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Background:
Last year I had a problematic tenant in our (owned by my mother) apartment in Germany. He was repeatedly late/not paying the rent and not responding to phone calls or letters. Around the same time I decided to move into this apartment with my family and informed the tenant that he must vacate the apartment with three months notice. He initially acknowledged this, but that was exactly when he failed to pay the rent for that and the subsequent month. Fearing that he might not honor the agreement to vacate the apartment in time, I contacted a lawyer.

Interaction with the lawyer:
As the rent was not paid for two months in a row, I had grounds to order the tenant to vacate the apartment immediately. Over the course of four e-mails I asked the lawyer about the possible procedural costs of eviction, steps which I should take to raise the chances of the apartment being vacated, etc.

As a result of our interaction the best course of action seemed to be to strengthen the request to free the apartment for my own use with an additional threat of eviction. To leave a paper trail I sent the tenant a final warning to pay the debt in full or be evicted. I told the lawyer, that we'll see what happens next, then if he doesn't pay, we'll start taking steps to kick him out. However, the tenant paid, therefore I no longer had grounds to evict him immediately (though he still had to leave after the above-mentioned three months notice). Since then I did not contact the lawyer again, a couple of months later the tenant vacated the apartment on time and I moved in.

Bill:
Recently I received a bill from the lawyer, claiming a "business fee" (Geschäftsgebühr) under the code VV 2300, a bit over 700 euro. This seems to imply certain actions being taken by the lawyer, such as contacting third parties (e.g. the tenant), involving local authorities, etc. I am of the opinion, that none of this took place (see details below) and instead he should charge me only with a consultation fee (Beratungsgebühr), which is, by law, capped at 250 EUR (+19% VAT + 20 euro postage/telecom).

Re-reading my emails, I do not see any explicit requests from my side to take any legally meaningful steps. Indeed, all I pursued was legal advice. There may or may not have been implicit requests, but I'm of the opinion that there have been none. At a certain point he offered to draft up a certain letter and send it to me, as soon as I provide him with some bits of info such as the rental contract. I provided him with the info, but ignored the offer, instead asking further questions about my situation. In any case I did not receive this letter.

Question:
Is the lawyer in his right to charge the business fee, rather than the smaller consultancy fee? If so, on what grounds is that/could that be? If not, how can I challenge his claim?

I realize, that a logical answer may be to go and ask him. However, as you can see, simply talking to a lawyer can already incur costs without the need for a formal written contract. Therefore I do not wish to call or write to him until I am better informed. Thankfully, as the sidebar says,

Communications on Law Stack Exchange are not privileged communications and do not create an attorney-client relationship.

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The law on legal representation an on lawyer's fees is complicated, so it's difficult to give a definite answer.

However, as far as I can see, you are right, and only a consultation fee should be due. The Geschäftsgebühr only applies once the lawyer starts representing you in the case. For example, this page by a lawyer's office states:

Mit der ersten nach Außen gerichteten Tätigkeit, also z.B. mit dem ersten Schreiben an den Gegner, wird diese Geschäftsgebühr ausgelöst. Ob diesem Schreiben noch weitere folgen, ist für die Höhe der Gebühr im Regelfall ohne Bedeutung.

Translation (no guarantees):

The Geschäftsgebühr is triggered by the first action directed to a third party, for example by the first letter to the defendant. It usually does not matter whether this letter is followed by more letters or not.

In this case, your first step should probably be to write a reply to the bill and explain that you believe you only owe the Beratungsgebühr. Ask why the lawyer believes a Geschäftsgebühr is due. Just asking will not cause additional fees, as you are not asking them to work on the case. Once you have their answer, you can better decide whether their claim is justified.

  • 2
    Thanks for the answer. The problem cleared itself up some time when I asked the agent who recommended me the lawyer to clear the matter with the lawyer. He admitted the mistake and charged me only the initial consultation fee of 190 euro. I'll post a self-answer as soon as I have time. +1 – LLlAMnYP Feb 20 '17 at 14:16

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