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RENTING

Five common rental scams in Germany and how to avoid them

With the rental market in German cities like Berlin, Hamburg and Munich becoming increasingly competitive, scams involving rented apartments are getting more common. Here are the cons you might come across - and how to avoid them. 

A flat-searcher's advert to find a home in Hamburg.
A flat-searcher's advert to find a home in Hamburg. Germany's rental market is increasingly tight. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

1. Fake adverts

The most common trick used in various scams is to put up adverts for apartments that don’t actually exist. These kinds of adverts have been found lurking on all of the major renting portals, including  Immowelt, Immoscout and Ebay Kleinanzeigen.

To entice potential victims, fraudsters put these fictional apartments in particularly desirable areas for surprisingly low rents. 

How to avoid this trick:

Firstly, ask yourself “is it too good to be true” – if the answer’s yes, it probably is. If the rental price is much lower than comparable apartments in the same area, then be on your guard.

If you suspect that an offer might be a fake, you can copy and search parts of the advertisement text and if you find it elsewhere, be sceptical.

Also – compare the photos with the description – contradictions are likely indicators of a scam. You can also use Google’s reverse image search to check whether images are used elsewhere (e.g. on the website of a furniture store). If this is the case, it’s likely that the ad is a fake. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The hidden costs of renting in Germany

2. Fraud with advance payment

One particularly widespread scam is requesting advanced payments. 

In a classic con of this kind, the “owner” contacts the person looking for an apartment and tells them that they are currently abroad and therefore can’t show them around the property. Instead, they offer to post the key for a fee that has to be transferred in advance. Particularly brazen rip-off artists will charge hundreds of euros for this service.

A similar trick involves asking for an advanced transfer of the deposit or the first month’s rent. 

The Hamburger Abendblatt recently reported such a case, involving a two-room apartment at an address where there were no apartments actually available for rent. The advertisement was placed on eBay-Kleinanzeigen, and the victim was asked to pay the deposit plus the first month’s rent to a “trust account”, with the promise that, if the customer didn’t like the apartment,  the money would be transferred back on the same day.

A realtor talks to prospective tenants at an apartment viewing. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Tobias Hase

An emerging scam involving advanced payments is for fraudsters to rent out a flat via a portal such as Airbnb for a short period of time and to advertise on a portal for long-term rent. Then, they invite prospective tenants for viewing appointments with a supposed agent – and then agree to rent the place to all interested parties. The victims are then asked to pay, for example, a deposit and a transfer fee for the kitchen. 

How to avoid this trick:

Never pay anything before signing the lease and be very sceptical of owners who claim to be out of the country for whatever reason. 

If you have seen the apartment and feel pressure to make a payment before signing anything, do some background research on the owners. 

Check online whether the broker really exists, whether they have their own website with an Impressium and whether they have other apartments on offer.

When transferring money abroad: check the IBAN and country code and make sure it matches the country where the property is located. Never make cash transfers via companies like Western Union, as you won’t be able to get the money back in case of fraud.

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

3. Phishing scams 

Another common method used by fraudsters is to send so-called phishing emails. Posing as the official rental portals or as reputable real estate agents, such emails will usually contain a request to log in  to the real estate portal via a link with your access data, or to open an attachment. 

If you log in via the link, however, you will be taken to a fake log-in page, which fraudsters can use to intercept your access data. Files attached to emails may also contain malware which can spy on your personal data.

How to avoid this trick:

Don’t open attachments ending in .exe in e-mails and don’t click on links without verifying the sender. Pay attention to the sender’s e-mail address – real estate scammers often use email addresses with conspicuous domains, such as [email protected]ünstige-traumwohnung.de.

Also, be sceptical if the email is written in bad German or English.

4. Identity Theft

Rather than demanding an immediate handover of cash, this kind of scam is more of a long-term venture. 

In this case, fraudsters will ask victims to send a copy of their passport or other personal documents such as pay slips and utility bills, by email. The biggest warning sign for this kind of scam is when you are asked to take a picture of yourself holding your ID card or passport.

