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Vermieter wants money transfer before key handover

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Posted

Greetings All,

I'm a Canadian currently studying in Cologne, and I've needed to look for a room to sublet from the months of January through the end of March.

I've visited a place in November, and met my new roommate/landlord, and we both agreed that I could have the place. The following day he sent me a scanned contract via email (which he had already signed), and then which I signed. I wanted to return the contract to him in person, so we agreed to meet at the apartment later that evening around 18h30. He called about 10 minutes before our appointment and said that he wouldn't be able to make it because he was in Düsseldorf, but that I should just leave the rental contract in his mailbox.

The room was meant to be vacated by its current occupant on the 15th of December, and my contract to begin on the 16th. Unfortunately, I've had to come home to Canada on the 14th of December, so I couldn't pick up the keys on 16th. I called my new landlord/roommate to ask if my girlfriend, who was in Cologne from the 15th–17th of Dec, could pick up the keys before I transferred the money. The landlord said unfortunately that he would be in Hamburg on those days. When I asked if I could transfer the money after the key handover on the 30th of December, he said that he had only taken on a roommate because he needed to finance the flat, and he would need the money ASAP. After I found an acquaintance of my girlfriend who could pick up the key on the 18th, and told him that I had someone who could come by to get the key, he said that he wouldn't give the key out to anybody other than me. I offered to send him, and my acquaintance, an electronic copy of my Aufenthaltstitel, and Passport so that he could see that the information matched up and that it wasn't just some stranger coming to get the keys.

Now, on the one hand, I can understand that through my broken German, and not being in the country I might appear suspicious to him. I've searched for his name in the internet and I've found his name and picture attached to his advertising firm, and the Technical College where he teaches. So he appears reputable. In the worst case, I would know where to look for him if something went sour and he didn't give me the keys. All the same, I don't have the resources to take him to court if something goes wrong, and I won't be living in Cologne any longer after March so it would be very difficult, as well as an extra cost, to get back for court proceedings that would most likely take a year.

What I would like to know is whether the scanned copy of the contract which he signed and sent to me, and then I later printed off and signed, constitutes a legal agreement. Furthermore, whether or not I should take the risk of transferring the money to his account and assuming that he will be there to give me the keys on the 30th of December? Do I have any legal rights to expect the keys first before I transfer the money for the security deposit (Kaution) and the first month's rent? Am I legally liable if I now do not transfer him the Kaution and first rent instalment in due time?

I would appreciate any advice that might be on offer here, as I feel very unsure about giving money to someone without having the keys first.

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Posted

Hi matthieu1,

you wrote that this person is the landlord, but also the renter. Is he the owner of the flat, or is he the main renter and wants a roommate to help finance the place?

If he is the owner, and the lease legally started on the 15th. of the month, the deposit should have been paid also. Yes, a written lease is a binding contract. In Germany it is even a binding contract if you tell him: "Yes, I want this place, and I am moving in!" What does the lease state regarding when you have to pay the deposit?

Normally it should be okay when you both meet, the keys are given and you do a inspection/walk through of the place (Uebergabe) that you pay the deposit. The best way to do that is to send it into his account in a Ueberweisung or open a Mietkautionssparkonto at a German bank and then give him the savingsbook. If you pay by Ueberweisung, your landlord has to put the money into a similar account and once a year he is obligated to send you something in writing regarding the little interest that this account carries. If he doesn't, ask him about it.

I am affraid that this agreement is binding, especially if it was signed by both already and he has a copy of it. The only thing you can really do about it is to talk to him and get him to accept the deposit when you actually take over the apartment.

If he is the main renter, he has to have authorization from the landlord/owner of the place first, before you should move into that place. As a sub-renter (Untermieter) you don't have a lot of rights, and if the owner finds out about him renting to you without his permission and he terminates his lease, you will have no place to stay.

Ask him who the owner is and make sure that they know about it. If he is not allowed to sub-rent the place to you, then you should ask at the Mieterverein (protection club for renters) if the contract would be considered legally null and void.

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Posted

Dear Germanyherewecome

thanks very much for your response.

My understanding is that the gentleman with whom I have signed a contract is the primary renter of the apartment, and not the owner of the building/apartment, so I would indeed be a sub-renter.

The difficulty is that he is insistent on receiving the Kaution and Miete before I can do arrive to receive the keys and see the place. The agreement started on the 16th, but I won't be physically there to collect the keys, or see the apartment until the 30th.

What I would like to offer is to pay the rent for the first month, as a token of goodwill, and transfer him the money for the security deposit on the 30th once I have seen the room and collected the keys. I can't very well damage the room without having lived in it yet, can I?

Do I have any rights to refuse to pay monies until I receive the keys? Or am I legally bound to pay the agreed sums without even having received the keys or seen the flat?

Thanks again for your help germanyherewecome.

m.

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Posted

It depends what it says in your lease, but usually you are legally bound to pay the rent within three days of the start of your lease. It isn't your landlord's (the main tenant's) fault that you weren't there to pick up the keys, after all.

