A few days ago, our landlord/neighbor rang the doorbell. He had papers with him and asked to speak with Bill. I told him that Bill was out of town, but would be home on Friday. The landlord looked perturbed, which worried me a bit. He said he needed to settle our “Nebenkosten” bill. That’s supposed to be done every year, but he never got around to doing it last year, so we had two years worth of bills to settle. Based on his demeanor, I thought maybe we owed him money.
Even though it’s been two years since we moved here, we’re still quite traumatized by our former landlady, whom we ended up suing over our security deposit. The last year we spent in our former house was, in many ways, very stressful. In other ways it was less stressful, mainly because she became passive aggressive and mostly quit speaking to us.
In fairness, our current landlord is nothing like our former landlady was. He very rarely bothers us and doesn’t complain to us about how we live our lives. He respects our privacy, treats us like adults, and is a good neighbor. And although we spend a lot of money to live in his house, it’s a beautiful house that has everything we need. So we’re happy here, although I will admit to missing the views from our old town and some of the people we got to know there. I especially miss nearby Nagold, which is a really cute town. It was just a few kilometers from where we lived. If we ever move back to the Stuttgart area, I would look for a house in Nagold.
I told Bill that the landlord needed to speak to him, so we weren’t surprised when he rang the doorbell last night. Bill stepped outside to talk to him. I braced myself, because I figured he would be presenting us with a bill for overconsumption or something. Our former landlady had started off being nice, but most of her visits included unsolicited advice, complaints, judgments, or other indications that she wasn’t pleased about something we were doing or not doing. Gradually, she became ever more hostile, resentful, and rude, even though Bill was never anything but pleasant and businesslike to her. He never, for example, screamed at her or made false accusations about her. She, on the other hand, yelled at me more than once and falsely accused us of things.
Even though our current landlord is nothing like our former landlady, the trauma lingers… same way it lingers in Noyzi, who knows Bill is a good guy, but is still terrified of him. And so, even though our landlord is a good man and has never been anything but businesslike, I still kind of dread his visits and assume the worst is about to happen. I wait for the shoe to drop, so to speak.
Bill came back into the house, shaking his head. He said, “Unbelievable…” as he set down a stack of papers.
“That bad?” I asked, expecting that we were about to shell out some euros.
“Well, it turns out that there’s a discrepancy of about 1200 euros.” Bill said. “But he owes us 1200 euros. We’ve been overpaying the whole time we’ve been here. He apologized profusely for not settling the Rechnung last year. I think he thought we knew we were overpaying. And he wanted to know if we wanted cash or to take it out of next month’s rent. He even offered to show me his bills to prove that we overpaid.” Bill’s face still registered pleasant shock.
“Wow!” I said, remembering that Bill had to email our former landlady to get her to send us 20 percent of our deposit that she deemed we were due. And when Bill questioned her charges, some of which were legitimately illegal and out of statute, she became downright recalcitrant. Meanwhile, I learned that the tenant before us was monitoring me and, evidently, sharing with the ex landlady. My guess is that they had a good time gossiping about us while trying to determine the best way to fuck us out of our money. At the same time, former tenant was very zealous about guarding her privacy, even as she was happily invading mine.
I noticed that the money our former landlady did begrudgingly refund to us was about what she had received in an insurance settlement she got after an old awning collapsed on a windy day. We had filed a claim for her, but because the awning was seventeen years old, it was valued at being worth about just under 600 euros, and part of that money went to pay the technician who looked at it and determined it couldn’t be fixed. Ex landlady ended up with around 300 euros, which she said wasn’t enough to buy a new awning. I have never known insurance to pay the entire cost of replacing something. Ex landlady is older than I am by 20 years, but somehow she missed the memo that insurance is mostly designed to defray costs, not completely cover them.
Ex landlady tried a lot of tactics to get us to let her take our money. She started by trying to get us to pity her, citing how much money she had to spend to spruce up the house after we left. She even sent us a bill for having the top of her carport washed, even though that wasn’t our responsibility. She wasn’t asking us to pay it; she was trying to show us that she had spent a lot of money cleaning off the carport and we should have mercy on her and let her steal our deposit.
When the pity approach didn’t work, she tried shame. She accused us of trashing her house, being filthy, and being negligent. She claimed we were being “unfair” to her, asking her to prove that we were guilty of damaging her house and verifying the expenses she claimed. She said we were the worst tenants she’d ever had, although she didn’t seem to mind that we lived in her house for four years and was visibly relieved when I told her halfway through our time there that we had decided to stay in Germany rather than move to Italy for another job.
