As a tenant in student halls, do I have to pay the German broadcast fee "Rundfunkbeitrag" (formerly known as "GEZ")?
Current status as of January 2017
The television and radio license fee has been in effect since 1 January 2013. It replaces all former similar fees – and the GEZ was renamed “ARD ZDF Deutschlandradio Beitragsservice”. An all-inclusive fee is charged to every apartment so every household is required to pay a monthly fee of €17.50 – regardless of whether there are any TV or radio devices in the apartment in use or present at all. This fee covers all types of use, including listening to the radio in your car. The fee is paid once every three months.
In order to ease students’ dealings with the TV and radio license fee, the following is an essential FAQ (although not all situations can be covered):
Who has to pay?
The fee is owed by the tenant of every apartment. A tenant is any adult person living in the apartment, nationality plays no role. To avoid problems of definition, each rent-paying adult person as well as all registered to the apartment are considered tenants.
If there are several tenants – as is the case in shared apartments (German: WGs) – they are considered jointly liable to pay the fee. This means that each and every tenant can be charged to pay the fee in full; it is then the responsibility of the shared tenants to compensate one another.
This also means: The more tenants in a shared apartment liable to contribution there are, the smaller the partial sum that each individual must pay.
By the way: Not all tenants must have their own rental contract.
What is an "apartment"?
In terms of the TV and radio license fee, an apartment is any structurally enclosed living unit that is suitable
- for living or sleeping or is thus used (ergo there need not be a bathroom or kitchen) and
- can be separately accessed via an own entrance from a stairwell, an entrance hall or from outdoors – not through another living space.
Do rooms in student halls count as "apartments"?
It depends on the situation: Single room apartments are considered apartments if they branch off a communally accessible hall regardless of whether they have an own bathroom or kitchen. Tenants of single room apartments are required to pay the monthly fee of €17.50.
Exception: Recipients of Federal Law on Support in Education (German: BAföG) benefits can be exempted from paying the fee.
Living groups or shared apartments or double apartments are generally considered one apartment. According to the principle “one apartment – one fee”, only one person in such apartments is required to pay, regardless of how many residents there are.
- Each shared apartment must have at least one adult person registered to the apartment who pays the fee. The shared apartment itself can decide who that will be. All other residents who may be registered can (and should!) unregister.
- An entire shared apartment can also be exempted when all residents fulfill the requirements for exemption (e.g. if all residents receive Federal Law on Support in Education (German: BAföG)). In this case, it does not matter who registers the apartment and applies for exemption status.
- If only some residents fulfill the requirements for exemption, only the others must pay; once again, all are equally liable for contribution. So if you are the only person who does not fulfill the requirements for exemption, too bad – you have to register and play the fee in full alone.
Rooms in a “hall flat” – single bed rooms with access to floor kitchens and bathrooms and one floor entrance – are considered by the Beitragsservice as individual apartments liable to contributions. The Hamburg Administrative Court has confirmed this interpretation in an initial decision that is however not (yet) legally binding. When all is said and done, it may come down to an individual decision.
A tip: It is worth trying to register each floor as just one apartment. But it would be better not to count on it working and have everyone lay aside the €17.50 monthly until the Beitragsservice has recognized the entire floor as one apartment.
Rule of thumb: If living spaces in a student hall are designed in such a way that they resemble a private apartment or living space, each will be required to pay the fee in full!
Can you be exempted from paying the fee?
Yes! If you receive social benefits – especially Federal Law on Support in Education (German: BAföG) – you can apply for exemption status. The exemption also extends to spouses and registered partners; in the case of unmarried, cohabiting couples where one partner is exempted, the other partner will still be required to pay the fee.
Please note: A list of exemption and reduction possibilities is included in § 4 of the Interstate Agreement on the Broadcasting License Fee (German: Rundfunkbeitragsstaatsvertrages or RBStV). In rare cases of hardship, exemption status can also be applied for. This pertains to those persons who do not receive Federal Law on Support in Education (German: BAföG) because they exceed the limit for qualification, but by less than €17.50.
How can I be exempted from paying the fee?
You will need to file a written form. There is an online form available at www.rundfunkbeitrag.de that guides you through the application step by step. Once you have filled out the form, print it out and sign it before sending it along with all the required proofs – such as your current confirmation of receipt from the Federal Law on Support in Education (German: BAföG) office – by mail to ARD ZDF Deutschlandradio Beitragsservice in 50656 Köln; if you live in a shared apartment, you should include all the names of your fellow residents.
