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?