Then she became outrageous. She accused us of dumping an “American” refrigerator in her kitchen and stealing her “nice” one. There was a dorm sized fridge in the kitchen when we moved in. We did not buy it. We assumed it was her fridge. It didn’t work very well, but even if it had worked well, we never would have bought such a fridge for our own use. We’re Americans, and we like our appliances large, modern, and functional. Moreover, that fridge was plugged directly into the wall socket. If it was an American fridge, we would not have been able to plug it in directly. We have different voltage in America and different plugs. We did take a nice fridge when we moved, but it belonged to us, and I could prove it with receipts. We also took an old freezer, but it was one Bill bought from a departing co-worker. The old freezer no longer works, so I wouldn’t necessarily call it “nice”. I had taken a photo of the shitty European fridge on the day we moved in and posted it on Facebook, knowing that my friends would get a kick out of it. In the States, I have a full sized fridge that we use for drinks. I call it the “fridge of sin”. There’s no way we would have ever bought a puny fridge, even if it was just to dump it on the ex landlady. That’s ridiculous.
In response to our lawyer’s demand letter, ex landlady’s lawyer blustered about what shitty people we are and threatened a counter suit. He claimed she hadn’t charged us for everything, although many of the charges she listed were either out of statute or illegal. Almost none of them were provable, because she never did a Protokol when we moved in. She also never settled our Nebenkosten in the four years we lived in her house, which is against German law. Consequently, we could have demanded that she return all of the money we paid for our trash, water, and her irregularly performed lawn work. When she did the lawn work, it was done to a high standard. But she became increasingly lax about it, especially at the end of our tenancy.
Ex landlady somehow decided that she deserved 2800 euros for a brand new awning. She never told us how she arrived at that figure. She just expected us to give her the money. Since we didn’t agree with her, she decided to take it out of our deposit and evidently never thought we’d question it. But she had no right to do that. I suspect she never dreamed we would sue her. Bill is a kind, considerate man without a malicious bone in his body. She probably assumed she could take the money with little resistance from him. Strange that she would assume that about a man who has made his living in the business of planning war, even if he is even-tempered and seems meek. She never really took the time to get to know us, for all of her intrusiveness and judging of our lifestyle. That was a mistake on her part. I mean, really it’s probably better if landlords stick to business, but if you’re going to be nosy, controlling, and intrusive, you should probably try to actually understand the person you’re surveilling.
We spent our last precious weekend with our beloved Zane, the wonder beagle, answering her lawyer’s ridiculous claims and translating it into German. Zane had to be euthanized the following weekend because he had lymphoma. Instead of enjoying our last time with him, we had to deal with the ex landlady and her lies.
Allowing her to just take the money would just be encouraging her to continue to bilk her tenants. We felt we had a responsibility to hold her accountable. And frankly, she had driven us to the point at which we no longer cared about preserving any good will toward her. We had repeatedly tried to be patient and understanding toward her, but she simply went too far and we had to take action. Sometimes, you have to take a stand.
The process of suing the ex landlady wasn’t fun at all. It was expensive, aggravating, and it made us feel guilty. We didn’t want to do it. It would have been much better all around if she had simply been cooperative, respectful, and honest. I think she would have found that Bill is a very fair person. She certainly would have saved money, and she would not have ended up being reported to the housing office. It would have been good business. But instead, she decided to take a stand on quicksand, in spite of herself. She lost, but it wasn’t without a lot of pain and aggravation for us, and the process took a long time– probably longer because of the pandemic.
If we hadn’t sued, we would have had to live with the diminished self-respect that comes from letting someone blatantly screw us over. Both Bill and I have repeatedly done that in our lives, and it never leads to anything good. The person who screws us never learns not to, and we feel used and abused. This time, we decided it was time we fought back. And again, it was also for the people coming after us and having to deal with her. Maybe she’ll think twice about the way she handles her business. Or maybe she’ll decide to get out of the landlady business, once and for all. Personally, I think that would be the best end result. She shouldn’t be renting to anyone, in my opinion.
Despite coming out on top with our former landlady, we’re still traumatized and wary years later. And so, when our current landlord turned out to be honest and forthright, it was a shock. A pleasant shock, to be sure– but still it was a shock. We were still smiling about it this morning. And the end result is that we would recommend our landlord to other people, which ultimately is good for his business. He won’t end up being blacklisted by the local military community, and that will likely translate to more money for him. It’s a shame that our ex landlady wasn’t able to realize that cooperation is the better way to go, rather than being stubborn, accusatory, retaliatory, and insulting.
My faith is restored in humanity. It’s like the universe is now showing us that we were right to do what we did… and that we were victims of gaslighting, among other things. I hope we can stay here for awhile longer. I like to reward good people when I can. Either way, I don’t think we’re going to have to sue this landlord, and thank heaven for that.