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RENTING

Here’s how Berlin residents can find out if they’re paying too much rent

As the next stage of Berlin's rental cap law begins, the local government has launched a calculator for residents to find out if they are paying too much rent.

Here's how Berlin residents can find out if they're paying too much rent
Berlin Mitte. Photo: DPA

Berlin's Senate Department for Housing estimates that around 340,000 tenants are paying excessive rent costs.

But how do you know if you're one of them?

Well, for several months tenants have been able to work out what they should be paying according to the rent freeze law (Mietendeckel-Gesetz) with the help of service providers such as Wenigermiete.de and the Berlin Tenants' Association (BMV).

And now an official rent freeze calculator has been made available by the Berlin authorities, which tenants can use to to find out if their rent is within the legally prescribed limits.

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

Second stage of rent law begins

The calculation tool is important because on Monday, November 23rd, the second stage of the rental freeze law begins.

From this date, landlords have to reduce rents in existing rental agreements if the upper limits defined in the law are exceeded by more than 20 percent.

According to the Senate Department for Housing, some 340,000 households are paying excessive rents – including almost 30,000 in municipal housing associations.

The law means that around 1.5 million homes in the capital will have their rents frozen for five years at the price they were on June 2019 price. From 2022, landlords can increase by a maximum of 1.3 percent of the net rent agreed annually.

It also states that landlords cannot charge rents higher than what the previous tenant paid.

New flats which were ready for occupancy from 2014, social housing and residential homes are not covered by the law.

How can I find out if I'm paying too much?

The new rent cap calculator for Berlin should help both tenants and landlords to determine what the costs should be.

It calculates the net cold rent, taking into account the residential address/location, the size of the flat as well as the equipment, year of construction and any modernisation measures.

If the result is above the legally permissible level, tenants can contact their landlord themselves to ask for it to be reduced, or involve the Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing.

READ ALSO: Berlin to freeze rents for five years: What you need to know

The law is currently being challenged in court so there is still uncertainty if it will stay in place. Tenants who are paying a lower rate may be forced to pay back the difference in future so they are urged to put the money saved to one side incase the ruling falls in favour of landlords.

The Federal Constitutional Court ruling is expected next year.

“With the new computer tool you can find out within minutes whether you yourself are affected,” said Sebastian Scheel (of the Left party), Senator for Urban Development and Housing.

“If the landlord does not act on his or her own, the administration will enforce the tenants' claim. Until a ruling by the Federal Constitutional Court, expected in the middle of next year, I advise tenants to put the money they have saved aside.”

READ ALSO: Berlin passes five year rent freeze law

Member comments

  1. I don’t know if you’ve been told, but the official calculator does not work. Tried it with 3 different addresses. Says it can’t match the street with the street number and the postal code.

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RENTING

EXPLAINED: How to sublet your apartment in Germany

If you’re going away for a period of time or want to cut your living costs, subletting your flat can seem like an appealing option. But there are a lot of things you need to consider first. We break them down.

EXPLAINED: How to sublet your apartment in Germany

What is subletting?

A subletting arrangement is when a subtenant is allowed to use the main tenant’s apartment, or part of it, in return for payment.

Having visitors in your home, even for a period of up to six weeks, does not count as subletting and you do not have to inform your landlord. But be careful: If the visitor starts paying rent, this becomes a sub-letting arrangement and if the visitor stays more than six weeks in a row, you have a duty to inform your landlord.

READ ALSO: The most expensive (and cheapest) cities in Germany to rent a room

If close family members such as parents, children, partners or spouses move in with you, this is also not a subletting arrangement and is considered part of the normal use of the rented property. 

However, you should inform your landlord of such a change in circumstance, not least because at some point the new person living in your apartment will at some point need to register with the local authorities.

Do I have to tell my landlord?

Yes. Regardless of whether you are just subletting a room or your whole apartment, you have to inform your landlord and, in most cases, you are required by law to obtain the landlord’s permission to sub-rent. This applies for whatever time period you want to sublet for: whether it’s for a weekend or for six months. 

One exception to this rule is if you rent a room in a WG (shared accommodation) and all of the tenants are equal parties to the contract. In that case, it’s possible to sublet individual rooms without having to get permission from the landlord, but you should still inform them.

