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HOUSING

‘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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EDUCATION

What foreign parents in Germany need to know about Sprach-Kitas

Germany has a number of specialised nursery schools that focus primarily on helping children with their German language skills. Here's what foreigners need to know about them.

What foreign parents in Germany need to know about Sprach-Kitas

What even is a Sprach-Kita? 

A “Sprach-Kita”, or Language Kindergarten, is a special type of nursery school that’s been around in Germany since 2016 under the government’s Sprach-Kita Programme. The main aim is to help young children build up their German language skills to a level that will allow them to succeed at school. 

How is this different to a normal Kita or daycare centre?

Unlike most Kindergartens in Germany, Sprach-Kitas employ staff who are specifically trained in language teaching and acquisition. These specialists are paid for through Sprach-Kita Programme funding and help to shape the environment of the nursery school, making it easier for children to develop their German skills in an everyday setting.

The schools also have access to external support and advice on catering to children with language setbacks, and may work closely with parents to encourage further language development at home. 

Since the scheme was set up in 2016, around 7,000 nursery schools have successfully applied for “Sprach-Kita” status and received at least €25,000 funding through the programme. These were mostly Kitas that had already taken in a higher-than-average number of children from foreign backgrounds, such as those in popular migrant or expat areas.

Sprach-Kitas will generally be much more diverse and focus most heavily on children’s language skills, in addition to teaching young kids about cultural inclusivity.  

READ ALSO: ‘Multilingualism is an enrichment, not a deficit’: Raising bilingual kids in Germany

Who are Sprach-Kitas for?

Any young child in Germany is allowed to go to a Sprach-Kita, but the main target audience for these specialised nurseries are the children of foreign parents.

In households where German isn’t the main language spoken, children may struggle to keep up with their classmates at school due to their lower level of German fluency. That could be because the child has two international parents – such as a French mum and an English dad – or because the child has more contact with a parent who doesn’t speak German. 

According to recent statistics, around one in five nursery-age children in Germany doesn’t speak German with their parents at home. That equates to 675,000 children in total. In addition, around 40 percent of nursery school children come from a migrant background. 

Through the Sprach-Kita Programme, government is hoping to help these children integrate at an early age to set them up fully for life in Germany. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The rise in multilingual children in Germany

Do I have to pay for a Sprach-Kita? 

Parents usually have to pay a monthly fee for their child to attend a German nursery school – and the same applies to Sprach-Kitas. The fee structure is generally set by the local government, meaning it can vary widely across different regions of the country.

However, you won’t pay any more (or less) for a Sprach-Kita than you would for an ordinary nursery school. 

Where can I find a Sprach-Kita?

Around one in eight Kindergartens in Germany is currently a Sprach-Kita, meaning they aren’t particularly hard to find.

To look for one near you, the best thing to do is to hop onto the government website and look on this interactive map detailing all of the Sprach-Kitas in Germany. 

Children ride tricycles at a German kindergarten.

Children ride tricycles at a German kindergarten. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/mauritius images / Westend61 / M | Westend61 / Mareen Fischinger

However, partly due to staffing shortages, Kita places in Germany are highly competitive right now – so securing a place may involve getting in touch with a number of them at an early date. 

READ ALSO: How can Germany improve its Kitas amid teacher shortage?

Is there anything else I need to know?

Currently, the funding for the Sprach-Kita Programme is due to end at the end of 2022 – and it’s unclear what the fate of the existing language-focused nursery schools will be after this happens.

Though the three parties of the traffic-light coalition had pledged to extend the scheme in their coalition contract, it appears that the programme was one of the first victims of savage negotiations over next year’s budget.

That means the federal government are now hoping to transfer the responsibility for funding the language support over to the 16 states.  

“Responsibility in the area of daycare for children lies with the states and cannot be permanently financed by federal funding programmes,” a spokeswoman for the Family Ministry told Welt. 

The Ministry for Families has also pledged to make language acquisition a cornerstone of its forthcoming Good Childcare Act, which will see at least €2 billion in federal funding made available for nurseries in 2023 and 2024. 

That could make it possible for existing Sprach-Kitas to remain in place as specialised centres for language support. 

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