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RIGHTS

What you need to know if you sub-let in Germany

Many foreigners in Germany end up living as subtenants. It is often more convenient - especially for those of us staying for just a short while - but it also comes with risks. So what are your rights? We take a closer look.

What you need to know if you sub-let in Germany
Signing a contract. File photo: DPA

Expats decide to enter sub-tenancy agreements for various different reasons. If you’ve just moved to the country as a young professional you often move into a room in a Wohngemeinschaft (WG or shared flat) as your first step to finding your feet in the country. More often than not you sign an Untermietvertrag (sub-contract) with the Hauptmieter (main tenant) rather than dealing directly with the landlord.

To be clear. if you haven’t personally signed a contract with the landlord (or more commonly with the Hausverwaltung), you are a sub-tenant.

Others decide they want a furnished apartment – and the way things work in Germany – that normally means subletting an apartment from someone who is out of the country for a year or two.

Sub-letting is convenient: you can find a place relatively quickly and you don’t need to go through all the complicated paperwork of proving your finances are in order.

Unsurprisingly, though, it can make you more vulnerable to the whims of the main tenant or landlord. Here is what you should know to ensure you avoid ugly arguments with those you live with.

READ ALSO: Here’s where rents are falling and going up in Germany

Signing the contract

Legally you don’t need to sign a contract as a sub-tenant – a verbal agreement counts. But the devil is in the detail – so all tenant associations strongly urge you to put the agreement down on paper.

The main tenant will most likely download a standard template from the internet. These contracts are normally fairly thin on detail though, only giving the address of the property and details of notice of cancellation of contract.

Before you sign the contract it is advisable to ask whether the main tenant has received permission from the landlord to sublet the room. If they have not received this permission and the landlord finds out, then he has the right to cancel the original contract immediately – meaning you’ll end up on the street with all your belongings before you know it.

On your side, you should ensure with a furnished property that the washing machine etc are listed in the contract and that a clause is inserted stating that they are in working order.

READ ALSO: Know your rights: The advice you need about renting in Germany

             A student searches for flat-share. Photo: DPA

The level of the rent

Somewhat strangely given how regulated rents are in Germany, the main tenant can charge you whatever they like as the rent. So it is important to inform yourself first on what a typical rent is in the area you are staying.

If they are demanding a level of rent that seems too high for the property you are moving into, it is probably best to walk away. Who knows what other surprises they have in store for you further down the road?

The main tenant’s responsibilities

Whatever happens, the main tenant is ultimately responsible for damages in the apartment – they are the ones who have a legal agreement with the actual owner and ultimately they are liable for property damage. This means that a Hauptmieter could well demand that you have a Haftpflichtversicherung (liability insurance) before signing a contract with you.

The main tenant has to ensure that the rooms you move into are in the condition set out in the contract. Any paragraph inserted into the contract which tries to get them out of this responsibility is legally null and void.

If you find that something is not working – eg the washing machine is broken – you have a right to pay only part of the rent until it has been fixed. In other words: the main tenant is responsible for the upkeep of the apartment, not you.

The main tenant also isn’t allowed to terminate the contract with the landlord if that would lead to a breach of his contract with you. He also isn’t allowed to try and provoke the landlord into cancelling the contract by not paying the rent. If you are kicked out because the main tenant hasn’t kept up to date on payments then they are legally obligated to cover your moving costs.

Staying warm in winter

The main landlord must provide heating between October and April. If heating is not provided in your house then you have the right to pay reduced rent to the main tenant until the problem is rectified. The main tenant must then take the problem up himself with the landlord.

Cancelling the contract

This is the aspect of subletting that causes the most conflict. What if for whatever reason the main tenant decides they don’t want you living in the apartment anymore? Whatever they claim, they are not allowed to kick you out from one day to the next.

The exact length of a Kündigungsfrist (notice period) depends on the type of rooms you rent. Here’s the breakdown.

Was the room empty when you moved in? That means you have fairly strong rights. You yourself have to give the main tenant three months’ notification – and you have to notify them by the third day of the month. For example if you notify them by June 3rd you are tied to the contract until August 31st.

For an unfurnished room the main tenant has to give you six months’ notice unless they have good reason to cancel the contract – i.e. you have broken your side of the bargain. And if you’ve lived there for more than five years that period of notification is even longer.

SEE ALSO: Renting in Germany – What you need to know

For furnished apartments the period of notification is much shorter. Both parties can give notification of just two weeks – and they don’t need to provide any reason for doing so.

Taking over the contract

Imagine this: you are subletting the perfect apartment with a view over the city and the main tenant decides she doesn’t want to live there anymore. Perfect you might think – you can take it over and have it for yourself. Well unfortunately, your dreams might be dashed by reality.

