English translations of German statutes

1. Many German statutes have been translated into English and are even available online. In fact I scarcely ever look at my collection of published translations now. Some online translations are ‘official’ and listed by juris for the German Federal Ministry of Justice. They are listed by their German abbreviations and details of the translators are given.

Translations of these materials into languages other than German are intended solely as a convenience to the non-German-reading public. Any discrepancies or differences that may arise in translations of the official German versions of these materials are not binding and have no legal effect for compliance or enforcement purposes.

2. There are other translations at the German Law Archive. There are also other translations online. The Centre for German Legal Information is a good source – currently it seems to be offline again, perhaps because it is the summer holidays. It often makes sense to refer a client to these translations. One may not agree with every detail, and sometimes the translation is wrong. I always point this out and sometimes revise it. Some of those translations are good, some not so good. But unless I have to translate part of a statute in a translation, I don’t usually look at the whole statute carefully so as to be able to give a reliable critical opinion. (Incidentally, I have recently been working on a translation relating to the Arbeitszeitgesetz and have found a PDF translation on the site of a German law firm, Mayr, in Berlin. That was just unearthed in a web search. But it is not a very difficult statute.)

3. In an earlier entry, in 2010,  Translating statutes: Federal Data Protection Act/Bundesdatenschutzgesetz I did write about two translations. There were some good comments too. Apparently the juris site had nothing then, but it does have a later version translated now, and so what I wrote there is just history.

4. On Twitter today, Inge Noeninger pointed out that the online ‘official’ translation of the Wohnungseigentumsgesetz looks very good.

Act on the Ownership of Apartments and the Right of Permanent Residency (Wohnungseigentumsgesetz, WEG)

Übersetzung durch Iyamide Mahdi in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Sprachendienst des Bundesministeriums der Justiz und für Verbraucherschutz.

Translation provided by Iyamide Mahdi in cooperation with the Language Service of the Federal Ministry of Justice and for Consumer Protection.


(1) Nach Maßgabe dieses Gesetzes kann an Wohnungen das Wohnungseigentum, an nicht zu Wohnzwecken dienenden Räumen eines Gebäudes das Teileigentum begründet werden.

(2) Wohnungseigentum ist das Sondereigentum an einer Wohnung in Verbindung mit dem Miteigentumsanteil an dem gemeinschaftlichen Eigentum, zu dem es gehört.


(1) Pursuant to the provisions of this Act, title to an apartment [Wohnungseigentum] may be created in respect of apartments, and title to units [Teileigentum] may be created in respect of non-residential areas of a building.

(2) Title to an apartment comprises the separate ownership [Sondereigentum (1)] of an apartment together with a co-ownership share [Miteigentumsanteil] of the jointly owned property [gemeinschaftliches Eigentum] of which it is an integral part.

I am not about to give a reasoned review of the whole translation. It’s always the same – we encounter a small part of the statute in one translation and then not again for a long time. So if I make a few remarks they are not based on a thorough study.

It is very interesting that the translation uses German terms in brackets. This is in the Definitions section. This is helpful to anyone with a knowledge of German law looking at the translation. I don’t think I’ve seen it in a statute before. Terminology in this area is indeed confusing. The Civil Code does not permit ownership of flats. There’s a similar problem in English law. If you own a building, you own the land under it (down to hell and up to heaven, with a few restrictions for mineral and overhead flight rights etc.). That is freehold, but terms like freehold and leasehold don’t work in German law. There used to be Stockwerkseigentum and there still is in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, where a person owns a whole floor. But nowadays flats are not usually a whole floor. The WEG dates from 1951.

The situation here is that a person may own a flat (an apartment – good term for international comprehension) and may share ownership of common areas such as the stairs. Eigentum translates as property or ownership. I would call Wohnungseigentum ownership of a flat. Wohnung can often be translated as home, but here it means a flat. I would not myself say title to an apartment, although there’s nothing wrong with it. The translation tends towards the more formal and legalistic (pursuant to, title). I would not use the US term condominium, partly because it is not understood in the UK and partly because it is sometimes used to refer to a flat and sometimes to the whole set-up.  Teileigentum is translated as title to units. It does mean ownership of a part, rather than part ownership. It might relate to an identifiable parking space, for example, as well as to the flat.

