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How a cryptic letter from your Berlin landlord could save hundreds in rent

How a cryptic letter from your Berlin landlord could save hundreds in rent
Photo: DPA
If you rent an apartment in Berlin, you should have received a letter from your landlord in recent weeks. We spoke to an expert who tells us why it's the key to dropping your rent - but why you need to take certain precautions.

Age of building, size of apartment, type of heating system – you might have been puzzled to discover that your landlord has a sudden interest in telling you all about the particulars of your apartment lately.

Well, they are doing so because they have been told to.

What they probably haven’t told you is why. From reading the letter you might assume it is just some good-to-know information that you can file away and never look at again.

READ ALSO: 'We're setting a clear stop sign': Berlin passes five-year rent freeze law

“All landlords have a legal duty to notify their tenants of the particulars of their apartments under the new Berlin rent cap,” Wibke Werner, deputy head of the Berlin Tenant Association, told The Local. 

“The letter gives you all the information you need to understand whether you have a right to a rent reduction,” she explains.

“You don't have to act on it now, but you should keep it along with your rental contract!” she warns. “And if you don’t understand make sure you get a German speaking friend to translate it for you.”

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Overheated rental market

Rents have been going up in major German cities for the best part of the last decade, as a housing shortage has increased demand for apartments.

The federal government attempted to tackle the problem in 2015 by introducing a “rental brake” which set a limit on the the size a new contract.

But Berlin, run by a left-wing coalition, went even further, introducing the so-called “rental cap” in January, which orders landlords to reduce the rent in existing contracts and freezes rent increases for five years. 

This reduction applies if the current rent is over 20 percent higher than a level calculated by the city based on factors such as the age of the building, the district it is situated in, and the quality of its heating system.

Conservatives are angry about the legislation. They predict it will have “catastrophic impacts on the economy” and further deepen the housing crisis by putting off investment. 

The centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and Free Democrats are challenging the law in Germany’s highest court, arguing the Berlin government has overstepped its authority.

“Rental law is a federal responsibility,” said Free Democratic MP Marco Buschmann.

A demonstration against the rent cap. Photo: DPA

Entitled to a reduction?

If you live in a property that was built before 2014 there is a good chance that your are entitled to a rent reduction.

Thanks to the letter, finding out is very straightforward. You simply need to plug the information containing in the letter into the Mietendeckelrechner (rent cap calculator) and it will tell you what your new rent should be.

“We think that most people are going to be getting a reduction,” said Werner. “The association of landlords said recently that it will affect two thirds of the properties that they lease.”

Of particular importance to expats living in Berlin for a short time, it applies to furnished properties too.

“The old rent brake gave an exemption to furnished properties – it accepted the argument that there are more overheads for the landlord – but that isn’t the case here,” Werner says. “Regardless of whether your flat already had furnishings or not, you will be entitled to the same reduction.”

She expects that his could lead to savings of several hundred euros a month for people renting expensive furnished properties.

The same goes for people who are sub-letting.

“You can use the calculator to see whether you are entitled to a reduction and then inform the main tenant that you expect them to sink the rent,” Werner says.

There is currently no online calculator in English, although the tenants association are working on one. In the meantime you can use a translation tool in your browser.

Photo: DPA

What next?

Your landlord is obliged to reduce your rent without you doing anything. But some might ignore the law.

“Given that this is being disputed in front of the constitutional court we expect that there will be some landlords who play for time and don’t reduce the rent,” Werner says.

READ ALSO: Berlin rent freeze: 34,000 tenants paying too much for housing

If the landlord doesn’t comply, you have a couple of options. You can threatened them with legal action in a civil case or you can inform the city authorities, who will then pursue them.

Either way from November 23rd onwards you can start transferring a reduced rent to your landlord based on the amount that the Mietendeckelrechner (rent freeze calculator) calculates.

Staying on the safe side

The law's chances of actually staying on the statute books are far from guaranteed. In March, Berlin’s city court declared it unconstitutional and referred it to the constitutional court.

That has created considerable concern among tenants. Werner says that it is best to be cautious.

“Whether you signed your contract before or after the law came into effect, you should put the difference between the rent in your contract and the reduced rent to one side,” she advises.

If they law is overturned landlords might have the right to demand back payments. Should that happen, you want to be sure you have the money saved up somewhere.


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