Even in the event of a longer absence, tenants have to look after their apartment due to the duty of care. This is how tenants prepare themselves and their apartments ideally for their vacation.
Whether it’s a short vacation, a vacation trip, a student exchange semester: when the apartment is vacant, tenants should do a lot to meet their duty of care. The same also applies if you have to go to hospital or to rehab or cure for a longer period of time. So what are the tenant obligations while on vacation?
- What the duty of care means for the tenant
- The tenant obligations while on vacation should be taken seriously
- Do I have to let my landlord know that I am going on vacation?
- Are friends and acquaintances liable for damages during house sitting?
- What if a mail arrives during the vacation and a deadline expires?
- Can I leave the car on the road while on vacation?
- 8 tips: How to make your home fit for a holiday
What the duty of care means for the tenant
The duty of care is a kind of duty of care of the tenant. It means that the tenant must treat the apartment with care and try to prevent any foreseeable damage. In the event of unexpected damage, he must ensure that it does not worsen. This also applies to those who take care of the apartment during his absence.
The duty of care does not only apply to the apartment itself, but to all shared rooms in the apartment building. Even during his absence, the tenant must comply with obligations such as the house rules. Some examples of breaches of duty of care:
- The landlord will not be notified of any vermin infestation
- Washing machine hose bursts during absence
- Smoking causes an apartment fire
- Frost damage in winter due to lack of heating
- Loss of house and apartment keys
The duty of care also includes the obligation to report any defects that have arisen – whether self-inflicted or not – to the landlord as quickly as possible and to ensure that the damage does not increase (Section 536c BGB).
If a tenant is absent for a longer period – whether because of a four-day short vacation or a six-month semester abroad – he should ask a friend, relative or neighbor to take over his tenant obligations. But that doesn’t mean that the person has to sit in the apartment day and night and watch out that nothing breaks. Rather, he should check regularly and, for example, ventilate sporadically.
The tenant obligations while on vacation should be taken seriously
The tenant’s obligations do not rest even during the tenant’s absence and he must ensure that he still fulfills them. This includes, for example, regular rent payments. Usually this is regulated by the SEPA direct debit procedure or by a standing order at the bank.
Tenants should also not forget to pay bills for electricity, gas, insurance and telephone. In addition to the obligations arising from the rental agreement and the legislation, the tenant also has private tasks – such as caring for pets, watering flowers or emptying the mailbox – which he should take care of before his absence. The most common questions that arise:
Can I get exempt from the cleaning week?
If vacation and cleaning week coincide, the tenant must not simply skip them. If the cleaning of the stairwell, the leaf sweeping or the winter service has been transferred to the tenants through an agreement in the lease, the consent of the landlord would be required for an exemption.
If the landlord does not give this permission, the tenant must arrange for a replacement if he is not present during the cleaning week. That can be the nice neighbor who swaps his duties with you. Or someone who wanted to come anyway to see if everything was going well.
Those who cannot find a replacement but do not want to forego their vacation also have the option of entrusting a company with the work that has to be done.
But be careful: If the replacement fails or does not do the job properly, the tenant is liable for any damage.
Even if the landlord rarely notices it himself and a missed cleaning week is certainly not a reason for termination, tenants should maintain good relationships with their neighbors. If they complain to the landlord and the landlord then hires a company to mop the stairs, shovel the snow or sweep the leaves, he can get the costs back from the tenant who has not fulfilled his duty.
In addition, the landlord can issue a warning to his tenant if he neglects his duties. If these warnings accumulate, the tenant can also be terminated under certain circumstances.
Do I have to heat in winter when I’m not at home?
In principle, the tenant is not obliged to heat. However, the rented apartment must not be damaged. This means that tenants are indirectly encouraged to heat sufficiently in the winter, for example to prevent heating pipes from freezing when the outside temperature is extremely low. If there is damage because the heating was not on, the tenant is liable for it.
Do I have to ventilate when I’m not at home?
In order to prevent mold growth in the apartment, it should be aired regularly. If the tenant is not there for a longer period of time, he should ask a neighbor or confidante to do it for him. If you return to an apartment full of mold after a year of absence because it has not been ventilated, you cannot pass this damage on to the landlord. A rent reduction is also out of the question. On the contrary: If the tenant is clearly responsible for the mold, the landlord can claim compensation.
