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EXPLAINED: How to get a rent reduction for problems in your German flat

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: How to get a rent reduction for problems in your German flat
A tenant takes a photo of a damaged floorboard. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Robert Günthera

Living in a flat with mould on the walls or that's in need of renovation? Under German law, you may be able to get a reduction in rent. Here's what you need to know.

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According to the German Tenants' Association, rental defects are the subject of around 20 percent of their consultations with tenants. And it's no wonder: even with the most scrupulous landlord, things are bound to go wrong from time to time.

If they do, it's well worth knowing your rights, because you may be entitled to a reduction in your rent until the problem is fixed.

Though this certainly doesn't mean cheaper rent for life, it can make things more affordable for the time being or give your landlord the impetus they need to get the issue solved. 

What kind of things count as a defect in the property?

Technically, a defect is anything that stops you using the property in the way you would expect or the way it is set out in the contract. That could mean rooms, corridors, stairs, cellars or attics falling short of the condition that was promised - perhaps because of mould, damp or cracks in the walls. It could also mean facilities like heating, hot water or lifts being broken. It could also be due to faulty locks or intercom systems. 

Though we don't have space here to go into the specifics of all the rules your landlord has to abide by, it may be helpful to know that you're entitled to water temperatures of at least 40 degrees centigrade and room temperatures of at least 20-22 degrees centigrade during the day -or 18 degrees at night. In other words, nobody should have to put up with an ice-cold apartment or lukewarm showers. 

Noise disturbances from inside the house or a neighbouring house could also count as a defect, but there are a few conditions.

In the most obvious cases, the noise will breach the regulations in your state, which normally dictate that there should be no excessive noise between 10pm and 6am at night, on Sundays and for a few hours around midday. There are also usually restrictions on playing music or practicing a musical instrument for a prolonged period of time. You should find a summary of all of this in the house rules (Hausordnung) you had to sign when you moved in. 

Let's be clear though: you don't have to put up with unpleasant noises just because they happen during the day. If the noise levels are disturbing your ability to use the flat and your quality of life, you may well have a case for a rent reduction. 

READ ALSO: Renting in Germany: What you need to know about keeping pets

According to letting agent Promeda, noise, mould, insufficient heating and hot water and building work are some of the most common reasons for rent reductions

Unfortunately, when building work is the problem, things get a bit more complicated. Some landlords have been known to include clauses in the rental contract that waive the right to complain about certain renovations and other building work. However, if you haven't been forewarned about this particular building project, you should definitely be financially compensated for living with unpleasant things like noise, dust and junk.

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But what if I caused the damage myself?

Generally, accidental damage to the property should still be covered by the landlord (and hopefully their insurance!) but you won't be entitled to a reduction in rent while it's being fixed. 

What steps should I take to reduce my rent?

If you notice anything wrong with your flat or building, the first step is to get in touch with the landlord or letting agent right away and make them aware of the issue. Of course, they probably won't just take your word for it, but may want to verify the problem with a quick visit or through photographs. 

This should be easy enough in the case of a crack in the wall or a broken lift, but can be a little trickier in the case of noise. Generally, the best thing to do in case of a noise complaint is to fill in a log of when it happens and what type of disturbance it is. If possible, you may want to get witnesses such as other tenants in your building to fill in similar logs. 

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If they don't, or if it's a problem that can't be fixed overnight, it's worth getting some advice from a tenant's advocacy group or asking your landlord for a rent reduction until the work is done. It's worth bearing and mind that the rent reduction law is in place as an incentive for landlords to sort issues quickly. That means they may well decide to rectify the problem right away.

READ ALSO: Six confusing things about renting a flat in Germany

The landlord says the repair was delayed. Do I still get reduced rent?

Generally yes. According to the outcome of a recent court case in Berlin, tenants are still entitled to a rent reduction even if the delays to work aren't entirely the landlord's fault. 

The landlord in question had tried to evict tenants who had withheld rent while waiting for a damp wall to be fixed. But the court ruled that the tenants did not have to put up with the damp due to the unreliability of the builders that were chosen by the landlord.

Nevertheless, you may be on shaky ground if you deliberately obstruct the work in order to continue withholding rent. In the Berlin case, the court noted that the tenants had been cooperative with the builders, letting them into flat regularly and even at short notice.

Builders in Hannover

Two builders work on scaffolding in Hannover. Building work can lead to rent reductions. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Cindy Riechau

How much of a rent reduction can I get?

That all depends on the kind of defects there are - and how much of the flat is still liveable as a result. 

According to Ulrich Ropertz from the Tenants' Association, renters should consider how much the residential value of the flat is impaired by the defect when deciding how big the discount should be. 

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For example, if the heating is broken in one room in a five-room flat, then the room is uninhabitable in winter and a rent reduction of 15-20 per cent might be appropriate. In the case of a two-room flat, the reduction would be higher, since half of the living space would be rendered uninhabitable, Ropertz told FR.

If the problem is so serious or widespread that the flat can't be lived in at all, the tenants shouldn't have to pay any of the rent until the problem is remedied. Of course, this would also mean finding alternative accommodation for that time. 

An open door

A radiator next to an open door. Leaky windows and uninhabitable temperatures can both be reasons for rent reductions. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ISOTEC GmbH | Cornelis Gollhardt

As you might imagine, most issues are treated on a case-by-case basis, but letting agents and tenants' associations should tend to have an idea of what's appropriate in different cases.

Berlin-based letting agent Promeda, for example, point out a number of ballpark figures in their blog on rent reductions. According to them, having no hot water generally leads to a 15 percent cut in rent. This goes down to 3.5-10 percent if the water takes a long time to warm up.

For bad smells, a rent reduction of 5-20 percent is generally deemed appropriate. If the cold leaks through a single window, 5 percent is once again the ballpark figure, but this could go up to 20 percent if all windows are affected and the flat must be heated more as a result. 

Meanwhile, for building work, a small amount of noise can lead to a reduction of five percent, but this can go up to 35 percent for major disturbances. 

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READ ALSO: Why rent prices in major German cities are starting to fall

Is it the reduction applied to my 'warm' or 'cold' rent?

As you may or may not know, the basic rent in Germany is called 'cold' rent, while rent with bills like heating and other service fees included is called 'warm' rent.

It's important to note that any percentage deducted should be applied to your warm rent, not your cold rent - meaning you get a bigger reduction in costs overall. 

Useful vocabulary 

rent reduction - (die) Mietminderung 

defects - (die) Mängel

defective - mängelhaft 

noise disturbances - (die) Lärmstörungen 

unacceptable / unreasonable - unzumutbar 

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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