Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wherein We Have No Electricity

Yesterday morning I rolled out of bed late, even for me - not until 9:30. I was contemplating breakfast when the front door buzzer buzzed. Damon picked up the receiver to see who it was, but couldn't get anything but a little "Hallo", so he went down to the front door to see what it was. While he was out, the electricity flickered for a second. Then, it went out. WTF? Related to the buzz at the door? I figured Damon would have some info when he came back in, like that they were letting us know about some work that was going on which required shutting down our electricity.

When Damon returned to the apartment, I could see that the light was on in the hall.

Me: So, anyone down there?
Him: No, nobody. There was a Stadtwerke Heidelberg car parked out front, but nobody there.
Me: Our electricity went out. Is it on in the rest of the building?
Him: Oh! Yeah, I think so. Hmm, maybe it's a mistake.

He goes to check again. Nobody there, and now the car from Stadtwerke Heidelberg is gone.

In Germany we have something called "Nebenkosten". This is the amount of money one pays the landlord for utilities, and then the landlord pays the utility companies with this money and at the end of the year the difference is all figured up (kind of like taxes). Our rent is actually only 550 EUR but we give the landlord 730 EUR every month - 130 for the Nebenkosten, and 50 for a parking space (which we then rent out for 50 EUR to someone else). Our Nebenkosten even includes the non-necessary cable.

We start to wonder if the landlord knows anything, and maybe didn't pay the bill or something. So, we called him. He didn't sound like anything funny was up and gave us the name of another guy to call. Damon called that guy, who said he would contact our Hausmeister to see if he knew what was going on. No call back. In the meantime, we need to get to work. Damon decides to take some things down the trash room first while I make my lunch. On his way down, he runs into a neighbor, who says her electricity is working fine and shows him where the building's power box is. There's a tag on our apartment that says "GESPERRT". Translation: it's been shut off by the power company for nonpayment.

How? Isn't it in the Nebenkosten? Wouldn't the landlord have said so if there was a problem? Are we supposed to be paying it separately? If so, why didn't he or anybody else ever mention it? Why didn't this come up sooner? We've been in this apartment for five months. We never got a bill or a warning or any sign that we were supposed to be paying electricity. Even when they shut it off, they didn't say a word to us but "Hallo".

We are still clueless but waiting for a callback with explanation of what is going on. On the way out of the building to work, we see an envelope perched on top of the mailboxes addressed to one Former Tenant of Our Apartment. (By his name, of course, which I would love to smear all over the internet right now, but will only say he's a scientist who used to work in Heidelberg, but moved to Basel, is married with two small sons, likes to keep a greasy filthy apartment, sold us a washing machine with a broken foot and didn't answer any of our requests for further info about what might have happened to it or if he had it around somewhere, and whose first name is a variant of the Most Common First Name in the World.) The envelope is from Stadtwerke Heidelberg. First piece of mail we've ever seen from them. Even though it's not to us, we're pretty sure this involves our apartment, so we open it. It's a bill for over 300 EUR, including charges for shutting down our electricity, and charges for two past warnings about how it was going to be shut off.

Ah. So that's what happened. The bum of a previous tenant didn't cancel his account with Stadtwerke Heidelberg. Bills were either forwarded to him in Basel and he ignored them, or were sent back to Stadtwerke Heidelberg. Stadtwerke Heidelberg never tried to see if he still lived here, if we lived here, if anyone lived here. The GEZ found us before they did, and we're even registered with the city at this address. We thought electricity was in the Nebenkosten and it wasn't. It includes cable, but not electricity, of all things. It includes heat, and water, but not electricity. He didn't mention it because I guess it's supposed to be common knowledge. We never caught on because Former Tenant didn't cancel.