Do I have to let my landlord know that I am going on vacation?
For most tenants, the immediate answer would be no – that is none of the landlord’s business. That is actually true, because it is part of the protected privacy of the tenant. However, it can make sense to inform the landlord with whom a key has been deposited, if access to the apartment is required during the absence in the course of a pipe burst or another damaging event.
If the landlord has to enter the apartment at short notice due to an emergency, the tenant must be available to him. Anyone who is absent frequently or for a longer period should therefore inform their landlord who should be contacted in an emergency. This results from the obligation to handle the rental property with care.
When the landlord is on vacation
In principle, the landlord does not have to tell his tenant when and how long he is on vacation. However, he should appoint a representative. He can do this, for example, via a notice in the house or a drop in the mailbox. It should be ensured that the tenant has a contact person for the rights and obligations arising from the rental agreement without any problems.
Can my landlord ask for a duplicate key?
No, the landlord is not allowed to keep a duplicate key or demand it for the time of absence. It makes sense, however, for the tenant to give a trustworthy person his duplicate key. This person should then be reported to the landlord with their contact details. In this way, the landlord can enter the apartment in an emergency, for example in the event of a water pipe burst. It is advisable to leave the duplicate key to a person who does not live too far from your own apartment and can be there quickly. If the landlord has to have the door opened, he can invoice the tenant for the costs.
If you don’t have a trusted person who lives nearby, you can of course voluntarily entrust your landlord with your duplicate key. If you still want to be on the safe side that the landlord really only opens the door to your own apartment in an emergency, you should hand over the key to the landlord in a sealed letter. He cannot prevent the landlord from entering the apartment without permission, but at least he knows afterwards and can take legal action.
Can I sublet the apartment during my vacation?
Instead of hiring a person of trust to regularly check that everything is going well, the tenant can leave his apartment to a friend or relative. The free admission of family members as well as the free accommodation of visitors for a period of up to six weeks is possible without any problems. The landlord may not prohibit this, but should be informed in advance. The tenant should also inform neighbors in order to avoid misunderstandings. Not that the guest is mistaken for a burglar.
It looks different if the tenant receives money for it. Because then it is a matter of subletting. For example, if a tenant wants to finance his vacation through Airbnb, i.e. by subletting it to vacationers, he must discuss this with his landlord beforehand (§540 BGB). Without permission to sublet, the landlord can face termination in the worst case. In addition, in cities where the law on misappropriation is in force and renting to holiday guests requires the approval of the authorities, certain regulations must be observed.
Are friends and acquaintances liable for damages during house sitting?
As a rule, the polluter pays principle applies here: whoever causes damage is also liable to third parties. The civil code is clearly there (§ 823 BGB). However, in the event of a dispute, courts sometimes also require an implicit exclusion of liability. This is to ensure that the helper does not suffer any disadvantages due to his willingness to help. In this case, he only has to pay for the damage caused if he acted with gross negligence.
If a mishap occurs, the perpetrator’s personal liability insurance usually takes effect. But be careful: not all insurers also cover so-called courtesy claims. This should be taken into account when taking out personal liability insurance. In an emergency, those willing to help can save themselves a lot of trouble.
Inform home contents insurance of a long absence!
Anyone planning to be absent for a longer period of time should inform their home insurance company. Most tariffs allow for a maximum absence of six to eight weeks. Anything beyond that endangers the insurance cover if the insurer is ignorant. Possible consequences would be that the damage is not paid at all or only partially. However, the insurer may demand a higher premium for the period of absence.
How can I protect my apartment from burglars while on vacation?
It’s high season not only for travel companies but also for burglars during the holidays. Therefore, tenants should avoid giving the thieves tips where nobody is at home. A post on Facebook, Instagram and Co. about the departure, for example, is out of place. If the holiday is to be shared with acquaintances and friends, then it is better to wait until you return – or send the pictures to the people in person.
An overflowing mailbox is also a clear sign that the residents are absent. A person you trust can take out the post on a regular basis and change something about the external appearance of the apartment – that is, simulate the presence of the resident. For example, if the roller shutter is different today than it was the day before, it would appear as if there was life in the apartment.
Timers can be retrofitted in some roller shutters, so it can be programmed when the blinds move up and down. If it is not possible to change the position of the roller blinds during the absence: Curtains or roller blinds should be closed so far that it is not so easy to see into the apartment from the outside.
