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Our friends’ place in Rissen, all renovated

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The renovated building that is home to Max and Andrea.

The renovated building that is home to Max and Andrea.

We dropped in for a visit with Maximilian and Andrea, our friends who live with their two daughters in an appartment they rent in Rissen, near the beach on the Elbe, at the extreme west of Hamburg.

We hadn’t been there for a few years, and I didn’t recognize the place. Are we at the right address? Max laughed.

“Yeah, it’s been almost two years worth of renos. They’ve put insulation in the walls, but mostly they added two storeys to the building. That’s probably why it didn’t look familiar to you.”

Hmm. Including the basement, from three floors to five; the building owners are maximizing their real estate investment. But in order to do so, they must comply with the local rules that require energy efficiency improvements, hence the added insulation. Maybe a new heating system, too; Max didn’t mention.

“So you were able to stay in the appartment during the renovations? How did that work?”

Andrea: “Yes, that wasn’t a problem, because none of the work they did was from the inside of the appartment. All the extra insulation was added from the outside. The windows were okay, so they didn’t have to change them. All of the residents could stay in. It wasn’t even that dusty. But the noise! We seriously considered moving for a while, it was that bad. Building the extra floors meant a lot of drilling through concrete. Our poor cat was so scared, she didn’t want to go outside anymore. But then that part of the construction was over with before we could find anything, so we ended up staying. Now it’s fine – there’s construction on the other side of the courtyard, but that’s not bad. And we like the location, so I’m happy we stayed. The girls love the beach, and I do too. It’s a bit far from downtown, but we can walk to the train, so it’s convenient.”

“But the rent went up, by 150 euros a month, so we’re not happy about that, of course. The owners raised the rent up to the maximum allowed. We pay for heat, and because the building is better insulated our heating bills are supposed to go down and compensate. Maybe. I know they are down, but this fall the weather has been so warm, it’s hard to tell. We’ll know better next year. But the main difference has been the humidity; there used to be some mold growing in one corner of the wall, now that’s all gone.”

The beach at Rissen

The beach at Rissen

(This is one of the surprises for me: I’m learning that vapour barriers are not commonly used here. In Canada we use them so as to avoid condensation inside the walls. But in Germany, it is expected that the walls should breathe; however, old walls with porous bricks and poor insulation wick moisture into the inside of the homes, something that the added external insulation prevents.)

Max: “None of the residents were happy about the rent increase, we all thought it was too much. So the renters association took the owners to court. But they lost; the rental board found that the owners were justified to increase the rent to that extent, but no more. So now, the association also has to pay the fee for contesting the increase. But not us! It’s a funny story: when we moved in, it was a bit confusing, and it turned out that the renters association we joined was not the same group as the one that most of the residents in the building here belong to. So we weren’t involved in the claim that was lost. No fee for us: we’ll take it!”

Walking to the beach on the trail through the woods

Walking to the beach on the trail through the woods

It’s complicated to be a renter in this country, I’m finding out. Forms and documents of all sorts, long term leases, all sorts of bewildering rules and stuff. But in exchange, there seems to be better protection than in Vancouver, and “renovictions” don’t happen. There is rent control, and subsidized housing. It’s not perfect, by any means; all of our friends here who rent think the system has problems. But looking at it from the vantage point of the housing crisis in Vancouver, it strikes me that the system, for all its imperfections, seems to work quite well.

And it also works in such a way that enables energy efficiency measures in the housing sector, measures that all recognize as required to combat climate change, but that few countries, save for Germany, have tackled in earnest. Considering how complex that challenge is, I think what has been done so far is amazing.


Written by enviropaul

December 28, 2015 at 10:42 am

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