Paying for your apartment and all the related needs in Germany is a somewhat different experience than in the US. Never mind all the other differences - like the lack of kitchens in many German apartments, or the fact that a much higher percentage of Germans are renters. Even just paying is totally different.
In the US, each month we paid rent to our landlord. This covered whatever the landlord's costs of owning the place were - property taxes, repairs, etc. - and water, which by law is paid by the landlord in Massachusetts. All other utilities were billed to us directly by the companies - electricity, gas, whatever else. So, each month we paid a little set of monthly utility bills as well.
Here, we pay the landlord rent monthly, but we also pay a monthly sum called the Nebenkosten. The Nebenkosten is intended to cover certain utilities, such as heat and water. (Ours is 130 EUR/month.) The bills for these go to the landlord, not to us. We do pay our electricity ourselves, however. At the end of the year, if the actual cost of our utilities (etc.) is higher than what we paid to the landlord in Nebenkosten over the course of the year, then we have to pay the remainder at that time. If we pay more than the actual costs, we get some back.
Here's where the problem comes in. By law, the amount that renters can pay in Nebenkosten per month is capped according to the size of the apartment. I think they need to revise the caps. Per the utility companies, the amount we use of everything is right on for two adults. But at the end of last year, we still owed 840 EUR in Nebenkosten at the end of the year. This year, we owed 800 EUR. This is a pretty painful payment to make! But we aren't allowed to pay more per month in Nebenkosten. So, of course, we just have to set it aside ourselves. The landlord sends us a big itemized list of everything we're paying for with the Nebenkosten. I don't know - seems to be everything there - water for the garden? Trash pick-up? Electricity for common areas? I'm starting to wonder if the base rent goes to anything at all other than just pure income for the landlord. Some of these things - like electricity in common areas - are also illegal to explicity charge renters for in Massachusetts. That is supposed to be covered by the rent. I guess it's nice to know what we are paying for. But it only ends up begging the irritating question of what the rent itself actually covers!