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RENTING

Six confusing things about renting a flat in Germany

Germany may be a nation of tenants but even seasoned flat-hunters can get confused by the quirks of renting here. Here are six confusing things that often trip up foreigners when renting in Germany.

Flatmates in Hanover
Two flatmates chat to each other in the kitchen of a shared flat in Hanover. As a tenant or subletter in Germany, it can be hard to know who to turn to when there's a problem. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Eman Helal

Every country has its own unique set of quirks when it comes to finding a flat – and rule-loving Germany is no exception.

From extra expenses you may not have budgeted for to weird and wonderful rules for tenants, it’s easy to get tripped up on the rental market, especially if you come from abroad.

To help you on your way, here’s our guide to six of the most confusing things about renting in Germany, and some helpful tips for getting around them. 

1. You need to know how rooms and floors are counted

If you’re renting a flat, you’ll want to at least know what size it is and where it’s situated in the building. Sounds simple, right? It certainly should be – but for first-time tenants in Germany, nothing is quite what it seems. In places like the UK and the United States, flats or houses are generally described by how many bedrooms they have – which of course is an important thing to know if you have a certain amount of people who need to sleep there. That means that a two-bedroom apartment is likely to have two rooms that could work as bedrooms, then at least one living room, a kitchen and a bathroom.

In Germany, however, living rooms and bedrooms are lumped in together as ‘rooms’, so something described as a two-room apartment will have one bedroom, one living room (or second bedroom), a kitchen and a bathroom. With a one-room flat, you just get a living room and bedroom rolled into one, studio-flat style – though the kitchen is likely to be separate. 

The other thing that may confuse Americans is the way floors are counted in Germany (and indeed most of Europe). While Americans tend to refer to the floor at street level as the ‘first floor’, Europeans describe this as the ground floor – or, in German, the Erdgeschoss. That means the first floor (1. Etage) is the floor just above street level, which Americans would know as the second floor, and so on. The floor below ground level is the Keller and the one right at the top is the Dachgeschoss (literally, the floor under the roof).

Top tip: Ask to see a Grundriss (floor plan) of the building and your specific apartment before visiting to ensure you have a good idea of where it’s situated and how it’s laid out.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

2. The deposit alone could rinse your savings

If you’re flat-hunting in Germany, you’ll definitely need some money on reserve. As well as costs of your first month’s rent, furniture and money spent setting up contracts, it’s incredibly common to be asked for two or even three times the monthly rent as a deposit – so if your new place costs €1,000 a month, you could be asked to pay as much as €3,000 right off the bat. Generally, deposits are a landlord’s insurance against lost rent or damage to the property, and you’ll likely have to pay it even if you’re a reliable person with a brilliant credit rating.

The good news is that you should generally get this money back in full when you move out – though people can occasionally get caught out if they’re unsure what condition they need to leave the place in. It’s not uncommon for tenants in Germany to repaint the whole flat to ensure it’s in the same condition it was when they first arrived. 

Top tip: Know your rights and responsibilities. According to the Berlin Tenants’ Association, the highest deposit a landlord can ask for is three times your net rent (excluding bills). This can be paid in instalments from the date you move in – so a third of it on top of your first month’s rent, a third on top of your second month’s rent, and the final third on top of your third month’s rent. Before moving out, check with your letting agent or landlord what they expect you to do to put the flat back in peak condition. 

3. Tenants have to buy their own kitchen and appliances

This is one that catches out a lot of foreigners: when you move into a new flat in Germany, don’t expect to find it set up with things like fridges, ovens and dishwashers. This may seem incredibly strange for people from other countries who are used to hopping from flat to flat and simply unpacking their stuff or building some flat-pack furniture, but it makes sense when you think about how renting is viewed in Germany.

Modern kitchen
A modern kitchen in a Berlin flat. Many tenants purchase their own kitchens after moving into a German flat – and often take them with them when they leave. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Britta Pedersen

According to Statista, around 60 percent of the population are tenants rather than home-owners, and traditionally, people in Germany tend to stay in their flats a long time. That means they often kit the places out with a nice kitchen and appliances that they’re then keen to take with them when they leave.

