Finding a Home
This area has a tight housing market, and it's everyone for themselves. There are four U.S. housing areas, spread over the four local bases. The problem comes when the base where one works is 30 minutes without traffic from the only available housing. The Stuttgart area is notorious for its staus due to constant road work and high population. Even short commutes routinely take over an hour. So, Americans look elsewhere. Therein is another problem. Many arrive with large families and pets and need the kind of sprawling property that is easy to find in most communities in the U.S. Here, they are hard to come by, and are far from the city. Germans are allowed to rent to whomever they please as well, which can lead to a lot of unreturned emails and phone calls if they don't deal with Americans. Looking at the listings through the housing office can quickly get you nowhere, too. Many people find bigger places through word of mouth. The guy Cody replaced offered to get us into his house. It was a duplex in a tiny village, with a spiral staircase up four floors. This is where we learned of another German rental code-the landlord doesn't have to provide you with a painted property. Or even a cleaned property. It had been at least two tenants since it was painted. Crayons on the walls, all that. The law says you have to return the property in the condition it was given to you, so it is a benefit to renters to get a place in some stage of disrepair so they won't be on the hook for thousands of euro in painting fees. We passed on that place-ultimately it was too far, and we didn't want to share a yard with smoking teens.
As our family is small and we don't need a lot, but prefer city living, we looked next through the housing office's website for apartments close to work and school. Slim. Pickings. While we don't need space, we do need guaranteed parking, and street parking on a road that predated vehicles is a packed and narrow road indeed. Plus, places go fast with the competition.
When I did find a place, it was perfect, and very exciting. However, it's not as simple as signing a standard lease and moving right in. The military requires we negotiate a contract with a landlord using the housing office's paperwork. This to make sure we know what we are signing, and to prevent unscrupulous owners from taking advantage of our ignorance of the law. In addition to basic rent, we pay most of the bills in one sum ahead of time to the landlords, to cover operational costs. If, at the end of the year, we overpaid, we get a refund.
Just after we signed the contract, with paint covered by the owners, the property management company tried to have us sign a new contract that would void the financial protections we just negotiated. This is exactly the dealings the military seeks to protect people from. I politely told them to pound sand.