Maklers extorting money? Or normal in Germany?

28 posts in this topic

Posted

Hello Toytowners,

 

I have a general question about makler commissions. My wife and I are unfamiliar with the German makler/broker system, and we are concerned that a Berlin makler company is trying to take our money unfairly. I was hoping you all might be able to share some information about the makler system with me.

 

Here is the situation:

 

We recently rented an apartment in Berlin. This apartment was advertised by at least 4 parties: 3 makler companies, and the existing tenant of the apartment. All of them had official permission from the property owner to look for a follow-up tenant at the same time, and they all posted ads at around the same time.

 

My wife and I actually responded to all the advertisements, not knowing that they were referring to the same unit (it's hard to tell sometimes). We communicated with some of the makler agencies, but out of the 4, the existing tenants were very friendly, knowledgeable, and ultimately persuaded us to apply for the unit. They were offering it provision-frei, again with the permission of the owner. We had been hoping to find a provision-frei apartment, so we made the decision to apply.

 

After we applied and got accepted and moved in, one of the makler companies sent us a bill for over 1500 Euros. For their commission. We had met with them once and saw the unit together, but did not sign any agreement with them, nor did we ever expect that we were entering into any kind of agreement simply by scheduling an initial appointment! Actually, we had a lot of trouble communicating with the makler agent because of our poor German skills. Afterwards, we had no additional contact with them. They did not participate in the application, contract signing, document exchange, key exchange, walkthrough, or anything at all besides meeting with us once at the unit.

 

My question: Is their claim to commission legitimate? To me, it seems like they did not perform any service for us that we should pay 1600 Euros for. But I know I am unfamiliar with the laws and customs here. The few Germans that we have asked seem to immediately think that the maklers have a legitimate claim to the money, as astounding as that seems to us. When we explain the situation further, they are not sure and tell us to ask a lawyer. We cannot afford the advice of a lawyer, so I was hoping that we could get some valuable points of view on Toytown. I spoke to a local Mietverein (the one listed on the TT Wiki for Berlin), but they said they can only offer advice for tenant-landlord issues, and not for broker issues. Our new apartment's management company won't help either -- they say it is between us and the makler.

 

They are threatening legal action, and are not very receptive to our emails. They seem to think we've done something outrageous and wrong. But the fact is, the provision is really expensive for us, and we only applied for the apartment because it was provision-free.

 

Thank you all so much. We are really stressed, and we don't know what to do.

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Posted

Hi westvan, thanks for the reply.

 

The whole system does seem illogical to me, but I'm more concerned that my situation is even ridiculous by German standards. I do understand that things are different here than in the US. But is this too much?

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Posted

Did you sign anything at all that maybe you didn't understand? Anyway, lawyer up.

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Posted

If you have it in writing somewhere that it was "provision-free" - surely that includes no markler cost?

 

Therefore markler should be billing the people who asked them to find a tenant?

 

maybe?

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Posted

You definitely need to speak to an attorney specialized in the relevant area of law. My layman's guess is that the Makler who billed you is going to claim that you heard about the apartment through them and thus owe the commission. Whether they are doing the right thing in billing you may be another matter but only a specialized attorney's opinion is worthwhile to you, not least because they will be familiar with local practice in Berlin, including what happens in cases of non-exclusive listings. I don't know if this may ultimately be a factor, but can you prove that you contacted the previous tenants about the apartment prior to contacting the Makler who has billed you?

 

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and nothing in this post should be construed as legal or financial advice.

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Posted

@Pas: We didn't sign anything with the makler. He asked us to sign a document, but because we couldn't understand it, we didn't sign.

 

@Chris: The makler's ad had provision, the tenant's ad was advertised as provision free. The best we have is an email from the owner that says they approved the tenant to look for a new tenant, provision free. We also have a phone photo of the sign that was posted (saying provision free).

 

@Conquistador: I know for sure that this makler wasn't the first makler we contacted, but I don't know at which point we contacted the tenant. We had such a large list of phone numbers to call, for many different apartments... I really just don't know.

 

If we go to a lawyer, obviously we take on a lot of costs, and we could still end up paying the provision. I wish there were a way to just have a quick chat with a specialist without crazy fees.

 

Thanks everyone for the ideas so far, please keep them coming.

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Posted

Espy: not applicable in this case because you are already involved in a potential dispute, but I recommend you check out getting legal insurance/Rechtsschutzversicherung for your time in Germany. You cannot deal with stuff in a foreign country on your own if you have hassles. It´s way too complicated.

 

Disclaimer: I´m an independent insurance broker but this is not legal advice!

 

Edit: note Conquistador´s disclaimer! We are a paranoid society these days!

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Posted

@freagan: We didn't know that the ads could be for the same unit, nor could we imagine that something like this could be legally binding. I think we can document that we knew about the place before we viewed it with the makler. We are trying to explain this to the makler, but I think we are having language problems and he hasn't understood that yet.

 

@john: Can you send us more information? We never expected to have any hassles, but it seems alarmingly common so far :(

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Posted

Espy: if you want more information, please send me an email! For legal and paranoid reasons!!! :) There are all kinds of laws for consumer protection and for fair trading plus an email has legal validity in my profession etc and, by the way, I get the impression you don´t know what Haftpflichtversicherung is!!

