How a simple judgment harms tenants

Tenants no longer have to renovate the apartments as often – that’s what the judges decided. That sounds tenant-friendly. But the effect of the judgment will be reversed.

Before the renovation, the pictures must be of the wall.

Dhe Federal Court of Justice (BGH) has strengthened tenants’ rights when it comes to cosmetic repairs – that’s what they say at first, and for a tenant the verdict is actually good. In Celle, the tenant took over an unrenovated apartment and promised the renovation to the previous tenant. For this he got the carpet at a smaller compensation payment. But he doesn’t have to renovate anymore – that’s what the highest civil judge in Karlsruhe decided. Such an agreement has no influence on the obligations of the tenant and landlord from the rental agreement (Az. VIII ZR 277/16).

“In practice there are always agreements between previous tenants and they actually make sense,” says lawyer Julia Wagner from the property owners’ association Haus und Grund. Because if the old tenant first has to paint everything white, even though the new tenant prefers a different color or wants to wallpaper, the work and costs are doubled.

However, according to a landmark ruling from 2015, the landlord may not oblige the tenant to make cosmetic repairs without compensation if he has moved into an unrenovated apartment. Otherwise he might have to leave the rooms more beautiful than he found them. Corresponding clauses in rental contracts are ineffective. With the new ruling in the dispute from Celle, the Federal Court of Justice has made it clear that an agreement with the previous tenant does not change anything.

How the judgment is reversed

This is good for all tenants who have already concluded such clauses. You no longer need to renovate. It is highly questionable whether the judgment will remain so good for all tenants after them. Because now the landlords are learning: They should no longer agree to such agreements, otherwise they will have to renovate themselves in the end.

The house owners association Haus und Grund is already warning its clientele against continuing to engage in such an arrangement: “In practice, the judgment of the BGH means that such agreements are no longer possible. That is unsatisfactory for both parties, ”says Wagner. And: “We can only advise landlords to refrain from such agreements in the future.”

The German Tenants’ Association welcomed the decision. This means that the tenant will only have to look at his contract in the future, said Justiziar Stefan Bentrop. The president of the owners’ association Haus & Grund, Kai Warnecke, spoke of a judgment that does not help anyone. “Landlords should either carry out cosmetic repairs themselves or, if they have been effectively transferred to the tenant beforehand, only refurbish the apartment from the previous tenant,” says in-house lawyer Wagner. If the landlord takes care of the renovation himself, this leads to higher costs. That is also priced into the rent, making living even more expensive.