The Hausbesorger Are Back!

There will once again be someone in your building who cares whether you live or die

Opinion | Mina Nacheva, Dardis McNamee | April 2010

The Viennese want their Hausmeister back, according to a survey earlier this year by the Viennese Housing Service Wiener Wohnen, indicating that 75% of the city’s residents favored the return of the apartment house concierge.

Nearly 10 years ago, the Black-Blue Coalition (ÖVP/FPÖ) abolished the requirement for a facility maintenance service (Hausbesorgergesetz) hoping to take the shine off the reputation of the Social Democrats (SPÖ), the caretaker party. As ambitious as their intentions were, they did not succeed completely, as the change did not prohibit the private employment of building managers.

A lot of damage was done, however. In the decade since the "Black-Blue" intervention, estimates indicate that as many as 13,000 housing employees have been laid off. And residents have missed them. Not only their help, many claim, but their availability as a contact person, as someone they could rely on.

A Hausmeister – or more personally, a Hausbesorger, someone who actually takes care of you is for everyone who no longer lives at home, who no longer has parents to look after their interests, no one to accept deliveries and let in their friends who have just arrived from Berlin, to inspect the repairs and make sure no bratty kid comes by to help himself to your bike.

Think about it. Without a Hausbesorger, who will be there to sign for your books from, or the beautiful bouquet of long stem red roses from that guy whose name is right on the tip of your tongue.

The Viennese’ longing for the return of the Hausbesorger led to Mayor Häupl’s decision to hold a referendum on Feb. 11-13, that confirmed the Wiener Wohnen survey: three-fourths of the voters favored the restoration of the concierge.

A successful reimplementation of the policy, however, requires several changes in the Hausbesorgergesetz from 1969.

A significant improvement to the system would involve the introduction of mandatory training for potential facility managers. The idea behind this concept is to develop employees’ ability to respond to both social and intercultural issues among the residents, to let people see them as mediators rather than mere caretakers.

Undoubtedly, nobody appreciates the importance of awkward neighborly arguments better than a Hausbesorger, or that with no timely intervention, they usually result into a "silent dialog," – a game of "hide and hide." How often do neighbors get into squabbles with the people next door? Too often. And if an argument does break out, what are the chances for the two of them ever speaking to each other again?

Not too good, unfortunately.

With the appropriate support, however, neighbors have a better chance of working out their conflicts and staying on friendly terms. Which helps everybody.

There are other proposals as well that should help freshen up the image of the Viennese building supervisor, including the establishment of a fixed schedule, an equipped workshop, and a clear list of responsibilities.

The result of the referendum states it more than clearly. Nearly 85% of all residents are in favor of restoring the role – a percentage, that in the words of SPÖ’s Michael Ludwig, "the state would unlikely overlook."

So imagine, now there’s going to be someone at home to notice the water dribbling out from under your front door when you rushed out in the morning and forgot to turn off the shower; somebody to negotiate with the neighboring house to put up a net across the courtyard as pigeon prevention, to trim back on the wayward birds bashing into your bedroom window, not to mention what they usually leave behind. And if you think about it, in an emergency, he might even walk your dog.

Convinced? It doesn’t really get any better than that.

Other articles from this issue