I note, pettily, that mutatis mutandis is used although UK statutes now write ‘with the necessary modifications’ (section 30).

I thought one of my books on German law in English might deal with the language problems here. A common source is the Wörterbuch Immobilienwirtschaft by Schulte, Lee, Paul, but that is only a starting point. I find myself going back to my ancient 5th edition of Real Property in Germany by Volhard/Weber/Usinger, Fritz Knapp Verlag, 1998. There is in fact a 2009 edition by Usinger and Schneider, which I have so rarely needed that I never got it.

This book does not go into apartment ownership in detail, but on page 1 (quoted at length to show the use of different vocabulary):

Under the Condominium Act (WEG), separate absolute ownership of a self-contained unit in a building may be acquired. Thus, it is possible to enjoy condominium or flat ownership (Wohnungseigentum, § 1 WEG) where flats are concerned, or part-ownership (Teiliegentum, § 1 WEG) where the premises in question are not used for residential purposes. Condominium ownership has acquired considerable economic importance in recent decades, both for the owner-occupier (Eigennutzer), who has been able to acquire the ownership of real property conveniently in this way, and for the investor (Kapitalanleger), in particular in the context of tax-saving models. Such ownership consists of separate absolute ownership of a self-contained unit of a building, combined with proportional ownership in common of those parts and installations of the building which are not subject to individual ownership, such as the roof, external walls, staircase, etc. However, it is also possible to create larger units and even whole buildings in the legal form of part-ownership, for example in the case of awkward real property relations which make physical partition impractical.

8 thoughts on “English translations of German statutes

  1. My audio-typists had a thing about German statues, namely of the non-weeping variety, though it was I who always ended up crying..

    In Austria (groan!), Wohnungseigentum (§§ 1,9 WEG) covers not only an Eigentumswohnung – as a freehold, owner-occupier flat or ‘flying freehold’ – but Geschätsräume as business premises, so tentatively ‘(UK) registration with separate residential or other title’.

    Back in London, I am a (very common) ‘commonholder’ of a flat/ apartment, though do not mind being labelled a condo-owner or strata-title holder, as in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, inter alia (cf. horizontal property in Spain and co-operative housing-unit holders/ ‘tenant-owners’ in Sweden).

  2. Hi Margaret,
    I have a question about your comment that some of the online translations are ‘official’ — somehow that seems to conflict with the disclaimer you quote in the very next line (the translations are for convenience, are not binding and have no legal effect).
    Maybe you’re using the word ‘official’ to mean something other than what I take it to mean. I would think that if these are official translations, they must be followed when we quote these laws in English–but the disclaimed makes it sound to me as if they aren’t official in that sense at all.
    Just trying to sort it out.

    • Hi Tom,
      I put the word ‘official’ in inverted commas because I have problems with the status of these translations. My understanding is that they are indeed regarded as official by the German authorities (but which authorities? the Ministry of Justice? perhaps ‘die Dokumentationsstelle im Bundesamt für Justiz’, which keeps them updated). In order to be an official translation of this kind, there had to be a German qualified in law (Volljurist) involved in the final revision of the translation. However, I cannot say for certain if the practice has changed since I learnt this!

      It’s true that the part I quote says the translations are only for convenience. I understand that to mean that if you suffer wrong as a result of this translation, you cannot take legal action, since only the German original statute applies. So they are covering themselves legally.

      That is just the way I see it: they would be called ‘official translations’ but would not be legally binding, as no translation can be.

      In addition to that, I don’t see how you or I, outside Germany, could have a legal duty to use them, but if I translate for German authorities, I do use them, but sometimes have to update and sometimes find discrepancies in them. As far as I can tell, it is also recognized by translators working in German institutions that the translations cannot always be relied on.

      Does this answer your question or make it all more confusing? I think the situation is quite complex and we muddle through.

  3. Hi again,
    Another question about this post: you mention that the German Civil Code does not permit ownership of flats and then say that there is a similar problem in English law–which I took to mean that English law doesn’t allow ownership of flats either. Is that right?
    The other confusing thing is that I gather from your post that the BGB forbids flat ownership but the WEG allows it. Is that right?
    Yet another confusing thing is that the translation of this WEG suggests that it covers “the right to permanent residency” — the latter being an immigration status in the US (meaning someone who has a green card).
    “Permanent residency” must mean something else in the WEG.
    Again, just trying to sort this all out.

