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Four ways to help lower your rent in Germany

It’s often expats in Germany who find themselves paying unduly high rent, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a better deal – even if you’ve already signed your tenancy agreement.

Four ways to help lower your rent in Germany
Photo: Chrissi/Depositphotos

When you’re looking for accommodation in a competitive rental market, it might seem the only option is to pay whatever rent the landlord asks for. In actual fact, Germany’s rental market is highly regulated and knowing your rights will often get you a fairer price.

Here’s how to make sure your tenancy agreement is compliant with German rental laws – and what to do if it isn’t.

Read up on the Mietpreisbremse rental law

In the summer of 2015, Germany introduced a law to cap how much landlords in urban areas could charge above the rental average or Mietspiegel. Aimed at slowing down the pace of rental increases, Mietpreisbremse stipulates that new rental contracts cannot exceed 10 percent of the average price of an apartment in the area. You do need to meet certain criteria to be eligible, which you can read more about here.

You might ask why, if this law exists, you still hear of people paying extortionate rent? It’s because the law has a fatal flaw. Landlords who don’t follow it aren’t penalised and so many have actively ignored it. As a result, publicly available data shows that every second tenancy agreement in Germany is unlawful.

Click here to find out now whether your rent is illegally high

For expats, the situation is even worse. The tenants' rights portal wenigermiete.de analysed more than 2,500 rental contracts from expats that were submitted to its website and found 83 percent had illegally high rent. The reason for this isn't entirely clear but it could be that German landlords are aware that many expats don't know their rights. Alternatively, expats may be used to paying higher rent in their home countries and so remain unaware they are being overcharged.

Familiarising yourself with Mietpreisbremse is the first step towards making sure you get a fair deal when you sign a tenancy agreement. And it’s never too late to invoke it – even if you've already signed a lease, you can still challenge it if you discover your rent is too high.

Know your options: Online portal, tenancy association, local lawyer
 
If your rent is illegally high, you don’t have to keep quiet and cut your losses. German rental law favours the tenant and there are several ways to lower the amount you’re paying.

To start with, there is the team at Berlin-based online portal/legal-tech startup wenigermiete.de – part of Conny GmbH. Once you've filled in their online questionnaire to determine whether you're eligible for a rent reduction, they handle your case from there. The website makes the saving calculation based on the official rental index of each city and about 30-50 detailed questions regarding your apartment.

If you answer the questions accurately, there is a high chance that you can save the calculated amount. The portal's team will act on your behalf to lower your rent, representing you in court if necessary. You only pay if they are successful – and even then their fee comes out of the security deposit you’ve already paid to your landlord. 

Photo: Skitterphoto on Pexels

Alternatively, you could contact your local tenants’ union which will support you in approaching your landlord and challenging the illegal contract yourself. This often involves you attending on-site appointments. If the landlord doesn't respond, the tenancy association will refer you to a lawyer. This may cost you a deductible of €150 – although in Berlin the association often waives the fee. 

Your third option is to hire a lawyer from the outset. Just be aware that even the initial consultation can cost up to €190 per hour – and that's just to evaluate whether you have a case or not. It's not unheard of for people to pay the €190 only for a lawyer to advise them against taking action as their case has a low chance of success.

Concerned about high rent? Find out now whether the rent control act could help you

Don't fear contract termination

It’s understandable to worry that challenging your contract might lead your landlord to terminate your lease or cease maintaining the property. But the fact is, they have no legal leg to stand on.

If your tenancy agreement is with a property management company and you've complied with all the contractual obligations, they cannot legally cancel your lease. If you're renting from a private landlord, legal termination can only occur on the grounds that the landlord needs the property for themselves or their family members. 

Several conditions must be met for them to claim the property for their own use and such notices issued by private landlords can often be blocked. wenigermiete.de will review these and and other termination notices for you.

Most landlords already know that they are breaching rent control law. They will be cautious if they receive a letter signed by a lawyer so wenigermiete.de ensures every claim letter is signed by a contract lawyer that works closely with the portal. 

Landlord terminated your contract? Find out if you could block the termination

Reject unjustified rent increases

The most sensible thing you can do when renting in Germany is stay clued up. There are laws in place to protect you, but you need to know them to use them to your advantage.

If your landlord demands a sharp increase, check the Mietspiegel. Don't accept anything without asking for the landlord's justification and checking yourself or having someone else check whether it makes sense and is within legal limits.

You should know that the law also prohibits steep rises in rent over a short period of time. Landlords are not permitted to increase your rent more than 15 percent over a three-year period and it still cannot exceed the rent index (the same rent index used for rent control but without applying the 10 percent addition). wenigermiete.de also helps you check and dispute rent increase letters.

You’re also protected if your rental property is repaired or modernized. Until recently, landlords could reclaim 11 percent of the cost of the repairs or refurbishment, but as of 2019 they can only reclaim eight percent annually. This has been one of the biggest issues faced by tenants in Germany who would find themselves unable to pay the unexpected rent increase.

If you suspect your rental contract is against German rent control law you can can call wenigermiete.de's free hotline on 030 8632-8934-0 (Monday to Friday 9am to 7pm)  

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Wenigermiete.

For members

RENTING

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.

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