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Update: What you need to know about the German property tax reform that affects us all

The Bundestag on Friday paved the way for the reform of Germany's property tax, which most of us have to pay in some form. Here’s what you need to know.

Update: What you need to know about the German property tax reform that affects us all
An aerial view of the city centre in Munich. Photo: DPA

What’s happening?

Last year the Constitutional Court ruled the Grundsteuer (property/land tax) obsolete and gave the government until the end of 2019 to come up with a new way of calculating the tax for Germany's 36 million properties.

On Friday the Bundestag paved the way for reform with an amendment to the Basic Law.

As put forward by Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, of the centre-left Social Democrats, the tax will now be calculated according to land value and rent, which means 36 million properties and houses have to be revalued.

However, due to pressure from the state of Bavaria, there will be a clause that means states can introduce their own regulations.

Here's the background and who has to pay it:

What exactly is the Grundsteuer and do I have to pay it?

It’s the tax on the ownership of land and buildings. And almost all of us pay it, either directly or indirectly. The tax is levied on everyone who owns a property. But even if you are a tenant, you still probably pay, as landlords almost always pass the cost onto tenants in the form of Nebenkosten (supplementary costs) in their contract.

One tax expert told mortgage specialists Hypofriend that property tax for an 80 square meter apartment in Berlin (Altbau, located in a 1,500 square meter property and in good condition) amounts to €260 per year.

Research by the Institute for the German Economy shows that the Grundsteuer on a typical apartment is €299 each year.

Owners of whole apartment buildings often have to pay four-digit amounts.

READ ALSO: The words you need to know before renting a flat in Germany

Why is it important?

For local governments, property tax is one of the biggest sources of income. It makes up 15 percent of their tax revenue, contributing to the building of community facilities such as roads and swimming pools.  According to the Federal Statistical Office, revenue from property tax last year totalled €14.2 billion – all going to local governments.

How is the tax currently calculated?

How much you pay depends on the assessed value of the property, the property tax rate and the assessment rate set by the local government where you live. Germany has 11,000 local municipalities, so there are lots of variations on the typical amounts that people have to pay.

For houses with the same basic tax rating for example, the final tax due could end up being €100 in one municipality and €1000 in another.

READ ALSO: Germany's top court just made a landmark ruling that affects us all

Why does it have to be changed anyway?

There's been debate for years about the fairness of the tax. Why? Well, the tax is based on an estimate of the value of a property which is seriously out of date.

Properties were last valued for the tax in west Germany in 1964 and in east Germany in 1935. So when your local Finanzamt calculates the tax, they are doing so based on the value of your property over half a century ago.

It's fair to say the value of homes has changed somewhat since then. For instance an apartment that was stuck next to the Berlin Wall in 1964 could now be in one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in Germany.

It's been on the agenda with the government for a while. A majority of states even suggested a new way of assessing the tax back in 2016.

Homes in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: DPA

The proposal back then prescribed that property value would be replaced by a calculation based upon size of property, location, transport connections and cost of build.

But both Bavaria and Hamburg blocked the change, fearing that it would lead to a rise in taxes for their residents.

How will the tax be calculated in the future?

This will depend on the state where you live. Finance Minister Scholz wants a general rule that will see the value of the land and the average rent play a role in the calculation. 

At the same time, however, there is to be an opening clause in the bill which will allow individual states to introduce their own regulations. Bavaria, for example, wants to use only the size of the property for the calculation. No matter which model a federal state chooses, the local governments still have the last word on assessment rates.

Will anyone have to pay more – or less – tax?

This is hard to predict. Scholz has said that the “good news” for taxpayers is that overall there won't be higher rates.

But it is likely that, in individual cases, some people will have to pay more than before, and others less. The details are hard to predict because of the varying collection rates by local governments and how they will be adjusted after the change.

Which model is best for residents in Germany?

This is controversial. With the Scholz model, all houses and undeveloped land would have to be regularly revalued. This is not only costly and time-consuming for local authorities, but as property values and rents continue to rise, the property tax would automatically increase. 

But the model proposed by Bavaria also has disadvantages: a farm in the north-east of Bavaria would have to pay just as much tax as a property of the same size but much more valuable in the centre of Munich. Many consider this unfair.

SEE ALSO: How Berlin's housing crisis leaves women vulnerable to sexual predators

What happens next?

Despite criticism, especially from the Free-Democrats, the Bundestag has voted for the reform.

Once the new law has passed through the Bundesrat too, which is considered certain as the details of the reform have been agreed with the federal states, the government will have a transition period to carry out the assessments necessary to start levying the tax accordingly, with plans to launch the new tax in 2025.

Those five years are needed because it will take some time to reassess all of the country's some 36 million properties.

What does reform mean for tenants?

People who live in locations where rent has gone up significantly in recent years, such as large cities, may have to pay more because the average rents in locations is to play a role in how to calculate property tax.

However, the German Tenants' Association wants the property tax removed from costs that tenants have to pay so that they no longer have to pay it.

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MONEY

KEY POINTS: Germany’s inflation relief measures to support people in cost of living crisis

The German Bundestag has passed tax relief and other measures to help people deal with rising inflation amid the cost of living crisis. Here's a look at what you need to know.