However, it makes things tricky now that the rental market – particularly in cities – is getting more expensive and it’s difficult to find a flat. If you have to hop through a number of undesirable flats in Berlin or Munich, for instance, as you try to find the perfect resonably-priced place, kitting out with kitchen appliances each time would be a nightmare.

Top tip: Check with the landlord or letting agent beforehand whether the kitchen is included. Sometimes the landlord will say a kitchen is included and they mean there is a single oven (yes, it’s frustrating). If you don’t want to go through the rigmarole of building or buying your own kitchen, see if you can purchase some appliances off the former tenant for a discounted rate. 

4. Bills aren’t included in the cost of rent 

For anyone used to simply having a thing called ‘rent’ that includes all your costs, it can be confusing to arrive in Germany and find that there is, in fact, more than one type.

Even more confusingly, the different types of rent apparently have different temperatures, and can either be described as cold or warm. The Kaltmiete (or cold rent) is the basic amount you pay for the use of the property, while Warmmiete (warm rent) is the full amount you pay for rent, services and utilities such as heating, water and internet. To find out your Warmmiete, simply add your Nebenkosten (additional costs) to your Kaltmiete. This should be the total amount you pay each month.

Top tip: Struggling to remember the difference between ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ rent? This may help: if you don’t pay any bills, your flat may well get rather cold in winter – so the warm rent is the rent for the flat, plus bills such as heating. In other words, your warm rent is the rent you pay for a warm flat. However, note that sometimes heating, electricity and Internet bills are separate to the rent so factor that into your budget. 

READ ALSO: Moving house in Germany: 7 things you need to know about setting up utility contracts

5. It can be hard to know who to speak to

One of the most confusing things about renting in Germany can be knowing who to turn to if you have a problem. If something breaks into the flat, should you be contacting the landlord (Vermeiter) or the caretaker (Hausmeister)? If you move in and something doesn’t seem right, is the previous tenant (Vormieter) to blame – or perhaps the letting agent (Hausverwaltung)?

What if you’ve moved into a shared flat as an Untermieter (subletter) and the main person you have contact with is the main tenant (Hauptmieter) or just someone else you live with (your Mitbewohner)? 

If you’re unlucky enough to have lost your Sicherheitsschlüssel (security key) and need a replacement, there could even be another person thrown into the mix: the highly specific Schlüsseldienst (locksmith) who you will have to visit to get your replacement key. Just be sure to contact your Vermeiter or Hausverwaltung first to get the appropriate paperwork – and don’t be surprised if the locksmith has a business in a completely different district of the city, as well.

Security keys
A pair of security keys on a keyring. If you lose one of these, you may well have to contact a number of people to get a replacement. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | LKA Sachen-Anhalt

Top tip: The person or organisation you sign your contract with is likely to be your first port of call when dealing with most issues in the flat. Generally, this will be the Hausverwaltung, a letting agent responsible for dealing with tenants on behalf of the landlord. Don’t be afraid to ask what the process is for issues such as broken appliances when you move in – and be sure to check their office hours to know when they’re available to take your calls. 

6. You can only make noise at specific times

For people from countries with a much more lassaiz faire approach to living together, it can be shocking to discover just how regulated your life is when living in a flat in Germany.  

From sorting your rubbish properly to parking in the wrong size parking space, you may find yourself breaking rules you didn’t know you existed – and the issue of noise is no exception.

Almost country-wide, there are specific times of the day, week and calendar where you’re legally obliged to avoid making too much noise. These include public holidays, Sundays, midday from 11-3pm and at night between 10pm to 6 or 7am. So if Sunday used to be your housework day, don’t be surprised to see a disgruntled neighbour shouting “Sonntagsruhe!” at you from their balcony as you blast your vacuum cleaner while listening to the radio. Of course, this does cut both ways – so you shouldn’t have to put up with techno at 3am on a Wednesday from that party flat below you, either.

Top tip: Though the rules around making noise are generally set in stone, you shouldn’t get into trouble for breaking them if nobody complains. That means that, if you really need to do some DIY on a Sunday or you want to play some music on a Saturday night, giving the neighbours a heads up and asking if they have any issues with it beforehand could get you a free pass once in a while. 

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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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