4

I am a master's student in Germany, and I live in a private flat share of 5 people for the past three years. I am not a native German and MAINLY NEITHER OF THE FLAT MATES OR MYSELF OWN A TELEVISION OR RADIO. I recently got an enforcement letter from my city asking me to pay 356 euros from January 2013 till June 2014 (letter sent to them by ARD).

The problem is, the people with whom I used to live are not here anymore. There are new people in my flat and how can I pay that amount by splitting it with the newcomers? How can I pay for the others who are not here? I don't have so much money to pay either.

And I guess they have specified that they will visit my apartment in one week's time. What is the worst I can expect? What will they do by visiting my apartment?

  • Why are only you getting those letters? Are you the only one registered at that address? – YviDe Oct 26 '15 at 20:22
  • No. I didn't register anywhere for ARD. Everyone in this apartment have their own individual contracts and city registrations. – Ana_Sam Oct 26 '15 at 20:35
  • The fees unfortunately apply if you possess any medium which can broadcast ZDF programs: TV, radio, or Internet. You may not have a TV or radio, but you probably have Internet. Everybody has Internet. Even if you don't have an Internet provider for where you live, if you own a mobile phone, then you have Internet. If you don't have a TV or radio or Internet, it's possible you could get the fee waived, but good luck with that. (I wish they would at least be honest enough to call it a tax, not a "fee".) – Kyralessa Aug 12 at 13:04
4

You seem to have a few misconception as to the GEZ fee:

  • whether you are a German citizen has no bearing on whether you need to pay

  • since 2013, it does not matter whether you have a TV, radio, Internet device, or not has no bearing on whether you need to pay the fee. Every household needs to pay it 1

  • if you and your roommates were registered at your address, I can almost guarantee you that you received letters from the GEZ during that time. They are a very persistent bunch there and they get the addresses from the city registration. (even if you didn't receive any letters, though, you'd have to pay, so not having received anything will not get you out of this...)

As I understand it, it is likely that not just you are liable for these past fees, though. While the 2013 changes meant that the fee is now only due once per household, if you live within other people and only one pays, all the others have to report this to the GEZ. As your roommates did not do this, they potentially have the same debt as you have with the agency.

Now going forward...

  • You do not ever have to open the door to the people from the GEZ 2. They have no right to that, so if you don't want to talk to them, you can just shut your door.

  • However, they have your address and you do owe them money, and the GEZ does not suddenly stop demanding money because you shut the door into their faces. They are actually legally obligated to collect this money. Not paying can result in an "Ordnungswidrigkeit" 3 (there is also a lot further information you might need in that link)

You should definitely contact your former roommates. You are in fact liable for these charges, and should probably also contact a lawyer if you can't pay them or find an easy way to share this with your former roommates.

And you and your new roommates need to start paying the fee going forward - one of you collects the money and pays, the others all tell the GEZ they live with a person who pays the fees.

  • going forward is not a problem. But for the money that is billed, it is difficult to pay as the other room mates who ever here are not even in Germany. I am pretty sure they won't pay it or even respond!! – Ana_Sam Oct 26 '15 at 21:08
5

The funding of public-service broadcasting in Germany was changed effective 2013-01-01. Under the current rules (Rundfunkbeitragsstaatsvertrag, in German), a monthly fee is to be paid for every single unit of housing (flat or single-family house), unless it is uninhabitated. It is otherwise immaterial how many people live there or whether any of them owns a receiver¹ or not. Certain people are exempt from the broadcasting fee or eligible to a reduced fee; however, in a multi-person housing unit, this only applies if each inhabitant satisfies the criteria for exemption or reduction. The “ARD ZDF Deutschlandradio Beitragsservice”, or Beitragsservice² for short, is the entity tasked with collecting the broadcasting fees.

According to section 2(1) of the Rundfunkbeitragsstaatsvertrag, if a housing unit has multiple inhabitants, they are jointly and severally liable for the broadcasting fee. This means that the Beitragsservice gets to choose which inhabitant they claim the money from; and apparently, in your case, they have chosen you. You, in turn, can claim a proportionate amount of the fee from your flatmates or former flatmates, according to general principles of civil law. This may be difficult in practice, though, if your former flatmates aren’t willing to pay or are hard to reach; enforcing your claim may be time-consuming and costly.

Regarding the announced visit, I can only speculate. One possibility is that the Beitragsservice might want to check whether your flat is really just a single unit of housing; if one of your flatmates, e.g., has a separate entrance, their room might be another unit for which they would have to pay their own broadcasting fee. (Note that Beitragsservice representatives have no special rights; you are never required to invite them in.) A second, more unpleasant possibility is that the matter has already progressed and a bailiff will appear in order to carry out a distraint. (They do have special rights, and it is not a good idea to try and lock them out.) If the letter is indeed from the city administration, that unfortunately hints at the second possibility. In that case, you should definitely see a lawyer, as soon as possible.


¹ Note that under the rules valid until 2012, where it did matter, a computer with Internet access was also considered a radio, termed a “neuartiges Rundfunkgerät” (“novel radio receiver”).

² It used to be known as Gebühreneinzugszentrale, GEZ, an acronym that is still often used informally.

  • The whole apartment is responsible right? Why do I need a lawyer? Worst case we will pay but I am worried about the house visit! – Ana_Sam Oct 26 '15 at 21:13
  • “The whole apartment” – yes and no. You can’t refer the broadcasters to your flatmates; if they don’t pay (without a lawsuit), it’s your problem. If you can’t pay the whole amount now, you won’t be able to pay any bailiff fees on top either; not to mention the broadcasting fees for July 2014 and onwards, since you still live there. Therefore, you need someone to find out what exactly is happening now; and to negotiate with the authorities so that they hopefully suspend the enforcement until you can pay, perhaps by instalments. – chirlu Oct 26 '15 at 21:41
  • It is a shared WG and why am I the only one responsible? According to the rule everyone is liable. Besides it is a huge amt to pay!!! – Ana_Sam Oct 26 '15 at 21:53
  • 1
    Perhaps the explanation of joint and several liability on Wikipedia is clearer? – chirlu Oct 26 '15 at 22:08
  • 1
    @YviDe: Yes, it is exactly the same concept, defined in BGB section 421 (in German). – chirlu Oct 26 '15 at 22:38
2

So, what I did was I spoke to my student council lawyer and he helped me fix the issue. We went and paid the bill in the money collector's office and it all got sorted. We also tracked the people who lived in this apartment before us and made them pay their share :)

  • Interesting. How did you manage to do this, considering they are not in the country? – March Ho Nov 7 '15 at 23:48
  • Power of facebook :) – Ana_Sam Nov 8 '15 at 22:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.