Renovations and cosmetic repairs

Notes for landlords and tenants


Issue II © AllGrund 2008


Certainly one of the most discussed subjects and one that concerned tenants as well as landlords most in the past two years is that of renovations (redecorations or cosmetic repairs, especially when a tenant leaves after contract expiry). Non-transparent as the legal issue may already seem to Germans, its nearly worse than a ride over the Dead Sea for a non-German speaking foreigner who came to Germany to work hereand not deal with issues about painting houses.

What advice can be given to the parties concerned theses days in view of latest Court sentences about the matter, in regards to new or existing rental contracts? Basically its less difficult than it may seem. Having a look at the most authoritative case law of the Federal Court of Justice one finds four categories of clauses concerning cosmetic repairs in the usual formal rental contracts:

The jurisdiction of the Federal Court of Justice makes clear that the housing industry will be better off, when doing a new rental contract, to reduce clauses on renovations down to a minimum and to eliminate any other agreements, annotations and/or guidelines entirely. This also holds true for time limits usually laid out in the hitherto existing rental contracts, which the Federal Court of Justice had considered to be generally reasonable in a fundamental judgment from the year 1987. Thus one has to bear in mind that it might be that these set renovation periods do not conform today’s standards (other material, better building substances) anymore, which in turn holds the risk – at least in the case of a new rental contract – that this also leads to an utter invalidity of the duty to conduct renovations, at least in conjunction with a proportional clause.

From the point of view of a tenant it seems that most tenants are at a great advantage now. When they have old contracts which have any of the flaws outlined in this article, yes they may be lucky. On the other hand fairness is still indicated: if a flat was handed over freshly renovated to the tenant some years back, and if it was agreed in the contract that the tenant has to do the cosmetic repairs, he should hand it back as he received it.

In general, cosmetic repairs and renovations are duty of the landlord but are allowed by German tenancy law to be enjoined on the tenant. This must me agreed in the tenancy contract, and it can be done by a simple clause as “The tenant has to do the renovations or cosmetic repairs”.

Other than cosmetic repairs or general beautification real damages done to an apartment must be repaired or fixed by the tenant or else the landlord has the right to get that done at the tenants expense. Such damages can be heavy marks in the wooden floor, damaged wallpaper, mold on the wall due to bad airing habits, holes in walls or ceilings (also those made by putting up pictures or lamps; they must be property closed with any dowels removed). Admittedly a single case may not always be easy to judge but with common sense and communication usually we have managed to settle any arguments about this issue with our clients – tenants as well as landlords – well and fair in the past.



IMPORTANT NOTE: Nothing in this article is to be construed or understood as legal advise. For any legal assistance consult a solititor who is familiar with the German rental law. The whole purpose of these notes is to make life a bit easier and understand the sometimes complex matter of rights and duties of tenants and landlords.





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