The light can also be controlled with a timer. This always gives the impression that someone is at home and that scares most burglars off.
Under no circumstances should tenants leave their keys under the doormat or in the flower pot next to the door. Burglars usually search these hiding spots first. Valuables and light furniture on easy-to-reach balconies and terraces are also best put away.
Jewelry, credit cards or cash should also not be lying around openly in the apartment. Because: If burglars manage to get into the apartment, tenants shouldn’t make it easy for them to find their loot. If burglars have to search first, there is also the chance that they will be heard and caught.
If you want to be on the safe side, you can also install an alarm system. A cheaper option is probably to inform the neighbors about the absence and ask them to keep their eyes open. So strangers are more likely to be noticed.
What if a mail arrives during the vacation and a deadline expires?
Important mail can always arrive. Even if a friend regularly empties the mailbox, he seldom opens the letters. As a result, it can happen that an invoice or a request to submit important forms is received during the holiday period, the deadline for which has already passed before the tenant is back. In this case, it is advisable to keep all documents that prove exactly when the tenant was away. Under certain circumstances, this can cause the deadline to be reinstated. If an important deadline has passed, legal advice should be sought as soon as possible after your return.
In principle, it is advisable to issue a person of trust with a postal power of attorney. This person is thus officially entitled to receive the mail from the tenant who has been away from home – including delivery registered mail, registered mail with acknowledgment of receipt or postal delivery documents, which normally can only be accepted by the person concerned. This is especially important if, for example, a legal dispute is still open. A legal deadline must also be observed during the vacation.
Can I leave the car on the road while on vacation?
Many tenants do not have a fixed parking space for their car and therefore park on the side of the road. When going on vacation, many ask themselves: where to go by car? In principle, it is not forbidden to simply leave the vehicle where it is. However, it also makes sense here to give the car keys to someone you trust and to ask them to check on the car regularly. In the short term, no parking signs could be put up because there is a move or street cleaning pending in the neighborhood. If the car is not parked in due time, it can be towed away for a fee.
8 tips: How to make your home fit for a holiday
When you say goodbye on vacation, you usually don’t think about going back yet. So that the holiday mood does not go away when the tenant unlocks the apartment door, a few things should be done in the apartment before departure:
Take away rubbish In order to protect themselves from the stink of rubbish in the whole apartment, for example, vacationers should dispose of the rubbish before leaving and use up perishable food as much as possible.
Tip 2: Empty the refrigerator
If the tenant is absent for a very long time, it is best to empty the entire refrigerator and freezer compartment and switch the device off completely during the absence. So nothing can be spoiled and electricity is also saved.
Tip 3: Disconnect electrical devices from the electricity
In general, electrical devices that are not necessarily needed during the absence should be disconnected from the electricity. On the one hand, this reduces costs and it protects the devices from overvoltage damage caused by a possible lightning strike. The fuses can, but do not have to be, switched off.
Tip 4: Turn off the water supply
If you want, you can turn off the water and gas – but the landlord cannot ask for this. The water supply of the dishwasher and washing machine should be turned off. Because if a hose was kept under pressure while you were away, causing water damage, the tenant is acting grossly negligent. As a result, the landlord is entitled to compensation.
Tip 5: Take care of the plants
If you have plants at home and want them to appear in full splendor after your vacation, you should take care of someone who comes by every now and then and waters the plants. But be careful: not everyone has a green thumb. If there are peculiarities in plant care, these should be passed on so that in the end not too much or too little was watered.
Tip 6: Take care of pets
Even those who have pets and do not take them on vacation must take care of their care. It is best if pet owners buy food, cat litter or the like in advance so that the effort of the favor remains within reasonable limits. If there is no neighbor, relative or friend, there is still the possibility of a boarding house. Some animal shelters also take in dogs, cats and the like during the vacation period for a fee.
Tip 7: Empty the mailbox and pause newspaper subscriptions
Depending on the length of the absence, the tenant should have someone who empties his mailbox regularly. The daily newspaper can usually be canceled for a short time. Other subscriptions can also often be suspended.
Tip 8: Close doors and windows
When you leave, all doors and windows should be firmly closed. That means that windows should not be tilted and the front door should not only be drawn but also locked. This not only protects against storm damage, it also makes life more difficult for burglars.