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RENTING

7 things you should know when looking for a flat in Berlin

How difficult is it to search for a flat in Berlin during a pandemic and with a law that leaves tenants in limbo? Pretty bad, writes Rachel Loxton.

7 things you should know when looking for a flat in Berlin
Searching for a flat in Berlin isn't easy, especially during a pandemic. Photo:D PA

If you’d have told me a year ago that I’d be searching for a flat in Berlin during a pandemic while a contested rent cap law (the Mietendeckel) leaves us all in limbo, I’d have never believed you. 

But then again 2020 has been a surprise for us all, often throwing up life changes whether it’s your job, health, home or relationships. 

I mistakenly thought when I first started looking for a new place to live at the end of May that all it would take was to have my documents ready, apply for a few places and attend viewings. Surely I’d find something. 

Unfortunately it's not that easy.

Just getting a viewing for a place in Berlin is a huge hurdle to overcome in itself.  But the good news is it’s not impossible. Let me talk you through my experience in case it’s helpful when you’re looking for a place, or maybe you’ve been through a similar experience somewhere else in Germany.

You do need the right paperwork… and it's a lot

If you’re familiar with Germany, you’ll know that the amount of paperwork you need is often of mountainous proportions. I was looking to rent a flat, something that’s fairly simple in my home country of Scotland. 

Yet in Germany it felt like I was preparing for a huge legal battle, collecting A4 sheets upon A4 sheets of stuff. You need three payslips printed out that need to be kept up to date with every month that goes by.

READ ALSO: How to stand out from the flat finding crowd in Germany

The dreaded Schufa (which also needs to be kept up to date). You also have to get your Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung (try saying that after you’ve had a few drinks) which shows you're up to date with your previous rent payments. As well as proof of ID, some landlords also require proof of Privathaftpflichtversicherung, or private liability insurance. You might also need your Anmeldung (registration document).

At the peak of my search my main relationship was with the Copy Shop man who watched me trundle in every day to print or scan stuff. It also cost a fair bit of money paying for all the printing and paperwork.

Also remember that Germany might require you to post or even fax(!) in your applications. I spent a bit of time queuing at the post office during my search.

I'd also advise that you put together your own Bewerbemappe or application pack with all your docs, a picture and your personal statement. Basically anything that makes you stand out from the masses is helpful. Plus get a German friend to proof read it for you.

You'll see two rents in some ads – and it's confusing

Landlords in Berlin are posting ads and drawing up new rental contracts that include a so-called “shadow rent”. That is a contractually agreed higher rent price that a landlord could charge you if Berlin's rent freeze law is ruled unconstitutional.

So here's what it means for people looking for a new place: you'll find the rent you have to pay now under the new law.

And you'll also find a higher rent – often more than double than the other cost – which the landlord wants you to pay if the rent law doesn't hold. And they expect tenants to pay the difference if the law is shot down in court.

READ ALSO: Berlin passes five year rent freeze law

Organisations like the Berlin Renter's Association (BMV) say this “shadow rent” clause is causing fewer people to move over the uncertainty. The BMV also believes these kinds of clauses are illegal.

But many landlords claim they are legally sound.

The law remains controversial and it's likely we'll find out if will be held up in November. For renters it means we're in limbo. Yes it could be great to have lower rents but who knows if it will be allowed. And what if we do actually have to pay back money?

For those searching for a flat it's very confusing and I felt wary about signing a contract with the “shadow rent” clause in it.

Whatever you do, I'd recommend you join a renters' association so you have support whatever laws or landlords throw at you in future. If you're a member, they can also help with reading over your rental contract.

You have to be fast at applying

I may have mentioned that just getting a viewing can be super difficult. That's because there are so many people applying for flats and there are not enough homes on the market.

Berlin, like other big cities, is so popular that it makes getting a place difficult at any time. But the rent freeze and pandemic is exasperating the situation.

Some say landlords are withholding flats off the market until there's a ruling on the law, or offering time limited contracts. Plus the uncertainty of a global pandemic is doing no one any favours.

You should get acquainted with websites posting flat offers.

There are mixed reviews on whether you should also sign up for membership on sites like ImmobilenScout. They are free to use but you can pay for a plus membership.

I found it helpful to do that but I’d also advise that you read the small print. I didn’t realise I had to pay around €30 monthly over four months for the plus membership – I thought it was a one off payment.

So what you have to do is download the apps of these sites on your phone, or have them on your desktop, and constantly refresh them to find the new offers.

