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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.

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PROPERTY

REVEALED: The German university towns where property prices are going up (and down)

Germany's property boom is grinding to a halt, but according to a recent survey, a number of smaller university towns are still seeing an upswing in prices. Here's where experts say it could make sense to invest.

REVEALED: The German university towns where property prices are going up (and down)

With rising interest rates and a potential recession on the cards, the prospects for Germany’s housing market have been looking increasingly gloomy of late. Back in September, a study by the Hamburg-based Gewos Institute for Urban, Regional and Housing research revealed that interest in property purchases has slumped, with sales of flats and houses in Germany set to drop by seven percent in 2022. 

Based on the data for the first half of the year, real estate companies are expected to see their revenues decline for the first time since 2009, Gewos revealed. In places like Munich and Frankfurt – some of the most expensive German cities where property prices have been rising for years – analysts from Swiss bank UBS predict that the housing bubble could be about to burst.

READ ALSO: Why Germany’s property boom could be coming to an end

Outside of the major metropoles, however, investors have long been eyeing up smaller cities and towns where property prices remain low. Now, a new analysis of property prices in Germany’s university towns suggests that student hotspots could be particularly attractive, despite the volatile housing market. 

For the survey, estate agent Von Poll Immobilien looked at price trends in a total of 46 university towns across Germany from the the first quarter to the third quarter of 2022,  excluding so-called ‘A’ and ‘B’ cities like Berlin, Düsseldorf and Cologne. To be classed as a university town, at least 7,000 students had to be resident there. 

In 35 of the towns, house prices have either fallen or stagnated throughout the year. Saarland’s capital Saarbrücken showed the most extreme drop in property prices over the period, with the cost of property per square metre sinking by 11.9 percent. In Q3, the average cost of buying a flat in Saarbrücken was €2,322 per square metre. 

Behind Saarbrücken, the university towns of Lüneberg and Erfurt showed the most dramatic fall in house prices, with a dropoff of 11.8 percent and 9.4 percent respectively. In both Göttingen and Ulm, house prices fell by 8.2 percent, while Bayreuth and Oldenburg sank by eight percent over the same period. 

“The real estate market has been visibly on the move in many places since the spring. This also applies to the smaller university towns,” explained Daniel Ritter, managing partner at von Poll Immobilien. “Real estate prices are stagnating or falling in certain regions and segments – although very good and high-demand micro-locations will be less affected.”

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about buying property in Germany

Bucking the trend 

Though prices remained stable or fell in around three quarters of the university towns surveyed, 11 of the student hotspots exhibited high growth despite the challenging market. 

The biggest jump in property prices was in the town of Erlangen, a Bavarian town just north of Nuremberg, where the price per square metre rose by 8.3 percent to €5,449. This was largely spurred on by the presence of big companies like Siemens, Adidas and Puma in the region, which has been driving interest from foreign investors.

Prices also went up significantly in the idyllic town of Coburg, another Franconian town located just 90km to the north of Erlangen. Here, property prices shot up by 6.3 percent to €2,795 per square metre. 

In other regions, the spike was less dramatic, though seven of the university towns saw modest price rises over the period. Bamberg, Kaiserslautern, Konstanz, Aachen, Flensburg, Frankfurt (Oder) und Magdeburg all saw house prices go up between 1.5 and 3 percent between Q1 and Q3. 

Constance harbour

Numerous ships docked in the harbour of Constance , a university town in the south of Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Felix Kästle

“The announcement that the American semiconductor manufacturer Intel was settling in Magdeburg had a noticeable impact on the property market. Since then we have seen a surge in property enquiries. However, there were fewer property offers and stable prices at that time,” said Heike Hoffmann, an estate agent at Von Poll Immobilien Magdeburg. “Against the backdrop of higher mortgage rates and the current inflation trend, however, we are noticing a reluctance to buy.”

“Nevertheless, many sellers are sticking to their high asking prices, which means that the number of property offers on the Magdeburg market has almost doubled compared to the same period last year.”

READ ALSO: How the housing bubble in Frankfurt and Munich could be set to burst

The cheapest and most expensive university towns

There were also significant differences in the asking prices for property across the university towns surveyed.

The property price analysis of the smaller university towns for the third quarter of 2022 suggests that prospective buyers can expect the highest prices for a flat in Constance at €6,321/m2 and Potsdam at €6,029/m2. But while prices per square metre in Constance have risen slightly by two percent compared to the first quarter of 2022, they dropped by as much as 7.8 percent in Potsdam, the capital of Brandenburg.

“Recently, we recorded significant price increases in Potsdam and property sellers were able to hold on to the sometimes very high asking prices – this is now changing,” said Andreas Güthling, branch manager of Von Poll Immobilien Potsdam and Werder. “Due to the increased financing interest rate, many prospective buyers now have to recalculate their search budget.” 

Properties in the pricier university towns otherwise ranged between €5,000 and €6,000 per square metre – a similar price to flats in Berlin and Stuttgart. The majority of these were located in the southern states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, with Freiburg im Breisgau topping the charts at €5,534/m2. 

Map of university towns

Property prices in the smaller university towns in Q3/2022. Source: Von Poll Immobilien

The fourth most expensive town – where prices are also rising most steeply – was Erlangen, where property currently costs €5,449/m2, followed by Tübingen at €5,390/m2, Regensburg at €5,176/m2 and Heidelberg at €5,134/m2. 

However, not all of the towns came with an eye-watering price tag for property. At just €1,785 per square metre, property in the town of Chemnitz in Saxony was by far the most affordable location for buyers – though prices of between €2,000 and €3,000 per square metre were far from unusual in the survey.

With the exception of Frankfurt (Oder) – which is located in Brandenburg on the Polish border – the most moderate prices were found in central and western German university towns, including Magdeburg, Wuppertal, Saarbrücken, Mönchengladbach, Hildesheim, Siegen, Kaiserslautern, Coburg und Kassel.

Where are the best investment opportunities?

According to Von Poll Immobilien, a major factor in deciding the potential for good returns on a buy-to-let is the so-called Purchase Price Factor, or Kaufpreisfaktor. This essentially calculates how long a property would need to be rented out in order to earn back the purchase price.

A property with a factor of 20 would have to be rented out for 20 years, while another with a factor of 40 would have to be rented out for 40 years, and so on.

For several years, a multiplier of 20 was considered a benchmark for a very profitable investment. With steep rises in property prices, however, this benchmark has shifted.

“In most German regions, purchase price factors of around 25 can now be found, but multipliers of 30 are no longer uncommon,” the researchers at Von Poll Immobilien explained. “In metropolises and large cities in particular, purchase price factors often exceed this threshold many times over.”

Entrance to Potsdam university

The entrance to Potsdam university. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

In almost half (22) of the university towns, the Purchase Price Factor was more than 30, while properties in the remaining 24 towns had a factor of between 20 and 30. 

In the third quarter of 2022, Potsdam had the highest Purchase Price Factor of 39.5, followed by Halle and Erlangen, with factors of 35.6 and 35.4 respectively,

On the lowest end of the scale was Saarbrücken, with a factor of just 21.8, followed by Göttingen (23.4), Mönchengladbach (24.3), Wuppertal (24.5) and Kaiserslautern (24.6). A full list of the purchase prices factors (in German) can be found here

“Cities with attractive courses of study continue to have especially high potential for value appreciation,” said Ritter. “However, investors should carefully examine the return potential of the locations and the targeted property as well as their individual criteria and market development and also consult professional real estate experts.”

READ ALSO: The hidden costs of buying a house in Germany

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