I recently spent a fascinating few days with a group of artists and designers, some of whom had travelled from Germany. We discussed art, design and vegan food in Glasgow (it’s odd, but we have more vegan restaurants here than anywhere else). Then leisurely we spoke of cabbages (Kohle) and also kings (Konigen).
Since I was present, we naturally compared stories of renting in our respective countries. I have in the past hereabouts cited Germany as some sort of renting heaven, due to their long tenancies and freedom to adapt their home (decorate and provide their own furniture since homes are empty of anything.)
But it’s worse than reported. Not because of the design or nature of the housing (which are often lovely, sometimes mediocre, occasionally terrible.) No; things in Germany are getting worse, it seems because of a newish phenomenon – rigorous, strict credit checks.
Like many Europeans, low pay, insecurity and precarious employment is a major problem. Germans seek what are known as ‘400 Euro jobs’ because to be paid over that amount entitles them to employee health insurance (amazingly Germany has no NHS i.e. universal, free at the point of delivery health care.)
Combine low pay and insecurity with the horror of computers saying no; where tenants submit to legions of strict and exhaustive checks, such as bank references – everything on the usual roll call of exhaustive ‘proof’ that we in the UK long ago learned to loathe.
Intriguingly the response is remarkably similar to our own. Put simple, they fiddle the results.
Friends who own companies or work at larger firms are asked to provide written references on headed notepaper or otherwise support claims of working full time. More extremely, some forge wage slips and conjure up bank statements, or back up invented and inventive claims of long term, well paid freelance contracts.
If Germans have even the slightest red mark on their all important credit rating, as is the case here in the UK it’s fatal to their application. In short, the system here and in Germany encourages supplicant tenants to lie, cheat, deceive, forge and obfuscate (which, when you think about is one hell of an unintended consequence.)
But the problem is the emergence of the usual suspects: those parasitic industries which corrupt a once straightforward process, feeding off tenants who pay for the privilege of their own references, while landlords harvest the benefits (sometimes they pay for references all over again.)
The result is that stricter referencing leads to greater creativity in bypassing the checks. Strict referencing does not end risk for owners – there will always be risk (tenants can die, lose previously secure work, or become ill). Owners are often also charged even if tenants have already paid for checks which take minutes to complete and are palpably oh-so simple to undermine.
Remember when we used to view homes, pay deposits then move in if we liked the place? Those were the days. But just because they’ve checked us over, defaults, abandonments and flits etc are just as common as before, while online credit checkers and inventory specialists are richer. Go figure.