Rent affects around 54% of households in Germany. The housing situation significantly influences the quality of life and financial situation of many households. Typically, 20-40% of net income is spent on rent. To help you to make the right decisions on such an important topic, we’ve written this tenant guide. This guide covers the entire rental cycle, from finding an apartment, through the duration of the tenancy, to moving out.
Tips when looking for an apartment
First of all, there are many dream apartments. But unfortunately often at horrendous prices. Therefore, you should first consider what budget you can and want to spend on rent. As a rule of thumb, the rent should not be more than 30% of your net income, at most 40%. Considering different cities, you can get a good first impression of common rental prices from rent surveys (in German called “Mietspiegel”). Some sources also provide data on the city district level, so you can include certain districts with more attractive rents more intensively in your research. The federal government provides a rough overview of rental prices in Germany on the website deutschlandatlas.bund.de. From my experience, some rental prices are far above the indicated maximum value. You can find more information on the pages of large advertising platforms such as wohnungsboerse.net or by searching in Google for “Mietspiegel” and your city.
Once you have a clearer idea of what you’re looking for, where you’re looking, and at what price, it’s on to the actual search. The process can be time-consuming and frustrating.
- Use your network: Tell friends, family, and colleagues what you are looking for. Maybe someone knows someone who is moving out or renting an apartment. Some very attractive apartments are not advertised online but are only handed over through personal contacts. Also, post on social media to increase the reach of your search. You can also exchange information on Facebook groups. For many German cities, there are Facebook groups where apartments and shared apartments (so-called “WGs”) are offered, and people looking for a place to live introduce themselves.
- Wohnberechtigungsschein: With the Wohnberechtigungsschein you can apply for subsidized social housing. Some may think of social housing as old, gray prefabricated buildings, but there are also attractive apartments in great locations at affordable prices. Whether you qualify for a Wohnberechtigungsschein depends on whether you meet certain criteria. These vary from state to state. You can find more detailed information on the website of your state or city. Common criteria include a residence permit and income limits that you must not exceed.
- Sign up for waiting lists: Many larger landlord organizations such as property managers, student unions, or housing cooperatives maintain waiting lists. Get on the waiting lists well in advance. Start with your current property management company, if you have one. There you may have a bonus of trust because property managers prefer tenants whom they already know and of whose reliability they have already been able to convince themselves.
- If you are looking for a long-term housing option, check out local housing cooperatives/housing associations (in German called Wohnungsgenossenschaft or Wohnbaugenossenschaft). These offer non-profit housing and focus primarily on the needs of tenants. However, you will likely need to become a member to take advantage of the benefits.
- Personal contact: You’ll often be competing with many other rent-seekers for attractive apartments. As is so often the case, personal contact is advantageous over communication solely via mail, app or letter. If you see an attractive apartment, call the landlord or manager if possible. This will ensure that the landlord actually looks at your application among hundreds of requests. It will also make it easier for the landlord to remember you. And also a few days later you can call as a little reminder and ask what the current status of the tenant search is.
- Universities: If you are studying or working at a university, often the university will assist you in finding housing. Check the university’s website or go directly to student contact points. For example, there are sometimes platforms for apartments that are exclusively for students of the university.
- Contact a few brokers directly to see which apartments they are currently searching tenants for or if they are expecting interesting apartments soon. However, you must be careful not to ask the broker to do an explicit search for you. Because then you also have to pay the broker’s commission. Instead, find out about apartments that the broker has already been commissioned by the landlord to find. Again, a personal phone call is important, because the direct exchange is a great advantage in the apartment search.
- Post a rental request on Hominext. The feature is free of charge and suitable advertisements will be suggested to you. In addition, your rental request will be recommended to landlords who are looking for suitable tenants.
You can find even more tips in our extra blog post about apartment hunting.
Tell your friends, acquaintances, and family about your apartment search. Not only is it more fun, but you may also find apartments that are not advertised online.
Beware of rental fraud
Unfortunately, the plight of tenants is often exploited by scammers. Therefore, here are a few words of warning with which you can avoid falling for a scam.