Since you've met with the guy and have established that he and the flat both exist, I don't really understand why you think this is a scam. Just pay him half a month's rent and be done with it. You owe him that, anyway, since you signed the contract and the place is staying vacant for 2 weeks due to your actions. If you're really suspicious, you can tell him you'll give him the deposit in person when you move in (but there's no guarantee that he'll be happy with it).

Consider what you would so if the situation were reversed: what if your flatmate moved out and you found someone to take over his room, then the guy flaked at the last second, said he had to fly to another continent and wouldn't be back for two weeks. And you need the money to pay the rent. What would you think?

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Posted

Hi El Jeffo,

thanks for your comments, I think you make some very good points. I have indeed been trying to consider this from the main tenant's point of view, and I can appreciate that I may seem equally suspicious from his perspective.

Do you not find it strange however that he made an appointment in a different city that took him 3 days to settle, exactly during the period when I should have been moving into the flat? I mean, if the lease was meant to begin on the 16th, and he scheduled a meeting in a different city, how was he intending to give me the keys on the first day of the contract?

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Posted

Sorry Ej Jeffo,

I forgot to add a further thanks for your comments, I really appreciate observations!

best,

m.

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Posted

I would think this is a scam. If he is not available to hand you (or your rep) the keys when your lease starts, it's his problem. Although your gf should be available to pick them up with cash in hand.

I would have no issue in sending money if the renter were a real company or Stiftung, but he is an individual and I would hand cash to get the keys. Am I reading correctly- that you actually never entered the apartment because he broke your appointment and that he prevented your representative from getting keys at the correct time? Seems to me he might be fictional in some way.

I also agree that if he is sub-letting a room it might not be legal. I can't understand why he is giving you such a hard time if he is a real person. Have you contacted him at his place of work to ensure he is the person he says he is?

My nachmieter also thought it was strange to send money before getting the keys, but he had comfort from 1. being here in the apartment, 2. talking to the landlord company 3. seeing their website (they are a Stiftung) 4. having a set date for key turn-over (with us and landlord) 5. knowing that the Stiftung owns 100s of other apartments (and the whole building) 6. knowing that we have been treated very well by our landlord (receiving nebenkosten back, helping us by being very fast with the nachmieter thing, etc.)

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Posted

Do you not find it strange however that he made an appointment in a different city that took him 3 days to settle, exactly during the period when I should have been moving into the flat? I mean, if the lease was meant to begin on the 16th, and he scheduled a meeting in a different city, how was he intending to give me the keys on the first day of the contract?

This "different city" is around a 30-45-minute drive or train ride away (Dusseldorf to Cologne on Google Maps). But he might have got stuck in traffic or hung up in his meeting. He probably thought you guys could meet the next day, but you had to fly to Canada. Which one seems more unlikely to you?

I completely disagree with gail123's assertions - she seems to have misread the post. She thinks he's unavailable to give you the keys, but it's you who's unavailable to pick them up. And he wants money before he gives them to your girlfriend's friend. Perfectly reasonable, since your lease has already started and he's out of pocket.

I hope you can see that aspect of it.

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Posted

Hi El Jeffo,

thanks again for your comments and thank you gail123 for yours as well. This is all very, very helpful for me to make sense of the situation.

El Jeffo, it is very plausible that the main tenant, who I will now refer to as "S," was caught in traffic on his way back from Düsseldorf. This particular incident, however, was the appointment that S and I had agreed so that I might give him the rental contract in person.

What I found strange, however, was that S had made plans to be in Hamburg for the 15th, 16th, and 17th of December (this was what I was referring to in the post above, but I wasn't particularly clear––for which I apologise––and thank you for bearing with me).

When I offered to send a representative with the money to pick up the keys (my gf who was in Cologne during that time) on the 16th Dec.––the day that the rental contract began, and when the keys should have been handed over––he said that it would be impossible because he would be in Hamburg for the 15th, 16th and 17th. When I found a different representative to exchange cash for keys on the 18th he said that he would not hand the keys over to a stranger. I was attempting above to ask you, whether you found it strange that S had made plans to be in Hamburg––a city much farther away than Düsseldorf, and not one from which he could easily return to Cologne––for the first two days of the rental contract when I normally would have had to pick up the keys, inspect the flat etc. etc. etc.? (I hope this is more clear this time).

I must apologise to Gail as well, because I seemingly haven't articulated this case very well. I have indeed been to visit the flat, and met S. Moreover, I have found at least two references to him in the internet. The nature of my insecurity here stems from the cancelled appointment, and S arranging to be in Hamburg when he should have been there to give over the keys (regardless of whether or not I was, after the fact, not in the country to pick them up...). Moreover, his refusal to provide the keys to a representative of mine (even when I offered to provide this representative with my identification so that S could ensure that it was not some random).