Have your note to the landlord or agent ready to send when you see something that suits you and send it off as soon as possible. Often it's a 'first come first served' basis. You want to be invited to an interview so the higher up on the list, the higher the chance.

I tried to refresh the sites around once an hour to find new offers. It really can feel like a full time job.

You have to pretend you’re an angel

This part made me laugh out loud. Of course when you're applying for a flat, you're not going to tell the landlord you enjoy wild parties every weekend.

But I was amused at the lengths I was going to in order to show I was a decent candidate.

No I don't smoke, yes I am clean and orderly, no I don't have any pets, no I don't play any musical instruments…

I wrote how perfect I was while listening to AC/DC loudly and my guitar was propped up in the corner of my room.

Do landlords really just want someone with absolutely no personality or interests? Are they looking for a robot who just keeps a flat clean and doesn't do anything? Probably.

It's kind of depressing. But just know that when you find a place, you can play your piano or trumpet and no one cares (as long as it's not after 10pm in line with the Hausordnung or building rules – and Germany does very much take rules seriously).

Go to viewings with an open mind (and your documents)

My aim was to get a viewing and take it from there. It got to the point that I was applying for any places that vaguely matched my criteria. There's strength in numbers, I reasoned.

I was open to moving almost anywhere in Berlin inside the ring, and this definitely led to more opportunities than if I was holding out for just a few areas.

Some agents or housing firms offer open viewings. These can be helpful especially when you're feeling very downhearted about not getting a viewing. Although it does open the possibility of there being lots and lots of people viewing at the same time.

However, the open viewings I went to weren't horribly busy. And remember, during the pandemic everyone had to wear a mask and keep distance. If it's an area like Neukölln or Kreuzberg, you can be sure there will be a ton of people.

Take your documents with you in case you like the place and want to apply there and then. You'll have a much higher chance of getting the place the quicker you apply.

Remember you might have to fill in the application form at the viewing or they'll post it online and you can print it off and fill it in before you come to the viewing. Yes, it's too much bureaucracy if you ask me but it is Germany.

READ ALSO: Nearly 1,800 people turn up for a single flat viewing in Berlin

Have faith

As George Michael sang: “You gotta have faith”– I'm not religious but I actually prayed more than once during my time flat searching. I thought about flats and landlords and possible viewings and agents all the time. The first thing I did bleary eyed in the morning was refresh the websites to see if there were any new offers.

It will feel disheartening and impossible. During the whole process I struggled to sleep over worrying that I wouldn't find somewhere.

But things have a way of working themselves out. I had to find a flat fairly quickly so I considered doing another WG (shared flat) or a short-term sublet just to give me time to find a place. However, for me it was important to have my own rental contract so I could be the Hauptmieter (main tenant) and not risk being thrown out at short notice.

Did I find my ideal place? Hmmm. Not really. It's not perfect. I wanted a slightly bigger place but the competition was overwhelming.

What I'm saying is: it's hard to get the perfect solution so lower your expectations.

You need allies

You can be really lucky and get a rental contract passed on to you by a friend or an acquaintance. You never know: someone might be leaving Berlin and the landlord doesn't want to do the work to find someone themselves.

This is rare, but it does happen so put feelers out.

One thing I was struck by was how helpful people were, even strangers. Don't be afraid to reach out to ask for help, whether it's your German colleague to understand some technical language, or someone who's been through the experience themselves.

And if you're in a similar position, you can always contact me and I'll give advice if I can.

Good luck!

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For members

TRAVEL NEWS

EXPLAINED: What to know about Berlin’s extended €29 ticket

Berlin is set to extend its reduced-cost public transport deal. Here's what you need to know, whether you live in Berlin or are visiting the capital.

EXPLAINED: What to know about Berlin's extended €29 ticket

What is the ticket anyway?

The offer allows people to use Berlin’s local public transport network, such as buses, trams, the underground and S-Bahn network in the ‘AB’ service area for €29 per month.

The card is a follow-up to the Germany-wide €9 ticket that was in place across regional public transport networks in June, July and August – although it works in a different way (more on that below). 

A regular monthly ticket in Berlin can cost anything from around €46 to €86, depending on the subscription or ticket. The Social Democrats in Berlin said it results in savings for people of €31 to €57 per month compared to a monthly AB ticket. 

What’s happening now?

The €29 ticket, which was introduced in October, was to run until the end of December. But the Berlin Senate has announced it will carry on until at least the end of March 2023. 