- NEVER transfer money in advance without being sure of the seriousness of the provider and his authorization to rent the apartment. There are many advertisements that are too good to be true. If it is a scam offer the landlord often can not come in person because he is allegedly abroad. Instead, you should transfer the rent and deposit and you will then supposedly get the keys by courier, messenger, or service provider. Often AirBnB is mentioned here and the reputation of the company is exploited. But if you do not book through the real website of Airbnb, then AirBnB has nothing to do with it. If you transfer the money, you will hardly get it back and you will still not have an apartment.
- Do not buy paid lists from dubious providers. These can be mostly outdated and public advertisements.
- Do not send sensitive documents lightly. Salary statements, copies of IDs, bank account information, etc. should only be sent when a contract is foreseeable and you are convinced of the seriousness of the recipient.
We’ve put together a detailed blog post for you to learn more about housing scams and how to protect yourself.
Apartment viewing and introduction
Once you have cleared the first hurdle and received an invitation to visit the apartment, you are in the next round. Now it’s time to find out if the apartment meets your expectations and to convince the decision-maker on the landlord’s side.
It cannot be repeated often enough, but if you have the opportunity, go and see the apartment in person. This will increase your chances and you will get a better impression of the apartment. When choosing your clothes and appearance, adapt to the contact person. If you go to a flat-sharing community that is looking for a new flatmate, choose an outfit in which you feel comfortable and in which you want to present yourself. Here you can be yourself, as long as you consider providing a well-groomed appearance. When you meet the landlord, real estate agent, or property manager, you should make sure that you make a reliable impression. In addition, you can find out more about the landlord, his target group, and the neighborhood and, if necessary, adjust your outfit and appearance. Professional landlords are mainly concerned with reliability and sympathy.
If you feel that the landlord is not yet convinced of your financial reliability or solvency, offer to include a guarantor in the contract. This will increase the security of payment for the landlord and his trust in you will grow. The introduction in a shared flat is mainly about living together and whether you feel comfortable together. Of course, commitment and reliability are also important here. From personal experience, you can also bring a little gimmick. An applicant in our shared flat once brought a six-pack of beer whose brand name corresponded to his name. He got the room. But don’t overdo it. If you can think of something authentic great, but absolutely no must-have.
Group visit versus individual visit
A few words about the tour. A group tour is much more anonymous. Here you can take the chance to have a look at the apartment including photos and measuring with a folding rule if desired. However, first, ask the landlord and, if necessary, the previous tenant whether you may take photos. In the case of an individual inspection, leave the camera and folding rule for the time being. Here is the direct conversation with the broker or landlord preferably, where you can ask your questions.
A few things you should pay attention to during or before an inspection:
- Volume: Open the window and listen to the background noise. Especially on busy streets, traffic noise can be a major drawback.
- Mold, especially in the bathroom
- Parking possibilities or connection to public transport
- Shopping facilities
If the viewing has been successful and you have received an acceptance, you have almost made it. The only thing missing is the rental contract and the handover of the apartment. You should create a handover protocol together with the landlord. With that, you document existing damages. This has the purpose that if you move out one day, you will not be held responsible for damages that you have not caused. It is best to also record the damage on photos to avoid discrepancies.
To conclude the lease, a landlord will require you to provide various documents. These are used to prove to the landlord that you can pay the rent and are financially reliable. The documents usually include:
- Proof of income for the last 3 months
- Schufa credit check, not older than 3 months. You can get it here.
- Identity card or another identification document
- If applicable, self-disclosure
- If applicable, guarantee the declaration of another person
In Germany, it is common that the landlord requires a rent deposit. This is used to pay for any damage caused by the tenant or loss of rent and to provide the landlord with increased security. By law, the deposit must not exceed 3 net rents. Beyond that, the landlord may not require a security deposit. Usually, the tenant makes a payment in the amount of the deposit to the landlord. The landlord must invest the money in an insolvency-proof manner at current interest rates with a three-month notice period. This is often done on a savings account. The tenant is entitled to the interest earned, but at the current interest rates, this interest is non-existent or almost non-existent. The rent deposit must be paid back to the tenant after the end of the tenancy, acceptance of the apartment, and determination that no further claims exist. This can take up to 6 months.