If you try to rent out your place or a room without your landlord’s permission and get found out, you could face legal action, or be kicked out of your apartment before the agreed notice period. 

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The most – and least – popular landlords in Germany

Can the landlord refuse to let me sublet?

If the main tenant has a so-called “justified interest” in subletting part of the apartment, they can demand that the landlord agrees to the sublet and even take legal action or acquire a special right of termination of the rental contract if they refuse.

However, this right only applies to a sublet of part of the apartment and not the entire space within the four walls – in this case the landlord is within their rights to say no to the sublet. 

When subletting part of an apartment, a justified interest must be for an important reason such as a needing to move abroad temporarily for a job or personal reasons, or a partner moving out and the tenant no longer being able to cover the rental costs alone.

In general, landlords shouldn’t refuse your request to sublet unless there are good reasons – for example if the apartment is too small. 

The landlord can’t reject your subletting application without good reason and if they do, you can gain a special right to terminate your rental contract, and can even sue for your right to sublet. 

What information will I need to give my landlord? 

Whether you are subletting a room or the whole apartment – you’ll need to give your landlord the following information:

  • Who is moving in
  • How long you will be subletting for
  • For what reason you plan to sublet

If you want to set up a WG (Wohngemeinschaft or shared flat) as the main tenant, you should discuss this with the landlord beforehand, as it may be worth changing the apartment status to a shared apartment in the main rental agreement. That way, you won’t have to send a new application every time a new roommate moves in.

Do I need a special rental contract?

If you are going to subrent your apartment, it is definitely worth having a contract. 

A contract between the main tenant and the subtenant is completely separate from the contract between the main tenant and the landlord, so all responsibilities arising from the sub-rental contract will fall on you and not the landlord. 

A man fills in the details of a rental contract by hand. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Armin Weigel

At the same time, as the main tenant, you will still be liable to your landlord for any damage caused by the subtenant, so it is best to put a clause in the sub-rental agreement that outlines how this will be covered, and also to make sure that your subtenant has personal liability insurance. 

There are plenty of websites that offer templates of sub-rental contracts for you to use, and you should make sure your contract includes the following information:

  • The personal details of the subtenant
  • The sub-rental cost and any service charges
  • When these are to be paid
  • Which rooms may be used
  • How many keys have been handed over
  • Details of a possible deposit
  • The condition of the rented apartment
  • House rules, such as no smoking, pets, etc.
  • Liability for possible damages

How much can I charge?

You can usually negotiate the sub-rental price yourself, but you should be careful not to overstep the rental limit per square metre for your area. If you charge over this amount and your subtenant finds out, they have the right to demand the local square metre rental price and you may have to refund them the total amount of overcharged rent.

If you sublet a furnished apartment, you can add a surcharge based on what you will be leaving in your apartment. You should also factor in the energy and water costs.

READ ALSO: Everything you should know about renting a furnished flat in Germany

Do I have to get consent from the local authorities?

In some cases, you will also need to get permission to sub-rent from the local authorities to rent out your place. 

If you sublet in Berlin or Frankfurt, for example, and you want to advertise your flat for holiday rentals, you have to get approval first.

A wooden judge’s hammer lies on the judge’s bench in the jury courtroom in the Karlsruhe Regional Court. Photo: picture alliance / Uli Deck/dpa | Uli Deck

If you go ahead and rent on a site like Air BnB without approval, you can expect to pay a hefty fine. Though the highest possible fine of €500,000 is unlikely, there are numerous reports of people getting fines in Germany of several thousand euros.

Another important thing to remember is that, if you make more than €520 profit in a year from sub-renting, you have to include this in your tax declaration.

Can the landlord demand I pay extra?

If a landlord allows subletting, they can also demand a share of the extra income from the main tenant. The amount of the surcharge cannot exceed 25 percent of the sublease, however.

Useful Vocabulary

to sub-let – Untermieten 

sublease agreement – (der) Untermietvertrag

termination without notice – (die) fristlose Kündigung

ban on misuse – (das) Zweckentfremdungsverbot

special right of termination – (das) Sonderkündigungsrecht

justified interest – (das) berechtigtes Interesse

personal liability insurance – (die) Haftpflichtversicherung

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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