Living in the apartment as a subtenant does not give you any privileges when it comes to taking over the contract. As long as they give you the required period of notification your time’s up. Legally you have never had a relationship with the landlord so they have no legal responsibilities towards you.

So if the landlord wants everyone to move out so they can find new tenants on increased rent, they have every right to do so.

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For members

MONEY

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

Many households in Germany could be eligible for increased financial support with their rents and bills from next year. We break down who should apply and how much help they could receive.

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

The cost of living is rising across the board, and nowhere is this being felt more than in the home. For over a year, gas and electricity bills have been soaring and people on low incomes have been left wondering how to make ends meet.

While there is support available for people in this situation, it seems that many households in Germany aren’t aware that they could be eligible to apply for Wohngeld, or housing allowance, to help them with their expenses. What’s more, the amount of money people can get is set to rise at the start of next year.

Here’s what you need to know.

What exactly is Wohngeld?

Wohngeld, or housing allowance, is a form of financial aid for low-income households in Germany. It’s intended to help with the general costs associated with housing, such as monthly rents and utility bills.

Even people who own their own homes are able to get support with their mortgage repayments and building management costs (known as Hausgeld). However, they do have to fulfil certain criteria, like earning under a certain amount per month.

Unlike long-term unemployment benefit, which also includes a stipend for rent and bills, Wohngeld is intended for people who don’t rely on any other form of state support. That could include single parents or people with minimum wage jobs who spend a large proportion of their income on rent.

It means that people on jobseekers’ allowance and students with state loans and grants aren’t able to apply for Wohngeld. 

READ ALSO:

How much money can people receive?

That depends on a range of factors such as where you live, how high your rent is and how much money you earn this month. However, one thing that’s clear is that Wohngeld is likely to rise significantly at the start of next year.

On Wednesday, cabinet ministers voted through proposals from Housing Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) to hike the monthly allowance by around €190 on average. That means that instead of receiving €177 per month, the average household on Wohngeld will receive around €370 per month starting in January. 

It’s worth noting that Geywitz’s reforms still need to clear a vote in the Bundestag, but with the governing coalition of the SPD, Greens and FDP behind the move, it’s likely that they will. 

The Housing Ministry has also put together an online tool that can calculate the amount of Wohngeld each household is entitled to. At the moment, this still calculates the allowance based on the current rates – but it will be updated if the reforms are passed by parliament. 

Who’s eligible for Wohngeld?

That depends on a complex calculation based on factors such as income, the number of people in a household, the size and location of the property and how high monthly housing expenses are. There’s no straightforward income threshold that people can refer to, which could explain why thousands of households who could potentially get Wohngeld never apply for it.

The best way to check if you’re currently eligible is to use the government’s Wohngeld calculator tool. But as we mentioned above, this is still based on the current criteria and monthly rates. 

As well as hiking the monthly allowance, Geywitz also wants to expand the criteria so more households are eligible for Wohngeld.

At the moment, around 600,000 households in Germany receive Wohngeld. This could increase by 1.4 million to two million under Geywitz’s plans. From next year, people earning minimum wage and people on low pensions are set to be among those who are able to apply. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: When should I turn on my heating in Germany this year?

Sound good – where do I sign up?

In general, the states and municipalities are responsible for handling Wohngeld applications. That means you should apply at the local Wohngeldamt (housing allowance office), Wohnungsamt (housing office) or Bürgeramt (citizens’ office) in your district or city. 

If you’re unsure where to go, searching for ‘Wohngeld beantragen’ (apply for housing allowance) and the name of your city or area should pull up some search results that can guide you further. 

Apartment blocks in Berlin Marzahn.

Apartment blocks in Berlin Marzahn. Photo: picture alliance / Matthias Balk/dpa | Matthias Balk

Alongside an application form, you’ll likely have to submit a tenancy agreement, ID, information on your residence rights and proof of any income or state support you already receive. Other members of your household may also have to submit similar financial information. 

You should also be registered at the address you’re applying for Wohngeld for. 

READ ALSO: Germany to spend €200 billion to cap soaring energy costs

Are there any other changes to Wohngeld I should know about?

Anyone already on Wohngeld, or who receives it between September and December this year, is also entitled to a special heating allowance to help with winter energy costs. This is also set to be given to students and trainees receiving a BAföG loan or grant.

For students and trainees, the heating allowance is set at €345 per person. Meanwhile, the amount given to Wohngeld recipients will vary on the size of the household.

Single-person households will receive €415, two-person households will get €540 and there will be an additional €100 per person for larger households. 

This is likely to paid out in January. 

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