Sometimes it’s surprising how a modern nation like Germany can lag behind in certain areas. A good example from the past is smoking. While the US and many other countries long ago banned smoking in restaurants, the workplace, and other public areas, Germany was slow to do the same. After an initial period of voluntary restrictions by some businesses, Germany began to regulate smoking in public places. (Austria, on the other hand, still has a lot of work to do on public acceptance of smoking bans. Cough! Cough!) While non-smoking areas in Germany were once a rarity, today German anti-smoking laws are similar to those in the US in most cases.
Another area where Germany was lagging behind was smoke detectors. As with many things in Germany, this is an area left to each of the 16 Bundesländer (states). There is no nationwide law. After a slow start beginning around 2004/2005, almost all of the German states now require smoke detectors in new houses and apartments. As of 2016, only Berlin and Brandenburg still lack any smoke-detector requirements (Rauchmelderpflicht). Some Länder now also require smoke detectors in older, existing living quarters.
Other new or revised laws concern banking, electronic waste, and electric cars. Here are some of the German laws and regulations that came into effect in 2016.
Smoke Detectors (Rauchmelder)
Northern Germany took the lead in 2004. Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein were the first Länder to require smoke detectors in new construction. Hamburg and Hessen followed in 2005. By 2010 only Berlin, Brandenburg, and Sachsen were without any building code requirements for smoke detectors. As of 2016, Sachsen (Saxony) joined Bremen, Niedersachsen, and Sachsen-Anhalt in requiring homeowners and renters to install smoke detectors in bedrooms and hallways. (Only Mecklenburg-Vorpommern requires the landlord to install smoke detectors in rental housing without passing the expense on to tenants.) The following states now require smoke detectors in existing/older buildings: Baden-Württemberg, Bremen, Hamburg, Hessen, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Niedersachsen, Rheinland-Pfalz, Sachsen, Sachsen-Anhalt, and Schleswig-Holstein. Bavaria’s law for existing buildings goes into effect in 2018, Nordrhein-Westfalen in 2017, and Thüringen in 2019.
As with other laws in Germany, enforcement can vary greatly. Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) has had its smoke detector law for new or renovated construction since 2012. Its new requirement for existing, older housing took effect on January 1, 2016, but public awareness of the new law is low. The authorities will not automatically check for compliance, but if there is a fire and no detector, the insurance company may impose a penalty. Landlords and housing authorities are more aware of the new law. As with smoking, part of the problem is convincing Germans of the benefits – and of the fact that they may not really be the light sleepers they think they are. Apparently, the people in Berlin and Brandenburg, and/or their lawmakers, still need more convincing.
Quality is an important factor for smoke detectors. Germany’s equivalent of Consumer Reports, Stiftung Warentest, has conducted tests of various smoke detector brands and models and found that good ones start at around 20 euros. While most detectors passed with a “good” or “satisfactory” rating, the most expensive model failed (“mangelhaft”)!
Bank Account Numbers
Banking has always been a strong point for Germany, but German banks were still using their old German BIC account numbers – with the old Kontonummer + Bankleitzahl – until recently. Now German bank customers have joined the rest of the world with IBAN bank account numbers.
If you have a German bank account, you probably already know that as of February 1, 2016, the old German BIC account numbers have changed to international IBAN numbers. Most of Europe and the world already use IBAN (International Bank Account Number), and now Germany is on board. Commercial and association accounts were switched to IBAN earlier, but now personal bank accounts also must have IBAN account numbers.
Banking for All (Bankkonto für Alle)
Another legal change in Germany concerns “the right to a checking account.” By September 2016, Germany must put this right into law in order to be in compliance with the European Union’s banking requirements. Until now, German banks did not have to offer a checking account (Girokonto) to everyone. Now that right extends even to the homeless and refugees, as long as they are legally residing in Germany or in any EU country. Germany’s parliament is expected to pass the required national law in the spring.
Electric Cars (Elektroautos)
If you register an electric-powered (not a hybrid) vehicle after January 1, 2016, the vehicle tax (Kfz-Steuer) is waived for five years. In other words, if you get an electric car in 2016, you can drive it until 2021 without paying any car tax.
Electronic Waste (Elektroschrott)
Although most mobile phone shops and small-appliance dealers in Germany already accept smaller obsolescent electronics for recycling, a 2015 law requires all large electronics and appliance stores to do so by July 24, 2016. A “large” store is defined as one having more than 400 square meters (4305 sq ft) of sales space. Smaller shops do not have to accept old devices. Only products with an edge length of 25 cm (9.8 in) or less must be accepted. That would include toasters, smartphones, tablets, and similar products. Merchants must accept them free of charge, and without a receipt. Larger appliances (TVs, refrigerators, monitors, etc.) must be accepted only if the customer buys a product of similar size and value.
Tax ID Number (Steuer-ID)
For 2016 there are new requirements that require you to provide a German tax ID number. For instance, if you want to apply for a tax exemption (Freistellungsauftrag) with your savings bank, it is only valid if you provide your tax ID number. If you already have an exemption, you only have to provide your tax ID number.
The 2016 annual child tax deduction (Kinderfreibetrag) has increased. The child allowance (Kindergeld) also went up slightly, but in order to receive it, you now have to provide the tax ID number for each child and each parent. Also, as of January 2016, in order to receive Kindergeld for a newborn child, you need to provide that child’s tax ID. This is a new measure designed to make sure that the child allowance is paid only once per child. If the child has no tax ID, you’ll need to obtain one.
It seems to be an annual thing now. As of January 1, 2016 the cost to mail a standard letter (Standardbrief, 20 grams max) went up from 62 euro cents to an even 70. Other postage rates also increased. A registered letter (ein Einschreiben) went up from 2.15 to 2.50 euros.
More for 2016
See this link for a more complete summary of new and revised laws in Germany: Neue Gesetze: Das ändert sich ab 1. Januar 2016 (from augsburger-allgemeine.de, in German)
Also see my 2015 blog post: January 2015 in Germany: New Year, New Laws, New Rules