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HOUSING

How to join a Mieterverein (renters’ association) in Germany

As finding a flat in Germany is such an important step, it’s essential to have a clearly stated lease and good communication with your landlord. That's where the Mieterverein comes in.

How to join a Mieterverein (renters' association) in Germany
Apartments for rent in Dresden. Photo: DPA

For new arrivals to Germany, one of the first important integration tasks to tackle is finding an apartment to rent. As you may have already learned, this can be quite an ordeal.

Since Germany has one of the lowest rates of home ownership in Europe, the majority of Germans – as well as expats – have dealt with the process of compiling a stack of application materials, attending open houses, and finally, if all goes well, negotiating the terms of tenancy with a landlord.

For expats who don’t speak good German, let alone German legalese, it can be difficult to know your rights, or how to exercise them.

Joining a renters’ association

The Deutscher Mieterbund (DMB) is the umbrella organisation for 320 local tenants organisations, or Mietervereine (renters' associations), in cities all across Germany, which employs about 1,300 full-time employees and 2,500 volunteers across its network.

The DMB’s website offers sample tenancy contracts, up-to-date information on the average heating, water, and cooling costs, and explanations about tenancy laws.

“I think it’s good for tenants to join the Mieterverein,” says Dr. Jutta Hartmann of the Deutscher Mieterbund. “They can get help from lawyers to write letters and tell them the legal ramifications in their case if they have problems with landlords. Besides legal help, they tell you about your rights.”

The website contains a short summary of every applicable tenant law on the books at the Mietrechts A – Z page.

One of the most important rights that tenants are not always aware of is the Soziale Mieter Kündigungsschutz, or the social tenant protection against eviction. “The owners needs reasons if he wants you to leave your flat,” says Hartmann.

“The tenants don’t always know what their possibilities are if they get an eviction notice, and there are legal instruments that give them a chance to keep their flat,” Hartmann says.

Mieterverein members, who pay an annual or monthly fee, receive assistance dealing with common disputes about rent increases, cosmetic repairs, utility costs and lease negotiations, all in German.

“In big cities like Berlin, Hamburg, and Cologne, the most pressing issues are rent increases and eviction. In other cities it might be the Nebenkosten,” or the cost of tenant-paid utilities, Hartmann says.

A Mieterverein office in Erfurt in the state of Thuringia. Photo: DPA

Fees to join and receive extra help

The DMB offers telephone consultations for €2/minute and membership in their online tenant consultation centre, Mieterbund24, for €25 per year. For more individualised help, it’s easy to become a member of one of those 320 local Mietervereine.

Membership fees are set independently by each local tenant association and range from 50,00 – €90 per year. Many charge a small admission fee upon joining.

To join, search for your local Mieterverein by typing in your city or postcode at DMB’s website. Then, find the “Mitglied werden!” (Become a member) tab at any Mieterverein website to download the simple application form, or fill it out online.

Most applications simply ask for your name, address, banking information, and how you heard about the association.

Some larger Mietervereine may have different categories of tenancy. Berlin offers membership and advice for housing tenants (Wohnungsmieter) and commercial tenants (Gewerbemieter). Be sure to fill out the correct application form.

In Berlin, membership in a Mieterverein is becoming more popular as an added measure of tenant security, says Hartmann.

“In case they have problems, there is someone who can help them.” But a big benefit of larger member numbers is political weight, she says. “The bigger the group of people, the stronger our political influence will be.”

SEE ALSO: Renting in Germany: What you need to know

Acting on a tenant's behalf

The Mietverein’s employed lawyers and legal volunteers can mediate lease disputes and act on a tenant’s behalf when corresponding with landlords, lawyers and other authorities. This can save tenants from paying expensive legal fees if taking a landlord to court.

The national organisation, as well as some of the larger city Mietvereine, are also the legal advocacy groups for social housing and new tenant laws in Germany. “We are doing more political work, like lobbying, for tenants’ rights.The local organisations talk to people and give them legal advice, which we don’t do at the DMB,” explains Hartmann.

The organization’s political work includes supporting social housing, co-ops and tenant initiatives.

This makes the Mietverein a natural ally and adviser for groups like the Berliner Mietenvolksentscheid, which lobbied for the “rental price break law” in 2015.

“Mietvereine in bigger cities do political work in the local area, but the DMB does this kind of work for the whole of Germany,” says Hartmann.

Member comments

  1. I’d happily join a Mieterverein but what the article fails to mention is that none of them will help you in English. They say “All our advice to you will be in the German language”, so good luck trying to sort out complicated legal situations with them if your German isn’t good enough.

