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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.