider didn’t wanna hear no apology. He preferred to launch into condescending tongue-lashing telling me I was obnoxious and as a man of 30 years I should have considered the consequences of my actions. Who the hell does he think he is? But that’s not all: this so-called lawyer now advises me to ignore the contract and not take any further action. Excuse me? I should ignore a signed contract? Is he out of his mind? Perhaps the lie about the contract not having legal force was his idea too?

So anyway. With Moritz’s help I composed a very polite e-mail in which I pointed out that the tenancy contract is still in force (even if he didn’t have power of attorney). The tenancy contract could only be canceled by signing a separate tenancy cancelation contract. In particular, I specifically left out any mention that I’d be legally eligible for damages, which according to my dad would sound too much like a threat. I even made concessions by undoing the hostel booking, instead booking a train ticket to Essen without charging him for it, and furthermore offering to change the move-in date to 11th August so there would be way enough time to finish the renovation.

But the King of Misconduct didn’t like that. The King of Misconduct sulked and didn’t want to play anymore. Instead he delivered a sequel to the Fable of the Revoked Power of Attorney: The Story of Just-Discovered Catastrophic Property Damage. Supposedly the outside wall is wet and the drying measures would “take months”. The climax: “I don’t want to make you unhappy. Please find something better soon.” It must be comfortable when you’re able to convince yourself you’re not making anyone unhappy, no matter how indecently you act.

The latest state of affairs is that I offered an extremely accommodating tenancy cancelation contract in which no damages whatsoever are imposed on him. You won’t find such a lenient and servile tenant again soon. Unbelievable what I do for those so-called “friendship” connections with people who aren’t even my friends (and who would want to be friends after such an experience, anyway). I sent this out four days ago and haven’t heard back since.

Moritz has been an incredible help throughout the whole thing — not only by googling for legal facts, but also by giving his (relatively objective) evaluation of the interpersonal level. Many thanks to you, Moritz. At this point I must admit that I am somewhat shocked at the extent to which my parents have defended Schneider and King and their lines of action. Without Moritz they might still be convinced that it was all my fault and it’s all because I can’t constrain myself and always insist on strictly legal matters. Maybe they still think so. King has never once apologised, neither for his sloppiness with the contract, nor for delaying the move-in date, nor for his overreaction to me subtracting the hostel booking from the first month’s rent. Schneider has similarly not acted in the most glorious way, giving false legal advice and even yelling a sermon into the ear of someone who is (legally and morally) in the right.

In the end I am now once again at my parents in Essen, back to square one where I was in early June. Except of course that I have now strained the goodwill of my friends in Berlin. And that most of my stuff is with Moritz and Anja in Berlin. But I’m taking a lesson from his: First of all, I’ll get my personal ID card and a bank account here in Essen and obtain all the necessary documents. Then I’ll see if I can find a landlord or agent in Berlin who is not entangled with any strange friendships, and of course I’m a bit more clued up about German tenancy law now.

I have three theories regarding what might have happened behind the scenes. I’ll post these as comments and you can discuss them.

Update: Mr King has signed and returned the tenancy cancelation contract.
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Date:August 10th, 2012 04:02 pm (UTC)
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Theory 1: There was indeed a disagreement with the landlord and damage to the property. According to this theory Mr King would have indeed had stress — possibly because of my demands, but the disagreement could have been about something entirely unrelated — and the property is indeed unliveable-in for months. This hypothetical scenario would mean that Mr King didn’t cope with the situation and (hastily) attempted to cancel the tenancy contract single-handedly. Of course even in this case that the very least an apology would have been in order, preferably an offer for reimbursement (possibly coming from the landlord). This theory doesn’t make sense for two reasons: ① Neither Mr Schneider nor my dad mentioned anything about the disagreement with the landlord, but instead proceeded to blame everything on me. ② If he had really lost power of attorney, he would hardly have visited the property afterwards to inspect the damage to the wall.
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Date:August 10th, 2012 04:02 pm (UTC)
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Theory 2: Mr King invented the disagreement and the property damage. This theory would put all the blame for everything on Mr King; he would have acted most inappropriately and is either completely incompetent or malicious. He would have greatly underestimated the amount of renovation work necessary; he would have lied to me, acted unlawfully and dishonorably, and exploited his friendship with Mr Schneider to put me under pressure to forget about the whole thing. Within this theory it is possible that the initial wrong move-in date of 1st September was deliberate (hoping I wouldn’t notice). The only argument against this theory seems to be that such a level of impertinence and unscrupulousness is almost unimaginable — but then again Mr King’s tenants are normally recipients of social security or asylum seekers; it is thus entirely possible that he’s just never had a knowledgeable tenant who defended his rights.
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Date:August 10th, 2012 04:03 pm (UTC)
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Theory 3: Mr Schneider invented the disagreement and the property damage. It is possible that Mr King was upset (or even just worried) about my demands and sought “advice” from his lawyer friend and followed all of it without questioning. In this scenario Mr Schneider is the bad guy. He tried to save King from claims for compensation and from the entire tenancy — but being a lawyer, he knew I was legally in the right if I were to take it to court, so he attempted something unlawful and hoped I wouldn’t realise it (or he hoped my dad would discourage me from taking legal action, which in some sense he did). Mr Schneider would have taken great risk under this theory — a trial would have jeopardised his reputation as a lawyer — but then again he constantly emphasised that he was worried about that very jeopardy if I were to misbehave in any way. The only thing I can find to speak against this theory is that it sounds a bit like a conspiracy, but apart from that it seems the most plausible I have so far.
Date:August 10th, 2012 05:16 pm (UTC)
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When you have a friend (of a friend (of a relative, etc)) refer you like this, it's worth finding out whether this is done as a favour to you, or as a favour to the person performing the service. The way they seem to behave is as if it were a favour to you, even though one would have thought that in this case it would be the opposite.