What to do now: Error in the utility bill?

Administration costs are collected, or the letter arrives too late: Not everything is always done correctly when it comes to utility bills.

What to do now: Error in the utility bill?

Administration costs are collected, or the letter arrives too late: Not everything is always done correctly when it comes to utility bills. Tips on how to recognize this and how to deal with it.

Even if it is not one of the tenants' favorite pastimes: It can be worth checking the utility bills carefully.

Because mistakes happen, and some landlords make demands that are not easy to understand, according to the North Rhine-Westphalia consumer advice center. Then it is important to gain perspective and your rights.

"The high costs and complicated and incorrect billing are just some of the reasons why the operating costs are the number one legal advice topic for the local tenants' associations," says Ulrich Ropertz. He is the former managing director of the German Tenants' Association (DMB) and author of the guide "The Tenant Handbook" published by the consumer advice center in North Rhine-Westphalia and the DMB.

According to the expert, one of the typical errors in utility bills is incorrectly billed caretaker costs: "The caretaker is often a jack of all trades, but not everything he does can be passed on." If he does repairs, these are not operating cost items.

"One-off costs are never operating costs," Ropertz continues. "Administrative or maintenance costs are not included either." You can read about this in the Operating Costs Ordinance. Maintenance costs for an elevator can be passed on, but not more: "Often landlords conclude full maintenance contracts that also include repairs," says Ropertz. "The costs in the billing must then be reduced by this."

In principle, only ancillary costs that are mentioned in the rental agreement may be billed. However, these do not have to be listed in detail: "It is sufficient to indicate that the tenant has to pay the operating costs in accordance with the Operating Costs Ordinance," says Ropertz.

However: If only individual operating costs such as water, sewage, hot water and heating are listed in the rental agreement, only these costs have to be paid - "regardless of whether there are other operating costs on site."

In addition, bills must be designed in such a way that the tenant can check at a glance whether only the legally permissible and contractually agreed cost types are actually being apportioned.

If tenants have doubts about the correctness, they should take the time to check it and, if necessary, enlist the help of a tenants' association. "It's often helpful to compare the statement with the operating cost index and the statement from the previous year," advises Ropertz. If individual types of costs appear again or if there are significant price differences in individual operating costs, the landlord can be asked to explain this or to submit receipts and invoices.

If there are errors, the landlord must send a corrected statement. "If he refuses or doesn't react at all, tenants can withhold ongoing advance payments," says Ropertz. If the landlord does not admit mistakes and no agreement can be reached, the court must ultimately decide. "That means the landlord has to sue if he wants to enforce an additional payment," says the expert.

Comparatively uncomplicated is the case when the bill arrives too late. The landlord must have sent them no later than twelve months after the end of the billing period. For the 2021 operating year, for example, the deadline ends on December 31, 2022.

If the tenant has not received the statement by the end of the period, he does not have to settle the additional claims made.

(This article was first published on Tuesday, September 27, 2022.)

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