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Posted

 

@freagan: We didn't know that the ads could be for the same unit, nor could we imagine that something like this could be legally binding. I think we can document that we knew about the place before we viewed it with the makler. We are trying to explain this to the makler, but I think we are having language problems and he hasn't understood that yet.

 

@john: Can you send us more information? We never expected to have any hassles, but it seems alarmingly common so far

 

I don't think you are having language problems to the extent that there would be a resolution of this matter if you had someone to translate- it's quite clear to the Makler that you are disputing their bill, and while we don't know if for sure they even realize that you found out about the apartment from someone else, it's probably irrelevant anyway because that would not stop them from billing what they may assume is a naive foreigner. It's a fool's errand to try to reason with such people anyway.

 

How can you document whom you contacted first, from e-mails or cell phone records?

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Posted

If you turn to a Makler and ask him to help you to find a place or turn to him asking to visit an offered place out of his portfolio you do have a contract with him (Mäklervertrag)

There is no need to sign anything or have anything written, alone that fact that you use his service is in case of success ( a lease contract) reason enough to charge you the usual fee for such a servíce. (Don't know exactly, but 2 monthly rents plus TVA, I guess).

 

The fact that you didn't know the laws etc won't help, and the fact that you didn't tell him at one point before entering the place that you knew this place already(through the tenant) makes it IMO impossible to get rid of him.

 

If he takes you to court you will IMO lose the case( a correct lawyer would tell you this beforehand), and you would have to pay the court fees, the Makler's lawyer fees and of course that of your own lawyer.

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Posted

Sosarx's reasoning in the previous post sounds pretty impeccable to me, particularly the implied contract and you apparently not mentioning that you had found out about the place from elsewhere. Maybe you didn't know the street address, and it was not clear from the ad placed by the Makler who showed you the place (not that I think it would make a difference in this case)?

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Posted

@gabi: Your post is really cool :) I'd even consider it maybe, but if we'd have to pay the makler's lawyer fees too, like sosarx says, that would make your idea a bit too ballsy for us...

 

@sosarx: Thank you for the advice. We were afraid that this was the case :( If you don't mind me asking, do you have any more information in this vein? How certain are you about this?

 

@Conquistador: We're starting to feel that there's no such thing as reason when talking to these people, in any language! About documentation: I am not quite sure yet...

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Posted

 

 

possible reward: no court

possible reward 2: you win court

 

overall play: 300Euro risk, against a possible reward of 1600 Euro.

 

But most importantly: the chance to stick it to a markler - priceless.

 

Your calculation unfortunately does not account forthe Makler's attorney's fees which the OP would have to eat in case of a loss in court which seems at least possible, if not probable.

 

As regards the OP: I'm not entirely sure it's useful for you to consider yourselves having been hard done by. While there are a lot of posts here that deal with foreigners being scammed and conned(including a good number of them relating to renting), this does not strike me as one of them. I would think this is a legitimate legal dispute.

 

And as others have said, actually using the Makler's services (even if it was just him showing you around) probably worked to shift the onus on you to establish that you had learned of the apartment being available through some other channel before you made the appointment with him - which by the way the Makler had no way of knowing, because you never told them. If you don't have some definite proof on that, I fear even a lawyer may well advise you to just pay and consider it a piece of insight on the German renting experience. But of course, you might still want to get legal advice to be sure what your options are.

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Posted

Espy, without going in to a 3 page explanation as to why* I am so certain about it, I agree with sosarx and Village_Idiot. IMO you are, in this case, probably already SOL and further communication with the makler will not only prove to be fruitless, but may indeed serve to strengthen his hand against you.

 

IANAL, but for *the reasoning and in order to protect yourself in future I would refer you to the best source of accurate information on basic German contract law, and most other aspects of doing business here (leasing, buying, trading etc.), to be found on the web which is provided by the Ministry of Justice on its gesetz-im-internet.de site. See the English translation of the German Civil Code for details.

 

By all means consult a lawyer if you are uncertain, but I suspect he will advise you to bite the bullet.

 

HTH

 

2B

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Posted

OP,

 

If you go to court, you'll have to present and defend the fact that you knew about the apartment before the Makler "introduced" it to you, regardless of what you didn't sign (but props from me too on not signing!).

 

If you have a log of the calls you made to who, and can convince a judge that you only when through with the visit with him out of courtesy and didn't tell him explicitly because of language issues - here you could try to claim that you didn't sign the doc because you already knew about the apartment from the tenant's ad - then you may have enough for court. Outside of court, you only have to convince the Makler that you have enough. I would include this in a letter to the Makler, making it clear to him that you have your facts straight and that you are willing to go to court to fight this invoice on the basis that you knew about the apartment beforehand.

 

Just be aware that the Makler will be very prepared with all documents and names and dates that he needs to make his case (this is a very important part of their scam - err - job, so I wouldn't go to court without something to rely on. The letter you can write anyway - if he gives up because it sounds like you've got a good case, then great.

 

Good Luck

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