I had to go to German class. Damon got a guy from his lab to come with him to Stadtwerke Heidelberg to straighten it all out. Even though a guy from my work thought the landlord should have more responsibility for this because he should have alerted them there was a tenant change, most of Damon's lab just thought it was a misunderstanding between us and the landlord. As for me, watch out dude in Basel. This would have been way less of a problem if you had just cancelled your damn service. We paid the back bill at the former tenant's rate, and set up a new account with them at our own rate (cheaper because there are fewer of us and neither of us stays at home all day). It's a monthly flat fee, then at the end of the year it's all figured up when they read the meter.

And we have our power back as of about 6pm last night.

A side note to all of this: as a result Damon actually got to talk to the Hausmeister for a couple of minutes, who we haven't seen around in a while. We had to pay him 15 or 20 EUR to change our name on the front door buzzer, mailbox, and elevator, or so we thought. Turns out the fee was only to put our name on the buzzer and mailbox, and some OTHER person has to change the name on the elevator, probably also for a fee. WTF?


  1. You had to pay someone else's bill?!?! That's terrible! Is there anyway to get the money back? I can't imagine that you were legally liable for it.

  2. Some people leave a slime trail of destruction through life thinking their actions will have no consequence because there are always fresh innocent victims to abuse at their next stop. I hope you let him know that you want your money back. If you need help, your readers could harass him too... you will have to stop being so coy about that name and address, though.


    p/s/ i love how you linked to dude's first name!

  4. Well, we didn't exactly pay their bill. Here's the problem: Stadtwerk Heidelberg reads the meters once a year (who knows when), and when someone closes their account. Since Former Tenant didn't close his account, there was no meter reading when he left. Thus, there is no way for them to break down at the next meter reading how much was his, and how much is ours. So, who knows how that will work out!?
    They charge a monthly rate depending on the people living in the place. His was $68, since there were 4 people and 3 of them were home all day. Ours came up to be $50 since there are 2 of us and neither of us is home all day. Since the months of November through February (we moved here Nov. 1 or so) were on his account, they cost $68 each. We might have been able to argue about this, but we needed our electricity because in our hot humid little apartment, food was already starting to rot in the fridge. In the end, it doesn't matter which monthly rate we pay at anyway, since when they read the meter they will just charge us/pay us back according to actual usage. What sucks is that we had to pay all this mess in a lump sum instead of over time - and that there was no meter reading when Former Tenant left.

  5. Uh, those amounts should be EUR, not $. Six months in and I still can't get the currency right...

  6. Ahh, now it's more clear. Your bill was more than 300 bucks, but most of that is for electricity you used yourself. Sure you're out those stupid non-payment warning fees and such, but that's not so bad.

    I call them bucks because it's easier to say than euro and everyone knows what I'm talking about.

  7. Hi! Just ran across your blog. LOL, yes, the fee to change the name on the door buzzer. What is that about?! We paid 30 Eur for this and finally, 4 months later, some company showed up and changed it to only my husband's name. (I use my own name.) Fiddling around with the buzzer thing and mailbox that afternoon we discovered that it was VERY EASY to change by OURSELVES. All we had to do was pop out the little plastic thing and... voila. We fixed both immediately. 30 bucks! What a ripoff!

  8. Oh yeah, and don't forget the water meter scam. They'll tell you it has to be replaced every five years. At your expense. Hmmmmm....

    Kinda got us over a barrel there, because plumbing is a little more complicated than mailbox adjustment.

  9. Welcome Debbie! Yeah, ours are just like that too - but the building mgmt insists we are not allowed to do this ourselves because it has to all perfectly match. Personally I think the building has bigger things to be worrying about than that...but alas.
    Ian, I hope our water meter remains, uh, fresh and working as long as we are in this place!

  10. hi c n heidelberg & everyone! my fiance, forwarded me a link to your blog and i've enjoyed reading it very much. you see, we are moving to heidelberg in early july (from san francisco, ca) and i feel a tiny bit more prepared. at least, for strange apartment electricity and buzzer-changing related costs. i'll be checking back periodically :)
    best, kassie

  11. Kassie: Welcome! What are you guys moving to Heidelberg for? It's nice, but you do need to know what to watch out for...hopefully I have covered a lot of it in various posts here :)


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