Renting in Germany: Everything you need to know

19.07.17
11 minute read
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Germany is the economic powerhouse of Europe, and naturally there are large expat communities in all of the major cities. Although Germany has huge centres active in the finance and service industries, there are other significant draws, too.

Berlin, for example, has a thriving startup scene, as well as a large number of global businesses. It’s also has lots of companies involved in the creative sector, in fashion and film. Frankfurt is well known as a centre for banking in Europe, but pulls in people to work in the IT and telecommunications sector, biotechnology and life sciences. Meanwhile, Munich has Germany’s top university - Ludwig Maximilian University - which attracts a huge number of international students. Some 13% of the total student body there are from outside of Germany.

Whatever you’re coming to Germany for, you'll need a home. Around half of Germans rent their homes, making for a pretty busy and varied market. Berlin, Germany’s capital and largest city, is a surprisingly affordable place to live - although rents are on the rise. A one bedroom apartment in Berlin city centre will set you back around €722 on average a month, excluding utilities. €532 will get you the same place, in a suburb outside of the centre. City accommodation elsewhere, even in Germany, is much more expensive. For example finding a place in Munich is on average 41% more expensive than finding a place in Berlin.

Look outside the major cities, and you’ll find properties to rent which are much more affordable, often in beautiful smaller towns and villages. You shouldn't have any problems finding a great place to live in Germany, but it might take a little time in the cities, and it certainly helps to know a little about the market in advance. That’s where we can help. If you’re thinking of moving to Germany for work or study, then check out this guide to renting in Germany.

How does the rental process work?

The German rental market varies from place to place. Some cities such as Munich can be very quick moving, but in smaller towns and rural settings, finding a place to live should be a little more straightforward.

You can find a property through an agent ( Immobilienhändler or Makler ), through an online portal which puts landlords directly in touch with prospective tenants, or through word of mouth. In places where demand for housing is particularly high, finding a place through a friend can help enormously, as properties advertised on the open market will be quickly snapped up. Because any agent fees are usually paid by the landlord, many choose to go direct to tenants via small ads in papers or online. If you’re working this way, it can certainly help to brush up your German before you start looking.

Are flats generally furnished or unfurnished?

Whether you find a furnished or unfurnished place depends a little on how long you plan to stay in Germany. Most private rentals are offered for long term (over 12 months), and come unfurnished. However, if you’re only planning on being in Germany for a relatively short time, then a fully furnished short term place, or a sublet, might suit you better.

Unfurnished places usually come with no floor coverings, curtains or even light fixtures. You might even find that there's no kitchen installed. In practise, you might be able to negotiate with the previous tenants to buy the existing fixtures and hardware, but you’ll need to talk this through with your prospective landlord.

If you choose an unfurnished property, then check your tenancy agreement carefully, as when you move out, you might have to return the property to an unfurnished state. That means you’ll have to pull up carpets, remove lights and repaint walls - or bear the cost of doing so.

What do I need to know about renting in Germany?

The rental market in Germany might not be quite the same as in your home country. Avoid any nasty surprises by doing a little research before you make your move.

Tenant laws and rights

As a tenant in Germany you have rights which are legally protected.

Exactly what the law says might vary between areas in Germany, and reflects the different market pressures there. However, wherever you are in Germany, landlords can’t evict tenants without notice, and even if a tenant fails to pay rent, they're often offered a grace period to pay up. In cities with rapidly rising rents, you might find that you’re protected against your landlord putting up the price of your tenancy mid way through. If this is the case then, most likely you’ll find that rental increases should happen at most once per year and up to a maximum of 20 percent increase over three years. To put this in context, rents in Berlin, in some areas, are rising by over 10% a year, so this offers some significant protection.

If you think your landlord isn’t treating you fairly, you should contact your local tenants association, where specialists can help you negotiate with your landlord and resolve any issue.

General rental property rules and regulations

Before you choose a new home in Germany, you should make sure you know exactly what state the property will be in when you move in (and in what condition it must be returned).

It’s typical for unfurnished properties to be very unfurnished. This means no carpets, no electrical appliances, not even light fixtures. There might not be a fitted kitchen, so you’ll have to buy and fit cupboards, a stove and even a sink. If you saw the property with a tenant still living there, know that they might be required to remove all soft furnishings such as carpets and curtains, and any electrical appliances they have, and return the apartment to it’s unfurnished state before handover. If you’re not expecting it, it could be a costly surprise.

Your tenancy agreement might also specify that you must personally renovate the property when you hand it back, including painting walls and bringing the place back to the ‘as new’ standard it was in when you moved in. If this is a clause in your contract, and you fail to act on it, you’ll find that your landlord keeps the deposit to cover the cost of having a professional do the work.

Contracts and deposits

A deposit, known locally as a kaution, can legally be up to three months of rent. Your money has to be held in an escrow account separate to the landlord’s everyday cash. Either you’ll open an account on which you’re both signatories, or the money could be placed in a savings account in the tenant’s name, but with the landlord holding access to the account. Once the tenant leaves, the landlord will give back the deposit (less anything for repair costs), and any interest accrued on the money in the meantime.

It’s also important to note that you should never hand over cash for the deposit - use a bank transfer instead. If you’re making an international money transfer that includes currency conversion, it’s worth finding the best possible deal with a company like TransferWise so you don’t get slapped with poor exchange rates. More to come about paying from abroad in a later section.

To protect your interests, you should sign a contract before handing over any money or moving in. Make sure you understand what you’re agreeing to before you sign including details like clauses about terminating your agreement and notice periods. In most cases, you'll have to give three months notice if you want to leave a property - as would the landlord if for some reason they needed to take back control of the place.

Utilities and bills the renter is responsible for

Before you finalise a rental agreement, you should make sure you’re clear on the terms regarding the payment of utility bills.