This was agreed by the Berlin governing coalition – made up of the SPD, the Greens and the Left Party – during talks on a supplementary budget in the Senate session on Tuesday November 1st.

“The €29 ticket will be extended until the end of March,” Mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD) said after the meeting.

READ ALSO: Berlin to extend €29 travel card, and offer €9 ‘social ticket’

The Senate also announced plans for a special ‘social ticket’ in Berlin that will cost €9 a month and last until at least the end of March next year.

At the moment, Berlin’s “Sozialticket” is €27.50 and is available to those who qualify for the Berlin Pass, including benefits claimants and asylum seekers. 

According to the Senate, the group of those who qualify for the ticket will be expanded, so that around 650,000 people will be entitled to the new ticket for €9 a month. That would amount to one in six Berliners, regional newspaper the Tagesspiegel reported. School children already travel for free on the capital’s buses and trains.

The total aid package from the local government to combat the energy crisis will amount to €2.6 billion, with the planned local transport concessions accounting for €500 million of this amount. 

What if I’m already a subscriber or ‘Abo’ holder?

People with a subscription ticket automatically benefit from the promotion.

“The reduction of the fare to €29 for the months of October, November and December 2022 (which is now set to be extended), and the associated refund or settlement will be made automatically by the respective transport company holding the contract,” Berlin transport operator BVG says. 

“Your monthly debit amount will be reduced to €29; in case of subscriptions with annual payment, the respective difference will be refunded after the end of the campaign. Your VBB-fahrCard is valid as before.”

A spokesman from the BVG told The Local that the details will “of course be updated with details about the current extension”.

Can tourists visiting Berlin use it?

The €29 ticket is a an attractive offer – especially given that a standard 7-day ticket costs €36. 

However, keep in the mind that the €29 ticket is a subscription. That means that it will run until the end of the promotional period at a cost of €29 per month. After that point, “the subscription contract for the selected fare product will run for a total of 12 months”, according to the BVG, one of the transport operators in Berlin. 

“Unlike the €9 ticket, the €29 special (deal) is not a new type of monthly ticket,” a spokesman for BVG told The Local.

“It is a regular 12-month-subscription, but with a reduced price of 29 Euros/month for the months of October through December. (To be extended until the end of March as announced by the Senate).

“However, it is possible to end the subscription at the end of December (updates regarding the extension will be communicated).”

Furthermore, the spokesman added that it is currently not possible to get the ticket for the month of November.

“While we made it possible to start an October subscription until well into the month of October, for November, the usual deadlines applied,” the spokesman said.

“Therefore, at this very moment, you cannot start a subscription for the month of November. Your earliest start would be December. We a working on a solution for those who want to start their subscription earlier.”

Can it be used across Berlin and Brandenburg?

One of the drawbacks of the €29 travel card is that it is only valid in Berlin’s AB zone, which includes the inner city and most of the suburbs. It means, though, that the C area – which includes the BER airport and Potsdam, Brandenburg’s capital, are not covered. 

This is the case because the Berlin and Brandenburg government were not able to reach an agreement on a public transport ticket.

If you have the €29 ticket and want to travel to the airport for example, you need an ‘add-on’ ticket to do so. 

The graphic shows the ABC zones in Berlin. The €29 ticket is for the AB zone. S

The graphic shows the ABC zones in Berlin. The €29 ticket is for the AB zone. Screenshot: BVG

What about the €49 nationwide ticket?

As The Local has reported, there are plans for a Germany-wide successor to the €9 ticket, which is likely to cost €49 per month. 

Berlin mayor Giffey said that it isn’t clear that the €49 ticket will be introduced in January as originally planned, but may come later. 

Giffey said she thought the ticket could come in April instead. 

Berlin Transport Senator Bettina Jarasch (Greens) described the Berlin €29 extension as a “bridge solution” until the nationwide ticket comes on the market. 

In the meeting, the SPD had pushed to extend the €29 ticket until the end of 2023, but was unable to get its way – at least for now. 

Jarasch is now tasked with negotiating what happens from April in Berlin.

It is likely that the state premiers will agree on a nationwide standard ticket this week. After this is agreed, Jarasch is to sound out the possibilities for the future in the Berlin-Brandenburg Transport Association (VBB) area. 

For more information on where to sign up for the ticket, check out the the BVG website.

UPDATE: ‘Deutschlandticket’: What you need to know about Germany’s new €49 ticket

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