KEY POINTS: Germany's inflation relief measures to support people in cost of living crisis

The Inflation Compensation Act, which was passed with a majority in the Bundestag on Thursday, is aimed at offsetting the effects of high inflation on income tax.

The German parliament has also agreed on the largest increase in child benefit in the history of Germany. 

The changes are set to come into force after the Bundesrat – which represents the states – has given its approval.

Here’s a roundup of the planned relief:

Tax system will be adjusted to high inflation

The inflation compensation act, which was put forward by the coalition government of the Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats, provides that taxation will be adjusted to inflation, to help around 48 million people in Germany avoid additional burdens.

The law provides for two relief stages in the coming years. 

The total amount of tax relief will be over €12 billion in 2023, going up to around €18 billion in 2024.

It’s aimed at addressing cold progression, which refers to a situation where a pay rise is ‘eaten up’ by inflation. The result is that people have less money at the end of the day, despite getting paid more.

Finance Minister Christian Lindner, of the pro-business FDP, recently argued that if an income of €43,000 has a purchasing power of only €39,000 in the coming year due to inflation, the state should not levy as many taxes as if it were still €43,000 in buying power.

To compensate for this, the government is turning the screws on the income tax scale.

The basic tax-free amount, i.e. the income up to which no tax has to be paid, is to rise – by €561 to €10,908 next year. Furthermore, the top tax rate of 42 percent will not apply until taxable income reaches €62,827 next year. Currently, it’s charged on incomes above €58,597.

In 2024, this benchmark is set to rise to €66,779. The federal government is deliberately not touching the limit for the even higher wealth tax rate of 45 percent because it does not consider any additional relief necessary in this income bracket.

A person in Germany holds cash. The government has pledged to clamp down on gas prices.

A person in Germany holds cash. The government has pledged to clamp down on gas prices. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

Rise in child benefit

Families can look forward to extra relief from January 2023. Child benefit (Kindergeld) is to be raised to a uniform €250 per month per child, and €275 per month for their third child.

This translates to an increase of €31 a month for the first and second child and €25 per month for the third child. Child benefit for any additional children will remain unchanged at €250 per month. 

Child allowance (Kinderfreibetrag), which guarantees that the parents’ income remains tax-free up to a certain amount, will also be increased, as will the maximum amount of tax-deductible child support, for example for students.

READ ALSO:

The increase in child welfare support is intended to ease the burden on families, as they suffer more from the rising cost of living than households without children, the coalition government said.

One-off payment for gas and district heating

A billion-euro emergency aid grant funded by taxpayers for gas and district heating customers in Germany has also been agreed. 

In December, consumers will have their instalment payments waived for a month.

The one-off relief is meant to bridge the gap until the general gas price cap takes effect – at the latest for consumers in March next year.

READ ALSO: How much could households save with Germany’s gas price cap?

A person turning on their radiator in Germany.

A person turning on their radiator in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Bernd Weißbrod

Households and small businesses with an annual consumption of up to 1.5 million kilowatt hours will receive the one-off relief payment.

Certain institutions in the care and education sector and in medical care will also receive the emergency aid – even if their consumption is higher.

The amount of relief is calculated on the basis of one-twelfth of the annual consumption forecast by the supplier in September 2022 and the December gas price.

In this way, the prices, some of which have risen significantly at the end of the year, are to be taken into account.

When it comes to district heating, the amount of the September bill and a “flat-rate adjustment factor” are to be used, which takes into account the price increases up to December.

Tenants are to receive the December relief with their next annual heating bill. Landlords have one year to prepare and submit the statement – but must provide notice of the estimated credit this December.

READ ALSO: When will people in December get their gas bill paid?

Sharing of CO2 costs

The Bundestag also passed a regulation for sharing the costs of the climate levy between tenants and landlords.

Up to now, landlords have been able to pass on the CO2 levy on heating oil and natural gas, which has been payable since the beginning of 2021, in full to tenants.

In future, the additional costs are to be divided between tenants and landlords. Authorities say there will be a graduated model which will encourage tenants to to save energy, and will give landlords an incentive to make structural improvements.

Landlords will bear a higher share (up to 95 percent) of the climate levy the more carbon dioxide emissions their building causes, for example because of an old heating system or poor insulation. If a building is in good energy condition, tenants pay the larger share of the CO2 levy (up to 100 percent).

READ ALSO: German liberals delay plans to cut CO2 for tenants

Reform of housing benefit (Wohngeld)

The Bundestag has also passed a far-reaching reform of housing benefit.

As a result, the benefit will be available to more people from next year and will also be higher: instead of the previous figure of around 600,000 households, around two million households will be entitled to Wohngeld.

The average amount is to rise significantly too – from around €180 to about €370 per month.

Housing benefit will also be restructured. There is to be a permanent heating-cost component, which will be included in the allowance calculation as a supplement to rent. A climate component takes into account rent increases due to energy-efficiency measures.

Furthermore, the general formula for calculating housing benefit will be changed.

READ ALSO: Wohngeld – How people in Germany can get help with rising living costs

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