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Renting in Germany - what you need to know

Jörg Luyken
Jörg Luyken - [email protected]
Renting in Germany - what you need to know
Photo: DPA

Finding a new apartment in Germany can often be a very frustrating experience. With high demand in cities like Munich and Berlin, you need to be clued up to get your dream home.

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Many people who have lived in Germany for a couple of years may be taking their first steps out of life in a Wohngemeinschaft or WG (flatshare), to look for a place of their own. While this is an exciting step to take, it isn’t easy.

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1. It requires a lot of work and time

The first thing you should know before you decide to look for your own apartment is that it takes a lot of work. While moving into a WG can be infuriating - who would want to go through dozens of "castings"? - the legal affairs are fairly simple: you move in on a pre-existing contract, hand over a deposit, and - voila. Normally you can trust that the Germans already in the flat understand the ropes.

When you are looking to rent your own place, you need to start going it alone. This means understanding the rental market, knowing what documents you need, and being able to make a good impression on a property manager.

Ulrich Ropertz, spokesman for the German Tenants Association tells The Local that someone on a middle-income salary living in a big city should expect the hunt to last several months if they expect to get a centrally located flat.

“The more time you can spend hunting down a flat, the better,” he recommends.

2. Always look for new offers

The housing market in cities like Berlin and Munich is incredibly competitive - do not be surprised to see a queue of 30 or more people waiting outside the door at an open viewing.

“Particularly in the big cities and university towns, there is a shortage of thousands of apartments,” says Ropertz.

“The consequence is that rents - particularly those that come with the signing of new contracts - have been rising for years,” he warns.

In this type of environment, speed matters. The Hausverwaltung (property manager) often starts selecting possible tenants from the moment that an offer goes online. Being one of the first to send in a request for a viewing could well make a difference, as their mailboxes are likely to fill up with requests in no time.

3. Get your paperwork ready beforehand

First impressions really count. If you’ve been offered an invite to a viewing, the Hausverwaltung clearly believes you are potential tenant material - but you are likely to be one of a dozen or so candidates they have chosen to see the property.

One way of standing out from the crowd is bringing all your paperwork with you to the viewing - this shows you’re responsible and adept at dealing with Germany’s cumbersome bureaucracy.

So make sure you already have proof of your last three months’ salary and a photocopy of your passport. On top of that you will need a Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung - a letter from your old landlord confirming you are up to date on your rent. (And if you get that unwieldy word out in one go when you hand in your papers, the Hausverwaltung will be doubly impressed.)

Alternatively, if you lived at home or somewhere where you weren’t required to pay rent previously, a Mietschuldenfreiheit could be submitted instead. In this letter, the owner of the house or flat you used to live in confirms that you used to live there rent-free.

You may also need a Schufa, a form ordered online which assesses your credit rating at your bank.

SEE ALSO: How one piece of paper holds the key to your future in Germany

Renting your own apartment takes work, but may just be worth it. Photo: DPA

4. Check up on the history of the property manager

In Germany you generally do not deal with the landlord directly but with the Hausverwaltung, which looks after a portfolio of properties for the landlords.

Some of these are better than others. It is always worth doing a bit of internet research to check if there have been legal cases against the Hausverwaltung you are dealing with. For example GMRE, a company which manages thousands of properties in Berlin, has been accused of using various tricks to cheat tenants out of money, as documented by broadcaster RTL.

“It’s hard to tell just how trustworthy a Hausverwaltung is from a conversation,” notes Ropertz. But he points out that good ones will always have a deeper understanding of the area around the property. They will know what shops are in the area, and where the nearest schools and kindergartens are.

5. Try calling instead of sending emails or filling out forms online

When dealing with nationwide housing associations such as Vonovia or realty companies such as Gagfah, try calling in order to get in touch with someone directly.

As realtors at these companies likely have to sift through numerous emails and online forms daily, if you happen to reach them directly on the telephone, your chances of nabbing a flat could be greater.

This is because, whereas your request for a viewing via email or online may be overlooked, speaking with someone personally over the phone might enable you to set up a viewing much sooner.

6. Always ask these questions at a viewing

Ropertz advises that anyone who goes to a viewing always ask a few key questions.

Firstly you should find out if the apartment is owned by a private individual or a property company, he says, explaining that you are more likely to have your contract cancelled by a private owner, who might decide to make personal use of the apartment.

The next question should be whether there are plans to modernize the building, which would lead to the landlord asking for a higher rent.

Thirdly you should ask for information on how much heating and water costs have been in the past to get a sense for what you are likely to pay on top of your Kaltmiete (the rent without the additional costs).

Ropertz notes that Hausverwaltungen will always try and show you the good side of a house at a viewing. He recommends viewing it at least twice, and at different times of day.

7. Don’t fall for these tricks

“Rental contracts are often ten to 20 pages long,” says Ropertz. “It is often unclear which additional costs will be carried by the tenant, such as if they will be charged extra at the end if it is furnished, and whether they are required to paint it or renovate it."

He warns that you should never immediately sign the contract but take it to a Mieterverein (tenants' association) for them to read it through first.

For a yearly fee, one can join a Mieterverein, which then provides expert consultation on your rights as a tenant.

Additional costs can also be found in the kitchen. Photo: DPA

8. Expect to incur some additional costs

When you rent an apartment in Germany, often that is really all you get - the apartment itself. Extras like the entire kitchen, light fixtures, bathroom accoutrements and other taken-as-given items are often not included in the rent, and you should be prepared to foot the bill for these yourself.

As these extra costs can rank in the thousands, when looking to rent it’s a good idea to ask the Hausverwaltungen before signing on the dotted line about what is included.

The rental contract is also a good source to see what belongs to the apartment and what may be leaving with the previous tenant. Whether or not your new home comes with an Einbauküche, or built-in kitchen - the rental agreement will let you know.

If your chosen-apartment is bare-bones, one option is to speak with the tenant leaving to see if they would be open to selling some big-ticket items. If he or she owns the sink, stove and refrigerator, it may be easiest for them to sell these heavy items rather than lug them across town. Otherwise, you’ll want to start shopping around for all quality kitchenware.

While these costs may not be fun to bare as you take on renting your own place, there is an upside: now you own your very own a kitchen, you won’t have to buy it again at your next German home. On the other hand, if you don’t stay in Germany you’ll have to sell your kitchen when you leave.

This article was originally published on April 5, 2017.



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