‘Know your rights’: The advice you need about renting in Germany

Getting a place to stay in Germany is no easy task due to high costs, bureaucracy and picky landlords. We asked internationals for advice on finding a flat.

'Know your rights': The advice you need about renting in Germany
Apartments in Frankfurt. Photo: DPA

Anyone who's tried to rent a flat or house will be familiar with the long and drawn-out process. Whether it's attending a viewing with 30 other people, having to print, prepare and photocopy a pile of documents – or simply dealing with landlords and the property management, finding a flat is tough. 

Unfortunately there's no quick fix – and it's causing huge stress for internationals living here.

We asked our readers to share some of advice on finding a place.

SEE ALSO: High costs, long queues and discrimination: What it's like to rent in Germany

Stay on top of 'convenient' flat-finding websites

Respondents praised the websites that people in Germany can use to search for a flat, such as WG-Gesucht, ImmobilienScout24 and eBay Kleinanzeigen, calling them “convenient and practical”.

Pranshul, 21, an Indian resident from Dubai, who is studying in Jülich, North Rhine-Westphalia, said: “The ability to directly message a landlord or ad owner is highly convenient.

“This is perhaps the best way of looking for a new place to move into, compared to less affordable options (especially for students) such as a property agent.”

Don't forget about Facebook groups. Often people will post about available rooms with pictures on the site. However, be prepared to face lots of competition. Rooms can be snapped up very quickly.

Many websites also give you the option to create a profile of yourself, adding a photo and filling in criteria of what you're looking for – be it the ideal size of the flat or the location you're after. It also allows landlords to get a sense of you when you apply for the flat online.

“Be quick to respond to any advertisement and try to mail in the German language,” added another respondent.

Don't just keep it digital

When it comes to looking for a new apartment or house to rent, readers also advise being proactive and speaking to people. This could be asking colleagues at work, fellow students or talking about it in your community.

Even some posters on notice boards in universities might be a good way to advertise the fact you're looking for an apartment.

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

Know your rights – or join a union

As we reported, finding a place to live causes significant anxiety for internationals living in Germany. Our readers told us that Munich in particular is too expensive, there's not enough availability in Berlin and that discrimination was rife during the flat-finding process across the country. 

Rachel, 25, from New York who lives in Berlin said: “The process not only allows but encourages landlords to act on their worst instincts and develop stereotypes based on attributes like gender and country of origin.”

“The result hurts everyone: those who are not selected for arbitrary reasons are often forced to pay more for short-term options like Airbnb that drives up costs for everyone.”

Although tenants don't have power in every situation, being part of a Mietverein, which acts as a kind of union to support tenants, can help.

Photo: DPA

The Deutscher Mieterbund (DMB) is the umbrella organization for 320 local tenants associations, 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.

One reader said: “I found it helpful to know I could contact the Mietverein if I needed to, especially because my German isn't that good.”

But you can make sure you also take your own steps. One respondent to our survey said: “Read your contract three to four times.”

Meanwhile, David in Berlin simply said “don’t trust agents”, while another reader advised not getting your own apartment but instead opting for a shared flat to avoid bureaucracy.

SEE ALSO: Rent for student housing across Germany has sky-rocketed, survey shows

Watch for scams

Adarsh, who lives in Munich, warned people to watch out for scammers on websites such as WG Gesucht or other sites, and never transfer money if you have any suspicions.

From the age-old 'deposit the money and I'll send the key' scam, to newer forms of fraud which may lead to identity theft, it pays to remain suspicious. 

Don't be shy to ask further questions – and remember that if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. 

Preparation, preparation, preparation

This is a good tip to stick to in Germany where the process is often very bureaucratic. Landlords and property management companies typically require lots of documents and photocopies. 

From evidence of your earnings to a credit check (Schufa), never forget that Germans love paperwork. 

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

“Get your documents sorted in advance,” one reader said. “Be open and honest about who you are, and your journey.  But be sure to give reassurance (if you can) about your circumstances with visas or how long you intend to stay.”

Shaik in Stuttgart, said you should discuss all the hidden costs and work hard in advance, while some readers said you should ask for help from friends and colleagues who will know more about the German system.

SEE ALSO: How to stand out from the flat-finding crowd

Be 'memorable' at the viewing

No one wants to think of a flat or a house viewing as an audition, but sadly when there's lots of competition, you do have to show off your best self.

When looking for an apartment or house, Carolyn said you should try to be as “human and memorable” when applying or meeting potential new housemates.

Make sure you make a good impression by arriving on time (a bit early in case there's a queue) and preparing the kinds of things you want to say.

Stay in the game

Don't feel disheartened if you keep getting knocked back. Our readers reported lots of difficulties in finding a place to stay.

“I have been searching for a house in the south of Munich for the past 4 months,” said Ajith. “It's even hard to get a viewing. When we get a viewing opportunity there will be 25 people standing in a queue.”

Silviu, from Romania who lives in Munich said people searching for somewhere to stay should be flexible.  It helps to have a high salary to afford to live in a major city, he said. Or be prepared to live outside the city which may leave you with a longer commute.

One respondent said: “Keep sending applications and pray for the best. Here, it’s all about luck.”

“Be patient and wait for the right place. You will find it eventually,” another reader said.

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EXPLAINED: How to sublet your apartment in Germany

If you’re going away for a period of time or want to cut your living costs, subletting your flat can seem like an appealing option. But there are a lot of things you need to consider first. We break them down.