Can an exemption/reduction be filed for retroactively?
Yes, students can file for retroactive exemption/reduction for a period of up to three years. If students can prove that the requirements for exemption/reduction, for example due to receiving Federal Law on Support in Education (German: BAföG) benefits, existed prior to filing, exemption/reduction may be awarded retroactively for up to three years from the date of filing.
Can you be exempted from the fee if your place of residence is just your secondary residence?
No, the fee is paid per apartment and not per person. If you have more than one apartment, as a general rule you will be required to pay multiple fees.
Are foreign students exempt from payment?
There is no general exemption from payment for foreign students, this includes scholarship students or students in exchange programs (such as Erasmus).
There is no opportunity for students from non-EU states to be exempted from the TV and radio license fee. Since exemption is based on social need in analogy to German statehood, students from non-EU states are automatically exempted as they are required to bring forward proof of finance for their residence permit.
But students from EU states can be exempted from the TV and radio license fee if they receive state study grants in their home country due to financial need. Since this means of exemption for EU students is not explicitly provided for by the German Interstate Broadcasting Agreement, exemption in such cases must be filed for as a hardship case.
You must first file for recognition of hardship at the Beitragsservice www.rundfunkbeitrag.de to be exempted from the fee. Then you must bring forward proof of receipt of a state study grant in your home country. The Beitragsservice has developed a form (German/English) to this end which is available through the Beitragsservice only. EU students must have this form certified by the appropriate public office in their home country that they are receiving a study grant due to financial need.
In shared apartments, who has to pay the fee and what does “jointly liable” mean?
Residents of shared apartments who are liable to contribute are so-called joint debtors or co-debtors. This means that the fee must be paid once in full – and that payment can be required from any tenant. So if you pull the short stick and are required to pay, you can demand compensation from your fellow residents but in some cases this may require running after the money or perhaps not ever receiving it.
Things become more complicated when individual residents – such as those receiving Federal Law on Support in Education (German: BAföG) – are exempted from payment; they may not be required to pay.
Example: A shared apartment consisting of four adult students, one of whom receives Federal Law on Support in Education (German: BAföG) benefits. In this example, the three other persons in the apartment are liable to contribute. One of these three will be required to pay the fee in full. This paying individual can demand €5.83 (a third of €17.50) from the other two liable fellow residents, but only from these two. The student receiving Federal Law on Support in Education (German: BAföG) is exempt from payment in general and so must make no contribution.
Can shared apartments decide themselves who should pay the fee?
Yes! ... But if no one volunteers, the Beitragsservice will pick one out.
Please note: The clever trick of a shared apartment designating a student who receives Federal Law on Support in Education (German: BAföG) to be the paying resident so all escape payment will NOT work. All persons liable to contribute must be registered to the Beitragsservice.
Can the landlord – here: Studentenwerk Dresden – assume payment of the fee and receive compensation via the rent or operating expenses?
No! Tenancy law alone would not allow this arrangement.
How do broadcasting companies and the Beitragsservice acquire tenant data?
The public registry office transmits the data of all adult persons to the responsible regional broadcaster. This data includes name, date of birth, marital status, current and previous address as well as the date of moving-in. In addition, each tenant has the obligation to register to the responsible regional broadcaster.
By the way: Landlords may also be demanded to submit information about tenants. This is only the case where no other opportunity exists to determine who lives in which apartment, which should be a very rare case indeed.
Which legal obligation to provide information do I have?
Each tenant has to register independently and to make notice of any changes; this may be done online at www.rundfunkbeitrag.de. Exception: This does not apply to shared apartments where another resident is already registered and paying the fee.
Can I opt out, what happens if I don’t pay?
It is now quite difficult to get around paying the fee. In the past, it was easy to get around the fee because the GEZ had to prove that chargeable devices where present. Now you have to prove that you would not even have the possibility of receiving any broadcasting – and as this is nearly impossible, the only way of not paying the fee is exemption status.
Caution! Intentional or negligent non-payment is considered an infraction and is punishable by fine.
Can employees of the Beitragsservice or broadcasting companies demand access to my apartment?
No! They never were allowed and they still are not. Access to apartments is no longer even necessary since the fee is collected regardless of the presence of one or more devices.
Where can I get more information?
The best way is to directly contact ADR ZDF Deutschlandradio Beitragsservice, either online under www.rundfunkbeitrag.de or during the week from 7 am to 7 pm via the hotline (fees apply) 01806 999 555 10.