Even if I know where, and who he is, if the contract is not considered legal then I will be out of pocket for transferring money if he doesn't pass on the keys. Even if it is legal, if I transfer the cash and he decides not to give me keys, then I would need to take him to court in order to settle the matter. Going to court would last longer than I will be in Cologne, and inevitably cost more than the money I will be out of pocket, so I would lose again even if the law was on my side.

As a good Canadian I feel intensely guilty for being so suspicious. Nonetheless, I don't want to be naïve. I have sent S an email offering to transfer him the money for the rent due, but proposed that I give him the security deposit (Kaution) when I arrive and receive the keys. As I understand it, he needs to place this money in an interest bearing account where it can't be spent anyway (so he can't intend to use it to finance the flat), and I won't be in the room to damage it, so I can't envision any reason why he should find this objectionable...

Does this seem reasonable?

Thanks again gail123, and El Jeffo for your comments, I have found them very helpful. Apologies for any confusion that I caused in articulating my situation.

Best,

m.

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Posted

We had a landlord go bankrupt and steal our security. He was the actual tenant and we legally (though an agency, which got quite a commission as well) sub-let from him. The security was not in a separate interest bearing account that required both our signatures, so if that's the law, I'm not certain why my husband's company felt that it wasn't worth pursuing (they simply made us good). Perhaps it wouldn't have been worth the trouble, but since they have lawyers on retainer, I don't know.

It all seems very strange to me.

We are handing the keys to our nachmieter on Friday, although we could "own" them until the 31st, because neither of us would be around the 31st (he in Greece, we in the US).

Can you get this person on the phone and ask him how he would suggest resolving this? If he was not there to hand over the keys when he should have, to a designated representative of yours, seem to me that he is breaking the contractual agreement that would allow you (and your guests) entrance and usage.

But, I'm neither a German lawyer nor reading your contract. Seems like there is some lack of good faith going on here, and although if he is real, he could want cash, if you have offered it, I think it's very strange.

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Posted

Since you've met with the guy and have established that he and the flat both exist, I don't really understand why you think this is a scam.

ehhhh, that's what I would have said too, until very recently.

My coworker was the would-be victim of a scam where he was shown a real apartment, by an alleged makler, and at first everything really seemed to be on the up and up. He later met with the makler again to sign the papers and finalize everything - it really seemed very normal. EXCEPT that the makler suddenly insisted on being paid cash. A couple of days later. But before the key handover. He was so aggressive about it that a couple of us starting thinking something might be wrong. Upon a closer look, the "lease" that the makler gave my coworker was not signed by the landlord, and was not even signed by the makler who was claiming to be the official legal representative (it was tricky to tell as they did fill in several lines, but left off the actual signature). And after looking even more closely, the name on the account for the kaution deposit didn't match the landlord's name. And lo and behold, when we tried to call the landlord the woman we talked to insisted they had no apartment for rent (ummmm, that was after her husband hung up on us the first **5 times** we called). Thank goodness we helped this kid figure it out as he would have been out most of his savings if he'd fallen for it! :( It sucked as he was so excited to finally find a place after looking for three months...fuckers.

anyway, the point being that there are some really elaborate scams out there. Much more elaborate than the typical "I'll DHL the keys to you once you western union me a large deposit"

This case doesn't necessarily sound like a scam, but I DO find it really troubling that this guy was not going to be available for the original handover date on the 16th. That just seems fishy at worst, and plain old uncool at best. I would DEFINITELY withhold the kaution before you have done a real handover inspection. Me personally, I think I'd also hold onto the rent until I got the key because it does sound weird to some degree. It really does.

But no I am not a lawyer and you should not take this as legal advice yada yada yada

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Posted

I only ever pay the kaution when i get in the flat.That way i cannot get done and i always take a reciept i printed out for their signature

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Posted

Thank you gail123, lisa13 and Mik for your comments and suggestions.

Mik do you have your own template for a receipt, or is there something that can be downloaded online that you might be able to refer to me?

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Posted

Hi Matthieu1,

Okay, so the person is the main renter, not the landlord. Before even considering any money transfer, you really should talk to him first to address the issue of his landlord accepting you as a Untermieter (sub-renter). If you cannot establish a two-way conversation with that renter and he is not willing to do that, then tell him that this so called lease is null and void. Same goes for IF he would disclose the landlord's contact info and the landlord doesn't want you to move in.

If you are able to speak with the landlord, ask him to mail you a short statement that says you are allowed to live with tenant S. and xxxx location/apartment.

And for future references: Please have everything in writing at all times when you do any transactions with anyone. No matter how nice they are, no matter if they tell you it's okay without it...don't do it! Paperwork and signatures make all the difference in the world.

Also, if this apartment deal should ever work out, take pictures of everything before you move in your belongings. Have a list and write down everything you see/notice and make the renter/landlord sign it that these things were there when you moved in. If you don't, when you move out you will receive the surprise of no deposit back and maybe even a bill. (depends on the landlord). I'll hope you can work this out, good luck with everything!

Legal disclaimer: I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice!

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