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For members

HEALTH

7 things to know about visiting a doctor in Germany

Going to the doctor when you're living abroad is a necessary part of life, but it can feel a little daunting. Here are some cultural quirks to look out for in Germany.

7 things to know about visiting a doctor in Germany

Germany is known for having one of the best healthcare systems in the world. 

But there are some cultural differences that can take a bit of getting used to when you’re not from the country. 

Here’s a look at what you should keep in mind. 

You might have to pay at the doctor

People used to a healthcare system that’s free at the point of contact, such as the NHS in the UK, may be a little confused if they are asked to pay money at a doctor’s appointment. 

But the fact is that certain things will not be covered by your health insurance in Germany, and some optional extras could require that you have to dip into your wallet. 

For instance, many gynaecologists may offer to carry out an optional pelvic ultrasound check during a Pap smear test. If it’s not covered by your insurance, they will state in the appointment that it is an extra cost so you can decide if you want to pay for it or not. 

You should also ask if you have to pay for it upfront at the practice or if it will be sent out as a bill. 

Similarly, other specialists may also offer extra services that you could pay extra for. 

READ ALSO: ‘It works’: Your verdict on the German healthcare system

You’ll get different types of prescriptions

Another point to watch out for is that there are different kinds of prescriptions. A prescription (Rezept) given out on pink slips is usually given to people on statutory health insurance. People have to pay a reduced contribution – usually around €5-€10 – when picking up prescription medicine at the pharmacy. 

Patients with private insurance in Germany are more likely to be given a blue-coloured prescription slip. Private customers have to pay for their medicines in full before their insurance company reimburses them. You can also be given a blue slip if your public health insurance doesn’t cover the treatment.

Green slips include treatment that the doctor recommends. Meanwhile, yellow prescriptions are issued by the doctor for special controlled substances and are only valid for seven days. 

Polite waiting room etiquette

Germans may not be well known for being super friendly. But there are a few unexpected spots which are very welcoming. And one of those places is the doctor’s waiting room. 

Yes, it can be very surprising for foreigners when they are greeted with a little “Guten Morgen!” or “hallo!” in the waiting room when someone arrives. It’s customary for patients to give a polite hello and goodbye in the waiting room.

A person being vaccinated against Covid-19 in Hamburg in 2021.

A person being vaccinated against Covid-19 in Hamburg in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christian Charisius

… But you may face a stern receptionist or doctor

Ask a group of international residents about their experience of going to the doctor in Germany – or indeed other German-speaking countries – and you will likely hear about how the bedside manner is “different”.

This is because some doctors, and even receptionists, have a stern and direct approach when dealing with patients, which can be intimidating for newcomers to the country.

It can also be a little weird if you have to take some clothes off for an examination. You probably won’t be handed a gown, towel or even asked to undress behind a curtain. Everything is out in the open in Germany!  

Don’t worry though – none of this is personal. It’s just a different way of doing things. 

If you do come across a grumpy doctor, the best way to handle it is to either accept it or find a different doctor.

Be prepared to wait

Most Hausarzt (GP) practices in Germany operate on a drop-in basis during set times, known as Sprechstunden (consultation hours).

This means you can simply pop in during a two or three-hour window. During these times, it’s also first-come, first-served.

The advantage of this system is that it’s possible to see a doctor, for example, on a Wednesday morning without an appointment, as long as you have time to wait.

But if you are in a rush, or have a strict schedule, then the drop-in approach can be time-consuming. Depending on when you arrive, it could mean a short wait of several minutes or up to an hour.

The best advice is to arrive just as the doors open to secure a place near the top of the queue.

You can also book an appointment or Termin. But even if you book, you’ll probably still face a wait of at least 15 minutes. 

You are usually referred to a specialist

In Germany, if you are covered by public health insurance, you usually have to visit a GP to be referred to a specialist doctor.

There are exceptions in some cases, such as for gynaecologists and ophthalmologists where you can make an appointment without a referral.

If you have private insurance you can book appointments with specialists more easily.

READ ALSO: How to get a faster appointment with a specialist in Germany

Visit (or call) a GP for a sick note

If you’re sick from work then you have to get a sick note – Arbeitsunfähigkeitsbescheinigung or Krankschreibung – after three days of illness to give to your employer. Some bosses may require this sick note earlier, so check your contract or ask HR. 

Generally, you have to visit your doctor to get this document. But during the pandemic, people have been able to get a sick note over the phone from their GP for mild respiratory illnesses, including Covid-19. 

READ ALSO: The 10 rules you need to know if you fall ill in Germany 

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