If you do not currently have the cash to pay the deposit, you can also take out a bank guarantee with a bank. In exchange for a percentage of the amount to be provided, the bank will issue you a surety bond. In most cases, the bank pays the landlord the agreed amount on “first demand” and does not check whether the claims are justified.
Although landlords usually draw up the lease agreement, even they are not immune to mistakes. Anyway, a rental agreement must always be drawn up in writing. Frequently, inadmissible agreements are
- Visitation restrictions or prohibitions: All visitation restrictions are invalid unless visits cause unreasonable noise at a quiet time.
- Music prohibition: Tenants are allowed to make music, listen to music, or watch television in the apartment. It must be ensured that other tenants are not disturbed, especially during quiet times.
- Obligation to renovate/ cosmetic repairs: A tenant may not be obligated to make regular cosmetic repairs, but these should be made as necessary. Generally, a tenant does not have to renovate upon moving out either, more on this later.
- Form clauses: Some clauses in the lease become invalid if they are merely dictated by the landlord and have not been explicitly negotiated between the tenant and the landlord. These include a general ban on smoking, a ban on pets, or a minimum rental period of more than 4 years.
Living for rent
There is not so much to say here. Most of you know how to live. Still, here are a few tips.
- Bad surprises: If, after moving in, you discover that the apartment has acute defects that impair its usability or lower the quality of living, you can announce a rent reduction to the landlord. Reasons for this are, for example, mold infestation, construction site noise, inadequate functioning of the elevator or heating system, or leaking roofs. First, the tenant must notify the landlord of the defect and request that it be remedied. Only then can he claim a rent reduction.
- Saving energy: Especially with respect to current energy prices, many citizens are stepping up their efforts to save energy. It also saves greenhouse gases and reduces the burden on the climate. Here are a few tips.
- Ventilates rather in between properly through with all windows wide open instead of permanently open windows on tilt.
- Make sure that the radiators are not covered by curtains or furniture. This reduces the effectiveness of heating the room.
- In winter, the apartment does not have to be so warm that you can walk around in swimming trunks. Put on a warm and cozy sweater, then you do not have to heat so much and still do not freeze. By the way, freezing permanently is not an option and is unhealthy. But heating the apartment to 18 or 19 degrees doesn’t seem to be a problem.
- Vent the heating once a year.
- Care: Very important, you want to avoid mold, especially in the kitchen and bathroom. Because once mold takes hold, it’s hard to get rid of. To avoid mold
- Even unused rooms should not have less than 15 degrees Celsius.
- You should ventilate regularly.
- In bathrooms without windows, you should use a squeegee, so that the moisture disappears faster.
If there are any other defects in the apartment that are beyond your control or responsibility, report them to the landlord immediately.
Notices of termination
Tenants are usually subject to the statutory notice period of 3 months according to the German Civil Code (BGB). This is independent of the duration of the lease. Deviating from this, a shorter period of notice may be agreed upon for the tenant. A longer notice period may not be imposed on the tenant, but a waiver of notice may. Maybe you have found a new apartment surprisingly fast and have to pay double the rent for 2 months. Talk to your current landlord. With the landlord’s consent, you can also agree on a shorter notice period, for example, by finding the landlord a suitable new tenant.
When you move out, you are not generally obliged to paint and renovate. Under the following conditions, however, you must make cosmetic repairs to the rented apartment before moving out: There must be an effective clause in the lease that makes you responsible for cosmetic repairs. Ineffective clauses require, for example, that renovation must be carried out after a certain period of time, regardless of the necessity, or that the renovation must be carried out by professional staff. Furthermore, you do not have to renovate an apartment that was not renovated when you moved in, regardless of any contractual clauses. You do not have to renovate an apartment if there is no need to do so because it is still in good condition. If you have renovated an apartment, but later find out that you did not have to, you can claim the costs back from the landlord. If you renovate, seal any drill holes before painting. There are inexpensive products for this in the hardware store.
We hope this guide has helped you find your dream house, apartment, or shared apartment. You can find more articles on all topics related to renting on our blog.