How to correctly warn your landlord of defects in the apartment


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Broken heating, mold, construction noise: the tenant must immediately report such defects to the landlord by means of a notification of defects and request him to remedy the damage. What you need to know.

Tenants have the right to an orderly and faultless rental apartmentA defect is any condition that deviates from the contractually agreed condition , for example a broken heating or defective electrical system. If there are defects for which the tenant is not responsible, the landlord must remedy them. It regulates “§ 536 rent reduction in the case of material and legal defects” of the German Civil Code (BGB). Find out below how to warn your landlord of defects.

However, a defect also applies if the apartment is at least ten percent smaller than agreed in the rental agreement. Construction site noise or stench that penetrates the apartment from outside also count as deficiencies. However, the landlord cannot remedy these defects.

What is a notice of defects

A notification of defects gives the tenant the opportunity to notify the landlord of any defects in the rental property, i.e. the rented apartment. Its aim is for the landlord to take care of the repairs immediately. This is regulated in Section 536a of the German Civil Code (BGB).

However, it should also be noted that tenants are even obliged to report defects as soon as they become aware of them. This is expressly mentioned in Section 536c, Paragraph 1 (BGB). The notification of defects, also known in some places as a notification of defects, is an instrument that protects the interests of the tenant – a fully functional apartment – as well as those of the landlord – intact property.

Only if the landlord is aware of the defect in the rental property can he rectify it or the tenant reduce the rent. The tenant must inform the landlord of the defect. This is usually done via a written notification of defects. The tenant should describe the defect in detail and give the landlord a reasonable deadline for remedying it. Usually two weeks are appropriate. The tenant can also claim a rent reduction in his notification of defects. 

If the problem is acute, such as a water pipe burst, the tenant must act immediately. Then he should try to reach his landlord or the property manager by phone. With the help of a memo, the tenant can later prove that he immediately reported the damage.
If the landlord cannot be reached, the tenant himself has to commission a craftsman emergency service so that expensive consequential damage can be avoided. 

warn your landlord of defects

Defects that can lead to a reduction in rent

The five most common defects in apartments are moisture damage and mold in the apartment, noise as a result of construction work in the house or in the immediate vicinity, a smaller apartment than specified in the rental agreement, failure or defect of technical equipment and damage to the house or apartment, such as rotten Window. All of these defects can justify a rent reduction. 

The tenants’ association has compiled more than 300 court rulings on the subject of “housing deficiencies and rent reduction” in a 92-page brochure (ISBN 978-3-933091-63-5). We have listed some of them sorted according to the percentage rent reduction. However, the information can only serve as a rough guide. 

The German Civil Code (BGB) does not provide any regulation that guarantees a rent reduction in a specific amount in the event of a certain defect or construction defect. In case of doubt, this is always the individual decision of the competent court.


Possible rent reductions defects

Possible rent reduction by 10%

  • if the mailbox is defective or if the toilet is heavily calcified (one percent).
  • in the case of an unreasonably roughened bathtub (three percent).
  • with poor TV reception or with peeling plaster and peeling paint in the stairwell (five percent).
  • if there is noise from an in-house laundrette (seven percent).
  • in the case of excessive lead pollution in drinking water
  • with mice and cockroaches in the apartment
  • when removing the shutters
  • if the contractually stipulated parking space is not available
  • if the basement is unusable
  • if the use of the laundry room and drying room is withdrawn
  • in the event of partial failure of the hot water supply
  • in the event of poor heating performance due to chimney deficiencies and smoke development
  • with poor TV reception

Possible rent reduction by 15%

  • when scaffolding the facade / plastic films on the windows
  • if the hot water boiler fails
  • if the apartment entrance door is missing
  • with poor heating performance

Possible rent reduction by 20%

  • in the case of excessive lead pollution in drinking water
  • with mice and cockroaches in the apartment
  • when removing the shutters
  • if the contractually stipulated parking space is not available
  • if the basement is unusable
  • if the use of the laundry room and drying room is withdrawn
  • in the event of partial failure of the hot water supply
  • in the event of poor heating performance due to chimney deficiencies and smoke development
  • with poor TV reception
warn your landlord of defects

Possible rent reduction by 25%

  • if the heating is defective and below 15 degrees Celsius in winter
  • if there is considerable construction noise in the neighborhood
  • third party pigeons
  • in the event of water damage to ceilings and walls
  • in the case of excessive construction noise in a new development area
  • in the case of moisture damage with mold formation in the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen due to thermal wallpapers

Possible rent reduction by 30%

  • if the living room is unusable
  • if there is a risk of collapse due to water damage
  • if there is significant mold formation in the bathroom and bedroom
  • with a dripping ceiling

Possible rent reduction by 40%

  • if there is a health risk from excessive moisture in the apartment
warn your landlord of defects

