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RENTING

How much deposit do I have to pay when renting in Germany?

Whether it's buying new furniture or obtaining a recent credit report, moving to a new rental property in Germany can often involve splashing some cash. But did you know there are some key rules around one of the biggest outlays - paying your landlord a deposit?

A new tenant signs their rental agreement.
A new tenant signs their rental agreement. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Kloset

Do I have to pay a deposit? 

Under German law, landlords have no automatic right to a deposit, but generally you will have to pay one. That’s because landlords tend to include the deposit in legally binding rental contracts that you’ll have to sign before you move in.

“Tenants usually have to pay a security deposit at the beginning of the tenancy,” the German Tenants’ Association explains. “This is to protect the landlord in the event that the tenant does not properly fulfil his obligations under the tenancy agreement, fails to make payments, and so on.” 

However, there are some laws that govern how much landlords are allowed to ask for and how long tenants should be given to pay. So if your deposit seems unbearably high or they’re asking for it upfront, you may have options.

Here’s the lowdown on the rules.

How high should my deposit be?

It’s common to be asked for around two months’ rent as a deposit, though under German rental law, your landlord is entitled to ask for a maximum of three. 

Crucially, this refers only to what’s known as the Kaltmiete – or cold rent – which is the sum you pay for use of the property without additional costs like service charges, hot water and electricity. 

So if your new apartment costs €500 ‘cold’ and you’re expected to pay €100 extra per month for bills and services, you landlord will still be able to charge you a maximum of €1,500 as a deposit in total. If they’re asking for €1,800, that’s too high. 

It’s worth noting here, however, that this rule only applies to residential lets – in other words, to properties you want to live in. For commercial lets such as offices, there’s no maximum deposit, since these facilities often come with expensive equipment like computers and printers that the landlord will want to protect. 

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

Do I have to pay it all at once?

No. If you need to, you should have the option of paying the option in three monthly instalments. The first of these would be due on top of your first month’s rent, and the next two would be paid alongside your rent over the subsequent two months.

The crucial thing about this is that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to pay your landlord a deposit before you move in – and you certainly don’t have to pay it all in one go. If your landlord is asking for an upfront lump sum in your contract and you’d prefer to pay gradually, it may be worth asking for them to change that in the contract before you sign it, referring them to this clause of the German Civil Code (§ 551, paragraph 2, BGB). 

This will instead mean that you pay twice your usual rent for the first three months of living in the building, with half of the money going towards the deposit. 

Of course, the landlord also has some important rights here, especially if you don’t pay the deposit as arranged. Under § 569, paragraph 2a of the German Civil Code (BGB), letting agents and other landlords can terminate a rental contract without notice if the tenant falls into arrears within these three months.

In other words, paying in instalments shouldn’t ever be used as a way of avoiding paying the deposit. It may be tempting to hope your landlord will forget all about it once you move in, but if you miss a payment, you could unfortunately end up hunting for houses yet again. 

When do I get the deposit back? 

All being well, you should get the deposit back at the end of your tenancy once you’ve completed your handover of the keys and moved out of the property.

Be aware, though: if the walls need repainting or there’s any other wear and tear to the property that need fixing, you may not get the full amount, so be sure to leave the apartment as close to its original condition as possible.

A tenant fixes a door handle in their rental flat. To ensure you get your full deposit back, it’s best to leave the flat in good condition. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

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

What else do I need to know? 

When you give your landlord a deposit, always make sure you get a receipt of some sort – especially if you pay in cash. This should confirm that you have paid the deposit and detail how much it was. If you transfer the money to the landlord, keep the corresponding account statement until after you move out. This evidence will come in handy when you ask for your deposit back as you’ll likely need to prove that you paid it in the first place. 

Another important rule to be aware of is that the landlord should never keep your deposit in the same bank account as their private or business income, but rather in a special account for tenants’ deposits. 

“In most cases, tenant and landlord agree on a so-called cash deposit,” writes the German Tenants’ Association. “In this case, the landlord receives the deposit amount in cash or, as a rule, it is transferred between bank accounts. He must then invest it in a special account, separate from his other assets, so that it is insolvency-proof.” 

Legally, it’s important to note that the security deposit remains legally yours for the duration of your tenancy, but your landlord has stewardship of it as a means of ensuring that you abide by the terms of your contract. 

If you have any questions or concerns about your deposit or any other aspect of your rental contract, it could be worth joining a Mietverein (renters’ association).

Read our helpful explainer to find out more:

How to join a Mieterverein (renters’ association) in Germany

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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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