No heating Renters left in the cold in major apartment complex

RÜNGSDORF · In the Vonovia apartments in Rüngsdorf, the heating has broken down once again. Left in the cold, tenants want to exert pressure on Germany’s largest residential property company.

It doesn’t matter whether they are young, old or ill - the tenants of the apartment complex on Mendelssohnstrasse and Kapellenweg have one thing in common: they are all sitting in the cold and freezing while outside temperatures become more wintry. In 2016, there were reports of a major heating outage in the residential complex. Two years later, it’s the same news.

Vonovia is Germany's largest residential property company. "Being the market leader is inextricably linked with responsibility - responsibility for the approximately one million people who live in our buildings", reads the company's website. Tenant Udo Skomorowsky is not feeling this sense of responsibility. For years he and his fellow tenants have been complaining about recurring heating outages. Up to 15 times a year.

In October 2016 he reported it being only 16 degrees Celsius in his living room. Last week it happened again, the entire heating system went out. On Thursday evening it was just 14 degrees in Skomorowsky's apartment. The worst thing for him: he feels abandoned by his landlord. "I called the service hotline several times and was promised it would be fixed (but nothing happened)." On Saturday, December 15, he turned to the hotline again. He was told a Cologne company would repair it on that same day. But on Sunday morning it was still cold in the apartment complex.

"I picked up the phone again and complained. The employee told me that the heating had already been repaired. But now there was no more oil in the heating tank," lamented the tenant. This was a shock for him, that one of the largest apartment rental companies in Germany couldn’t manage to keep the oil tank filled.

"Why am I paying for heat, anyway? It's always cold."

Renter Janine Djuric is also appalled. Since 2008 she has been living in the complex, where the heating breaks down almost every winter. Vonovia doesn't take her complaints seriously, she explains: "Why the uproar?", she said she was told, when she reported that her apartment had dropped down to eleven degrees. "I just don't understand how they can constantly buy up everything in Bonn." Because every time she looks around for other affordable apartments, she ends up back at Vonovia. "Why do I even pay for a heated apartment? It's always cold, and I always have a cold," says Djuric. And that even though she suffers from respiratory illness.

The mother of her friend also lives in the complex. "The woman is seriously ill with cancer - terminally ill. And now she has the flu. Below me lives a family with three children. The smallest has freezing cold fingers and has been sniffing for days." "The causes for the (heating) breakdowns can be very different," says Vonovia spokesman Max Niklas Gille. Currently, air in the lines is probably the problem. And delivery times for spare parts delay the repair work, among other things. "We totally understand that such a situation is extremely annoying for the tenants, especially at this time of year. If tenants have a different impression, we very much regret that." The tenants could contact management and together they would look for a solution, for example a possible compensation.

Bernhard von Grünberg of the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg Tenants' Association sees Vonovia as a "cumbersome bureaucracy". The general problem is the old systems, which are always breaking down, especially the heating systems and elevators. "All these facilities are getting on in years, and the spare parts are missing. The costs of maintenance are borne by the company alone, so they don't earn a quick buck." They need to be put under pressure for something to happen.

This is exactly what the residents of the apartment complex are doing now, they are declaring war on Vonovia. A tenant has already filed a lawsuit against the company for bodily harm. Other tenants also want to sue. "We want to set up a tenant initiative to better represent our interests to the company," Skomorowsky says. Everyone is fully involved and prepared to stop paying rent. "For them, it's all about money. If that doesn't come, they will act," adds Djuric. The closing words: "I just hope to come to a warm apartment tonight."

(Orig. text: Kim Forster; Translation: ck)

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