Possible rent reduction by 50%

  • in the case of significant moisture damage and wetness, dripping water on the ceiling and moisture penetration of the carpet
  • in an apartment full of leaky windows and doors
  • in the case of health hazards from electric night storage heaters containing asbestos
  • if the kitchen and toilets are unusable

Possible rent reduction by 100%

  • if the apartment is uninhabitable due to flooding
  • in the event of a complete heating failure during the winter months
  • in the event of a complete failure of the electrical system for hot water, light, kitchen, etc.
  • if the apartment is uninhabitable

Defects that do not justify a rent reduction

However, the tenant has to accept minor defects such as a small scratch in the parquet. A notice of defects would probably be unsuccessful here. Even in the case of defects that a tenant accepted when handing over the apartment, the landlord does not have to remedy the defect (BGB § 536b).

Small damage to baseboards or, for example, if the washbasin in the bathroom has a small crack and the tenant has accepted these defects at the start of the contract, this is the contractually agreed condition. The landlord does not have to react to this complaint.


The kitchen is part of the apartment – what about any defects?

If the apartment also has a fitted kitchen provided by the landlord, the landlord must also remedy any defects in the kitchen equipment. So if the refrigerator breaks, for example, the landlord pays for the replacement or repair and not the tenant. Because usually a fitted kitchen is included in the rent, so the tenant pays a surcharge for it. In return, he can also expect the kitchen to function perfectly.

warn your landlord of defects

The 3 leverages a tenant can use to get rent reduction due to defects

In order to give the notice of defects more weight or to make the landlord aware of the urgency of the matter, the tenant can resort to some means of pressure: He can only pay the rent under reserve, withhold it or reduce it.

  1. Rent reduction
    In the case of a rent reduction, the tenant reduces the rent by a certain amount. The reduction does not depend on the consent of the landlord and does not have to be applied for. However, it is not clear how high this reduction may be. All judgments on this subject relate to individual cases. In the case of serious defects such as a total failure of the heating or electrical system, it can be the entire rent, in the case of minor defects such as a permanently dirty staircase or unpleasant smells on the balcony, even only single-digit percentage values. 
  2. Withhold rent
    As an alternative or parallel to the rent reduction, there is also the option of withholding a reasonable portion of the rent. In contrast to the rent reduction, the tenant must pay the retained amounts to the landlord after the defect has been remedied. The amount that can be withheld is higher than the appropriate reduction. How much that is in concrete terms is not regulated by law, but some judges assume twice the amount or more.
  3. Pay rent subject to reservation
    The announcement of a rent reduction in the notice of defects can under certain circumstances cloud the relationship between tenant and landlord. However, if you only report the defect and continue to pay the full rent, you can no longer reduce the rent retrospectively. However, this right remains if the tenant only pays the rent with reservations.

The risks of leverage

All three forms of pressure involve certain risks. If the tenant wrongly withholds or reduces part of the rent, the shortfall will be treated as if it were a rent arrears. If this has usually reached two months’ rent, there is a risk, in the worst case, of the tenancy being terminated without notice.

If the tenant has only paid the rent under reserve, the reduction claim may need to be clarified in court so that he can ultimately get the money back. It is therefore advisable to seek advice from a lawyer or the local tenants’ association before paying less rent than agreed in the rental agreement.

If the landlord doesn’t respond

In some cases it can happen that the landlord does not react to the notification of defects despite all pressure. Then the tenant has several options:

  • Sue the landlord The tenant can sue the landlord for the defect to be remedied. Such a compulsory action is only advisable if the apartment can still be inhabited normally even with the deficiency, since processes usually take a long time – sometimes even years. If, for example, the heating is defective, this path will take far too long.
  • Take action yourself and bill the landlord for costs In the event of defects that need to be eliminated quickly or if the landlord does not respond to the notification of defects, the tenant can remedy the defect himself or have it remedied by a craftsman. He can later invoice the landlord for the costs or offset them against the rent. However, only the necessary expenses are eligible for reimbursement. If the heating is defective, the tenant can order repairs. But if he has the entire heating system replaced, he has to pay for it himself.
  • Demand compensation from the landlord
    If a defect causes damage to the tenant’s property, the landlord is liable for damages. If a broken water pipe damages the tenant’s furniture, he can claim damages. However, these claims for damages cannot be asserted in the notification of defects or in the form of a rent reduction but must be sued in the event of a dispute.

Most landlords react quickly to a notification of defects from the tenant out of their own interest. Nevertheless, it happens again and again that some landlords simply ignore these or deny that there are deficiencies. In such cases, it may be advisable to seek the help of a tenants’ association or a specialist lawyer. This is also advisable if the tenant wants to put financial pressure on the landlord. An initial consultation with a lawyer usually does not cost a lot of money. 

Expaturm aims to help educate Expats in Germany on key issues that they will have to deal with while living in Germany by providing everything you need to know about Banking, Healthcare, Lifestyle, and Housing in Germany


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