  4. You remind me that I meant to come back to this topic and read some more about it. I have not done this, in fact I completely forgot about it.
    My comment about English law, about which I am sure you know as much as I do, was perhaps a bit hasty and didn’t add anything useful. In English law you usually have a leasehold of a flat, rather than the freehold. You might have a 99-year lease. You would be a tenant rather than on owner. Some people do have a share of the freehold – you can have freehold flats, but they aren’t that common. The problem is that a flat is not individually and separately attached to the land itself.

    I can certainly see the problem with the ‘right to permanent residency’. I did not even quote the full title of the Act, which is Gesetz über das Wohnungseigentum und das Dauerwohnrecht. I suppose that if Dauerwohnrecht is translated as ‘right to permanent residency’, it will not necessarily be confusing provided the context is clear. ‘Permanent right of residence’ is what the Schulte/Lee dictionary recommends. Is that better for you? I do prefer residence to residency.
    This is the definition in section 31 of the Act, but I have not investigated it further, as I intended to read up more on the Act but have not yet done so:

    (1) Ein Grundstück kann in der Weise belastet werden, daß derjenige, zu dessen Gunsten die Belastung erfolgt, berechtigt ist, unter Ausschluß des Eigentümers eine bestimmte Wohnung in einem auf dem Grundstück errichteten oder zu errichtenden Gebäude zu bewohnen oder in anderer Weise zu nutzen (Dauerwohnrecht). Das Dauerwohnrecht kann auf einen außerhalb des Gebäudes liegenden Teil des Grundstücks erstreckt werden, sofern die Wohnung wirtschaftlich die Hauptsache bleibt.

    Online I find that such a right is fairly rare and comes up in connection with Baugenossenschaften, but I don’t quite understand this, and Erbengemeinschaft, where presumably one or more heirs can be allowed to live somewhere for life without owning it.

  5. The ‘short’ answer to the question about the (freehold) ownership of flats in the UK (since Tom’s law seminar at the FIT Congress in Vancouver in 2002 dovetailing with the introduction of the UK Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act) is roughly as follows.

    Confusingly, the freehold company limited – that is normally set up in the UK by the assenting-voter residents’ association – grants leaseholders a lease extended from 99 to 999 years – that is, in English law, equivalent to a freehold and the way such is defined in land ultimately owned by the Crown. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2002/15/contents plus – per Margaret, you are right – a share of the freehold whilst the commonhold scenario, admittedly, has not been catching on in the UK, partly because little understood – including by ProZ translators who seemed to have a problem with my complicated commonhold tenure (a.k.a. ‘awkward real property relations’).

    A UK conveyancing solicitor acquaintance of mine (misguidedly) also claimed that the 2002 Act had ‘merely’ been used to extend my lease – that is the whole point of the commonhold creation.

    Compare this with a ‘flying freehold’ – the routine translation at the Paris and Madrid satellite offices of my ex-City of London law firm for a non-lease scenario of horizontal property https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_freehold

  6. There you are, Tom – now you know.

    I’m not sure that flying freeholds are identical to Stockwerkseigentum – they are a narrower class.
    Also do not regard a long leasehold as ‘equivalent to freehold’. OK, you can probably get a mortgage on it and sell it later, but you still have a freeholder there and the possibility of getting a share of the freehold depends on agreement with others.

  7. A (very) long leasehold may not be exactly the same as freehold, but read Leasehold Answers about freehold estates for UK vs. US purposes: https://forums.landlordzone.co.uk/forum/long-leasehold-questions/43255-is-a-999-year-the-same-as-a-freehold

    The main reason we commonholders do not have the freehold estate in our flats vs. of the common parts of the building(s) is ‘mutual enforceability of covenants’ under the lease, namely imposing on neighbours and residents compliance with the obligations of the block of flats, such as stopping unlawful holiday sublets, running a noxious business (a Caribbean ‘model’ 40 years ago, before I moved in, had reportedly been using my London flat as a house/ den of ill repute) and keeping the noise down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.