What you’re liable for as a tenant will depend on whether the rent is ‘cold’ or ‘warm’. Kaltmiete (also known as Nettomiete ) Warmmiete (‘Warm’ rent) on the other hand, usually includes service charges, heating, water and waste disposal.

Heating costs ( Heizung Kosten )

Even with a ‘warm’ arrangement, the tenant is liable to pay their own electricity, gas, TV and internet costs.

Can I negotiate the rent with the landlord?

Many places in Germany have more prospective tenants then there are flats. So, although German law strongly favours tenants, the landlords have the upper hand when they're choosing which tenants can move in, in the first place.

Usually trying to negotiate won’t work. There will be dozens of people trying to get any good flat in a big city, which means that the landlord will simply move onto the next one if their first choice tenant wants to lower the price tag.

You may have more luck negotiating in a smaller town in Germany, or if you’re looking for a country home - but proceed with caution, and expect some landlords to be put off.

Of course, if you think that the rental price being demanded is unfair, you can always ask your local tenants association for their view. Some cities have indexes of rental prices which are used to give a framework of reasonable costs for different types of accommodation, which might help you understand the market better.

Can I get an apartment without a job?

There’s no legal reason why you can’t get a flat without a job. However, landlords will certainly want to check that you’re able to pay the rent for the duration of the lease. As such, if you don’t have a job yet, you might need to offer additional proof in order to rent. This is more likely to be an issue in the cities in Germany where housing supplies are limited, such as Munich.

What are the documents or requirements for renting?

When you want to rent a place through an agent in Germany, you'll be asked to first indicate your interest by providing a completed application and a full set of documents. Because there are often lots of people interested in the same properties, it’s a good idea to have all your paperwork on hand, so you can simply complete the application and then hand it over at the viewing if you’re interested. You’ll need, in most cases:

  • The completed application form, which an agent will give you at the viewing.
  • Copies of your photo ID and any visa or residence permit you need.
  • Proof of income ( Einkommensnachweis )
  • You might also need a certificate from your previous landlord stating you have no outstanding rent due ( Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung )
  • A credit report (known as a Schufa because of the agency which completes the checks).

Getting a Schufa certificate is especially tricky for new expats. In popular cities, the landlord often wants this before they'll even consider your interest.

This gets tricky for expats in particular, as to get a Schufa you must have an address. But to get that permanent address, of course, you must have a Schufa.

One option which many people take, is to initially sublet or share a place, where they can register their residence. You’re then able to open a bank account in Germany, using your temporary residence as the registered address. After a few months you can build up some credit history, which allows you to get the credit check completed. If this isn’t an option for you, you might need to work with an agent who can help negotiate with landlords on your behalf, and find alternative ways to prove you’re a good credit risk.

What types of rental agreements are there?

Standard rental contracts are short term (under 12 months), which tend to be offered on furnished places, and long term, which are over a year long. Most long term rental agreements are made open ended - so you don’t need to renew them on an annual basis. Some have an initial term of a year or two before automatically changing to open ended tenancies.

Monthly rentals can be arranged through specialist short term agencies, but come at a premium.

Can I pay my bills from abroad?

Many expats tend to travel back home frequently, and there will be times when you need to pay your rent or bills, but might be out of the country. You might even find that you have to pay a deposit or fees to secure your rental before you’ve opened a local bank account or moved to Germany. If you’re making an international money transfer to cover your costs, then it’s worth remembering that your home bank might not offer you the best deal.

Banks tend to include almost carefully hidden administration fees and hide their cut in a poor exchange rate when transferring your money across borders. A specialist provider like TransferWise moves your money using the real exchange rate you find on Google. Not to mention, fees are clearly laid out and quite transparent. Leaving you with a fairer, cheaper and likely faster option.

What are the best sites to find a place to live?

The best way to get a head start on finding a place to rent in Germany is to look online. Great websites to find a house or apartment to rent include:

  • WG Gesucht allows you to search for flats, homes or flatmates - and has an English language site.
  • Immobilien Scout has a wide range of housing options on offer.
  • Wohnungsboerse puts you into direct contact with landlords, so there's no agent’s fee. However, this will mean that you have to do your own research to make sure the place is suitable for you.

To find a shared home, you might be best asking around your office or group of friends for recommendations. Otherwise, the best websites to find a flatshare, room rental or roommate, include:

  • Aimed at students, Studenten WG allows you to search by city for flat share and similar arrangements. Otherwise try WG-Suche
  • Craigslist is a good start - but exercise caution.
  • Facebook has a huge number of rooms advertised across dozens of different groups based on location. Search for the area you want to move and find yourself a new roommate.

Finally, how can I make sure I'm not being scammed?

Like anywhere else in the world, you might encounter issues when renting a place in Germany. However, because the law is quite favourable to tenants in Germany, you should be able to get any problems sorted out fairly easily.

Common issues include the landlord withholding deposit money for a long time or for unfair reasons. Under the law, a landlord actually has several months to pay the deposit money back after the tenant vacates. It’s worth keeping on good terms to reduce the likelihood of this happening.

A landlord might also try to withhold a portion of your deposit for reasons you think are unfair. You should catalogue any damage present when you move in, by taking photos of things like scratches on floors or areas where painting is in poor condition. It’s worth also keeping a record of minor repairs as you do them, to show that you’ve taken good care of the place and any issues are just normal wear and tear.

Don’t forget that you need to register your new home ( Anmeldung einer Wohnung ), within two weeks of moving in. The exact details of how you do this will vary from place to place, so a quick google search for your city, or a chat with the local tenants association is the best way to get the lowdown.

That done, and you’re all set. Good luck, and enjoy your new life in Germany!

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