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HOUSING

Renting in Germany: Here’s what to know about changes in 2020

Rocketing rent costs are a big concern to many living in or planning to move to Germany. But there are some changes that could help ease the situation.

Renting in Germany: Here's what to know about changes in 2020
A man walking in Berlin. Photo: DPA

The cost of housing in Germany is in the spotlight as renters grapple with rising prices and a lack of new affordable homes.

So will there be any relief in 2020? From tighter rent controls to housing benefit boosts, these are the important changes and developments to know about.

READ ALSO: Everything that changes in Germany in 2020

Rent brake being tightened and extended

The so-called Mietpreisbremse or ‘rental price brake' is supposed to stop landlords in areas with strained housing markets from increasing rents by more than 10 percent than the local benchmark average when renting out to a new tenant.

In June 2015, Berlin became the first German state to implement the new regulation, and now there are a total of about 300 cities. There are, however, times when a landlord is exempt from the regulations, such as in the case of a new tenant moving in after extensive modernization or if previous tenants already paid in excess of the local rent average.

This year the law is being tightened and extended. In future, tenants who are paying more than they should will be able to claim back the overpaid rent retroactively, up to a period of 30 months. The prerequisite is that the tenant has notified the breach within this period after the start of the rental contract.

In fact, the rent brake, or the possibility for the federal states to impose one, is meant to expire at the end of 2020. However, the regulation has been extended until the end of 2025.

READ ALSO: Munich no longer most expensive city for renting in Germany

Berlin rent cap

Recently, we explained how a massive 1,749 flat-hunters queued outside to visit a reasonably-priced vacant Berlin apartment 12 hours after it was advertised online, a sign of the city's problematic housing situation.

But could that all be about to change? Well, city bosses hope so.

The controversial “rent cap” (Mietendeckel), which is due to be approved in the next month or two, is set to implement a five-year rent increase freeze in the capital.

It will mean around 1.5 million homes will have their rents frozen and capped at €9.80 for Kaltmiete (cold rent, or costs before utilities) per square meter.

The draft law states that landlords cannot charge rents higher than what the previous tenant paid and, if their rent is above the limit set out in a rent table (which depends on the age of the building and other factors) tenants can even apply to have it lowered.

Exceptions include social housing, owner-occupied flats, flats in halls of residence and apartments built since January 2014.

After the law gets the green light it will then be applied retroactively from June 18th, 2019, which means that any recent rental increases may be deemed as not valid.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about tax changes in Germany in 2020

Crack down on excessively high rents

A protest against high rents in Hamburg in 2019. Photo: DPA

Further plans are being put forward from German states in a bid to stop tenants being faced with extremely high rental costs.

In response to drafts submitted by the states of Bavaria and Schleswig-Holstein, the Bundesrat has put together bills aimed at strengthening the Economic Criminal Code and increasing the fines for those caught exploiting tenants.

These measures will be introduced into the Bundestag for debate.

Restrictions on converting rented apartments to private flats

Another draft law for the preservation of affordable rental housing is being put forward by the city states of Hamburg, Bremen and Berlin.

They want to abolish a loophole in the Planning and Building Law, which says the conversion of rented apartments into private homes is only possible if the apartments are sold to tenants during the first seven years of them living there.

In practice, however, the applicant states argue, tenants are not able to afford to the buy the apartments during those seven years. Therefore, the owners allow the period for tenants to buy the home to expire, and then they will be able to offer the home on the market.

That means that new owners then often take back the flat, declaring their own interests (Eigenbedarf) or increase rents after modernization. The bill was presented in the Bundesrat and will be discussed in the relevant committees.

Boost to housing benefit

People on low incomes have received an increase in housing benefit (Wohngeld), a state subsidy intended to ensure tenants can afford suitable housing.

READ ALSO: The big changes in Germany to expect in 2020

From January 1st, housing benefits increased by an average of about 30 percent. A two-person household, for example, now receives €190 per month instead of the previous €145.

In addition, as a result of the 2020 housing subsidy reform, around 180,000 more households are entitled to the subsidy than before.

From 2022, the housing allowance will then be regularly adjusted every two years to reflect current rent and income trends.

In 2021, the German government is also planning a further housing benefit increase, which will relieve low-income households of heating costs. They are set to rise as a result of the CO2 price increase under the climate protection programme.

Generally, in order to qualify for housing benefit, you cannot be receiving any other benefit payments, such as unemployment allowance.

Good-to-know for renters

When you're searching for a flat in Germany, you might find that landlords want to see a Schufa credit check – even during the apartment viewing. But fear not, it's fairly easy to obtain. Read our guide on how to obtain a Schufa here.

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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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