Unexpected cancellation of hundreds of expat accommodation bookings in Berlin with no signs of a refund: we outline the suspected rental scam and what victims should do next.
On Saturday, 29th October 2022, Tonja* woke up feeling excited about her family’s move to Berlin. She’d spent months working out the details. Accommodation sorted. Job contract signed. All that was left was to get on the plane and touch down.
But an email was waiting in Tonja’s inbox that would leave her feeling speechless, deflated and betrayed.
Introducing Co-liCo, a seemingly verified Berlin accommodation provider
The new email said that her booking would be postponed indefinitely, citing changes in management as the reason. Tonja and her family were due to arrive within a couple of days. She frantically tried to get in contact with Co-liCo with no response. Shortly afterwards, all communications ceased and the company website was taken down, leading to suspicion of fraud.
The same email was sent to hundreds of Berlin newcomers, all of whom have potentially lost their advance payments, such as rental deposits and one month’s initial rent. The news also startled the accommodation provider HousingAnywhere, who quickly rushed to the aid of several stranded clients with emergency hotel accommodation.
What do we know about Co-liCo?
Co-living Service GmbH & Co. KG (also known as Co-liCo) was registered in the commercial register of the District Court of Stade under the number HRA 204312 on 22 September 2020, and had been using HousingAnywhere to provide accommodation since 2021. The email and subsequent cessation of communication between the company and its clients and partners seems to have happened overnight.
HousingAnywhere responds to the scam
HousingAnywhere arranged local hotel accommodation and covered the costs for clients whose accommodation was lined up to begin between 29th October and 4th November 2022. The accommodation portal also made itself available for questions and posted information to its clients about what to do next. It also promised to refund payments made via the HousingAnywhere platform to its clients, though it can’t reimburse deposit payments made directly to Co-liCo’s Commerzbank account. HousingAnywhere filed an insolvency petition against Co-liCo, raised criminal charges and continues to updates its clients personally on progress.
Trust in accommodation platforms takes a dive
Users seem to have taken much offence to the fact that Coli-Co was listed on the HousingAnywhere platform as a “trusted” and “verified” advertiser. One reviewer also claimed that the successful Co-liCo bookings on the HousingAnywhere had increased unusually within the last two months (from 50 bookings within the last two years to 300 bookings within the last two months) and that the agent had failed to notice a red flag. In general, Berliners appear to be shaken by the event and much more wary of booking accommodation via such platforms.
Are there similar rental scams out there in Berlin?
Basic scams (not elaborate ones!) are no stranger to Berlin. Many tend to follow a pattern – often the landlord is “overseas” and “unable to show the apartment in person”. Alternatively, an apartment advertisement or payment portal which looks very similar to that of a reputable provider is a fraud, and actually directs your payment somewhere else instead.
Another interesting swindle we found from this year involved a scammer who sub-rented a Berlin apartment from a genuine tenant purely for the purpose of showing it to interested sub-tenants, preparing a legitimate-looking sublet contract and then disappearing with thousands of Euros worth of deposits. They also stole the main tenant’s belongings before they left.
How can I avoid rental apartment scams in Berlin?
The golden rule is not to pay a cent until you have signed the contract, you are standing in the apartment and you’ve checked that the keys work. This may not always be realistic, but it is reasonable to check the identities of the people you do deal with, e.g. the rental agent or person showing you the apartment, the main tenant or landlord, and, if you want to sub-let, to ask to see the original rental contract.
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