Does your utility bill show an item about smoke detectors? Then you can object to that, according to a judgment by the Federal Court of Justice.
Tenants may not be asked to pay for the ancillary costs for smoke detectors installed by the landlord. The expenses for this are generally not apportionable, as the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) clarified in a case from North Rhine-Westphalia.
This also applies in particular if the devices are not purchased once, but rented from an external provider. The judgment from May was published in Karlsruhe on Wednesday (Az.: VIII ZR 379/20). However, it does not change the fact that the installation of smoke detectors is considered modernization that can justify a rent increase.
Smoke detectors in residential buildings are mandatory in NRW and all other federal states. In this case, the landlord had announced the installation of the devices in 2015. Since 2016, there has been an item of almost ten euros for "Rent maintenance smoke detector" in the annual ancillary cost statement of the tenant concerned. In court, the question was whether she really had to pay for the post.
Operating costs are always costs that are incurred on a regular basis. If a landlord buys the smoke detector, the item has no place in the utility bill. What has been controversial so far is what applies when the devices - as here - are rented externally.
The top civil judges of the BGH are now making it clear that this cannot make any difference - otherwise landlords would have a way "to easily (...) avoid the burden of acquisition costs assigned to them in principle", as they write .
The dispute from North Rhine-Westphalia has not yet been decided, because the BGH judges objected to the appeal decision of the Cologne district court due to formal defects. The case has to be retried there.
Errors in utility bills are not uncommon. Tenants should therefore check the bill promptly, writes Stiftung Warentest. If there are any objections, they should be communicated to the landlord in writing within one year.
Because claims from the utility bill must be settled much earlier, even if there are ambiguities, Warentest recommends that tenants pay the entire amount "subject to a refund".
(This article was first published on Wednesday, June 08, 2022.)