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

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

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.

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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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