Emergency Services - Bait for Fraudsters?
Be it a busted pipe, clogged toilet, broken key to the apartment or blackout, it typically happens on the weekend or late in the evening when nobody else is home. This can turn out to be extremely expensive when you happen to call indifferent helpers and not one of the many companies who diligently serve the public. Here we will you on what precautions you can take in advance and how to find sincere emergency service, what to consider when closing a contract, when paying and especially how to legally argue when something goes wrong.
As the boy scouts were taught: Be prepared! Precautions can save a lot of money. You can start with depositing a key to your apartment with a neighbor of you trust. When the door suddenly slams shut behind you, do not instantly grab for the yellow pages! Consider staying overnight with friends or family until normal business hours commence. Manual laborers usually demand a surcharge for working "after hours".
You can not always prepare yourself against accidents like locking yourself out of the apartment. Hustlers (mis)use the "shock" of this situation. When you hire the first provider in the yellow pages, you are apt for a surprise. Deceitful companies love to get the pole position of "A" in the list in the business directory. Best is to get a company in your vicinity that can save you fees for traveling to you ("Anfahrtspauschale") - unfortunately this is not always necessarily the case. Also prefer those being a member in professional associations. Look out for words "Mitglied in (member in) ..." or "-verband (association)".
Whenever you have a chance, investigate what the costs will be in advance - and it is best to ask several companies. Warning! Carefully study the contract before signing it. When the contract results in a hefty price, you will be generally stuck wiith it. When the mechanic starts pushing you to sign, send him away; he will not be reliable. In case you hardly speak German, you found somebody to open the door, and you need to sign a contract you do not understand: Then just write in handwriting what you have understood. The idea is a "one-liner" on the contract, like: "I have to pay € 80 to have my door opened. More I do not understand." This will keep you on the safe side when this person all of sudden wants more.
Hint: So it happened that the door slammed shut behind you and the keys are indoors and you decided to start calling services to help. Now you notice after hiring a service on the phone that you found another solution and do not need or want their services anymore, then you can cancel the contract without any reasons - following the rules of remote contracts.
Untrustworthy handicrafts will try to bill you twice for the exact same service. A locksmith might try to write in his invoice an "opening fee" (okay) plus "working time" (not okay). Plumbing companies have been caught trying to bill for "removing the clog" (okay) and "dirt surcharge" (not okay). Such double computation of one's services is prohibited. Even when special tools are needed, that is generally not a reason to bill more. OLG Stuttgart (re 2 U 157/87) decided in this connection with a rotorouter firm that the employment of a service vehicle may only be invoiced when it really has been used.
Not all rescues are really necessary. Another trick of the black sheep is to perform unnecessary or excessive repairs. Normally, any door can be opened without having to ruin it. Supplementary work must be contracted in advance; i.e. only with the client's prior permission. So if the handyman acts arbitrarily by drilling open a cylinder then you would not have to pay anything at all. This craftsman did not perform his assignment (i.e. opening the door without damaging the lock). When this guy only starts but does not complete his assignment he has no legal right for payment. This will also be applicable when in spite of such being "stipulated" in STC. A typical German phrase would be "Bei Abbruch der Arbeit berechnen wir den bis dahin entstandenen Aufwand gemäß Preisliste. [Upon interruption of the assignment, we will invoice the performed efforts in accordance to our price list.]" The LG Munich (re 7 O 13463/89) considers this as illegal and therefore null and void. Payment is only due upon full performance.
Just as everybody else, when a repairman breaks something this person will be responsible for damages. So after the work is finished, have a good look to see whether or not anything has been damaged. Practically, complaints must be made on the spot. So remember: No signature on anything when you have not carefully inspected what has been done. When you accept because the mechanic wants to leave then (legally) you are communicating that everything is okay and you must pay - even when you notice a big hole in the wall the very next second that was not there before. When something has been damaged, then write this on the bill and best do not pay anything until responsibility has been clarified.
When you doubt that the guy is demanding the right amount, then only pay the undisputed amount and keep the rest until clarification. Be especially careful when immediate payment (especially before a stroke of work has been done) is demanded. This hints of an unserious person who only wants to put so much pressure on the customer that you will not have a real chance to study the bill. Only when it is expressly agreed upon are you required to pay in cash. When you want to include your Finanzamt on these costs, then you must pay per bank - cash payment will not qualify. Whenever it happens that you fall for an unscrupulous door opener and the emergency turns into an emergency service, the LawFon will gladly inform what to do.
When in an emergency, call the LawFon 09001 529 366 10!*
* = € 2 / min. - cell phones might differ