EXPLAINED: How to sublet your apartment in Germany

What is subletting?

A subletting arrangement is when a subtenant is allowed to use the main tenant’s apartment, or part of it, in return for payment.

Having visitors in your home, even for a period of up to six weeks, does not count as subletting and you do not have to inform your landlord. But be careful: If the visitor starts paying rent, this becomes a sub-letting arrangement and if the visitor stays more than six weeks in a row, you have a duty to inform your landlord.

READ ALSO: The most expensive (and cheapest) cities in Germany to rent a room

If close family members such as parents, children, partners or spouses move in with you, this is also not a subletting arrangement and is considered part of the normal use of the rented property. 

However, you should inform your landlord of such a change in circumstance, not least because at some point the new person living in your apartment will at some point need to register with the local authorities.

Do I have to tell my landlord?

Yes. Regardless of whether you are just subletting a room or your whole apartment, you have to inform your landlord and, in most cases, you are required by law to obtain the landlord’s permission to sub-rent. This applies for whatever time period you want to sublet for: whether it’s for a weekend or for six months. 

One exception to this rule is if you rent a room in a WG (shared accommodation) and all of the tenants are equal parties to the contract. In that case, it’s possible to sublet individual rooms without having to get permission from the landlord, but you should still inform them.

If you try to rent out your place or a room without your landlord’s permission and get found out, you could face legal action, or be kicked out of your apartment before the agreed notice period. 

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The most – and least – popular landlords in Germany

Can the landlord refuse to let me sublet?

If the main tenant has a so-called “justified interest” in subletting part of the apartment, they can demand that the landlord agrees to the sublet and even take legal action or acquire a special right of termination of the rental contract if they refuse.

However, this right only applies to a sublet of part of the apartment and not the entire space within the four walls – in this case the landlord is within their rights to say no to the sublet. 

When subletting part of an apartment, a justified interest must be for an important reason such as a needing to move abroad temporarily for a job or personal reasons, or a partner moving out and the tenant no longer being able to cover the rental costs alone.

In general, landlords shouldn’t refuse your request to sublet unless there are good reasons – for example if the apartment is too small. 

The landlord can’t reject your subletting application without good reason and if they do, you can gain a special right to terminate your rental contract, and can even sue for your right to sublet. 

What information will I need to give my landlord? 

Whether you are subletting a room or the whole apartment – you’ll need to give your landlord the following information:

  • Who is moving in
  • How long you will be subletting for
  • For what reason you plan to sublet

If you want to set up a WG (Wohngemeinschaft or shared flat) as the main tenant, you should discuss this with the landlord beforehand, as it may be worth changing the apartment status to a shared apartment in the main rental agreement. That way, you won’t have to send a new application every time a new roommate moves in.

Do I need a special rental contract?

If you are going to subrent your apartment, it is definitely worth having a contract. 

A contract between the main tenant and the subtenant is completely separate from the contract between the main tenant and the landlord, so all responsibilities arising from the sub-rental contract will fall on you and not the landlord. 

A man fills in the details of a rental contract by hand. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Armin Weigel

At the same time, as the main tenant, you will still be liable to your landlord for any damage caused by the subtenant, so it is best to put a clause in the sub-rental agreement that outlines how this will be covered, and also to make sure that your subtenant has personal liability insurance. 

There are plenty of websites that offer templates of sub-rental contracts for you to use, and you should make sure your contract includes the following information:

  • The personal details of the subtenant
  • The sub-rental cost and any service charges
  • When these are to be paid
  • Which rooms may be used
  • How many keys have been handed over
  • Details of a possible deposit
  • The condition of the rented apartment
  • House rules, such as no smoking, pets, etc.
  • Liability for possible damages

How much can I charge?

You can usually negotiate the sub-rental price yourself, but you should be careful not to overstep the rental limit per square metre for your area. If you charge over this amount and your subtenant finds out, they have the right to demand the local square metre rental price and you may have to refund them the total amount of overcharged rent.

If you sublet a furnished apartment, you can add a surcharge based on what you will be leaving in your apartment. You should also factor in the energy and water costs.

READ ALSO: Everything you should know about renting a furnished flat in Germany

Do I have to get consent from the local authorities?

In some cases, you will also need to get permission to sub-rent from the local authorities to rent out your place. 

If you sublet in Berlin or Frankfurt, for example, and you want to advertise your flat for holiday rentals, you have to get approval first.

A wooden judge’s hammer lies on the judge’s bench in the jury courtroom in the Karlsruhe Regional Court. Photo: picture alliance / Uli Deck/dpa | Uli Deck

If you go ahead and rent on a site like Air BnB without approval, you can expect to pay a hefty fine. Though the highest possible fine of €500,000 is unlikely, there are numerous reports of people getting fines in Germany of several thousand euros.

Another important thing to remember is that, if you make more than €520 profit in a year from sub-renting, you have to include this in your tax declaration.

Can the landlord demand I pay extra?

If a landlord allows subletting, they can also demand a share of the extra income from the main tenant. The amount of the surcharge cannot exceed 25 percent of the sublease, however.

Useful Vocabulary

to sub-let – Untermieten 

sublease agreement – (der) Untermietvertrag

termination without notice – (die) fristlose Kündigung

ban on misuse – (das) Zweckentfremdungsverbot

special right of termination – (das) Sonderkündigungsrecht

justified interest – (das) berechtigtes Interesse

personal liability insurance – (die) Haftpflichtversicherung

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.