A woman takes a photo of herself with her ID card.

A woman takes a photo of herself with her ID card. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Andrea Warnecke

Fraudsters can then use this personal information to open bank accounts in your name, take out loans or conclude telephone contracts, and some have even managed to apply for credit cards with high credit limits and make high-value purchases in instalments. 

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

How to avoid this trick:

The problem with this scam is that potential renters are often legitimately asked by official agencies to provide proof of income and identity as part of the application process for the apartment. In fact, it can be a little overwhelming in Germany because so many essential documents are needed to rent a flat. It often feels like you’re handing over your soul. 

So the first golden rule is – don’t give any personal information unless specifically asked for it. If you are asked to send a passport copy or other personal data, make sure you are absolutely sure that the agent is trustworthy.

Ideally, this would be verified by meeting them in person, but if not, you can at least call the office or do some online research about the agency. 

A complete and easy-to-find imprint on the website, as well as other apartment adverts, is usually an indication of trustworthiness.

5. Charges for listings and viewings

With slim pickings often available on rental portals, one emerging (and alarming) form of trickery is to charge victims for “exclusive” listings and visits. 

In such cases, a prospective customer will respond to an advert, only to be told that it’s already rented. Then the broker will offer access to a list of “exclusive” properties for a fee of around €200. 

The lists and databases are however completely worthless and are simply copied from other adverts.

A related trick is when fraudsters offer an appointment for a visit, but demand a payment in advance to reserve a particular time slot.

How to avoid this trick:

While some agents may charge fees to help you find an apartment, these are usually the kind that advertised their paid services upfront. It is highly unusual for agencies to send unsolicited offers of paid listing and visits. 

I think I’ve been scammed – what should I do?

If you think an apartment advert looks like a fake or if the person claiming to be the owner is making suspicious requests, then get in touch with the portal operator and report them.

If you have been the victim of a scam, contact the police immediately – you can do this online in Germany, and if you have paid by credit card or direct debit: contact your bank.

READ ALSO: ‘Know your rights’ – The advice you need about renting in Germany

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RENTING

EXPLAINED: The German cities where rents are rising fastest this year

People searching for a flat in German cities including Hamburg, Cologne and Berlin are in for a nasty surprise as rents are going up significantly, according to a recent study.

EXPLAINED: The German cities where rents are rising fastest this year

Real estate platform ImmoScout24’s recent ‘WohnBarometer’ shows the development of asking rents for the second quarter of 2022 in Germany as a whole, and the seven largest city areas.

Asking rents in new lettings for existing flats rose above €12 per square metre for the first time in Hamburg, and above €11 per square metre in Berlin.

In Berlin, Frankfurt am Main and Stuttgart, asking rents for new-build flats have risen above €15 per square metre.

What’s the picture across Germany?

For the second quarter of 2022, the WohnBarometer shows that the asking prices for rental flats across Germany have risen significantly more than in previous quarters.

On average, the asking price for existing flats was 2.7 percent more expensive to let than in the previous quarter. Newly built flats were on average 1.8 percent higher than in the previous quarter.

The average asking rent for existing flats in the second quarter was €7.66 per square metre. New-builds were offered for an average of €10.59 per square metre.

Meanwhile, demand for rental apartments shot upwards by 48 percent in the second quarter of 2022.

READ ALSO: Single people and large families ‘pay more for rent in Germany’ 

Where is the situation particularly bad for existing rentals?

Those eyeing up big cities as a place they want to settle in face a particularly hard time. 

Hamburg recorded the highest price dynamics in the area of existing rental flats older than two years in the second quarter – but it remains in fourth place in the rental price comparison of the seven largest German cities.

On average, the rent level in the Hanseatic city was €12.22 per square metre in the second quarter of this year. A rental flat with 70 square metres costs an average of €855.40 per month ‘cold’ – before other costs – Nebenkosten – are added on.

Flats in Hamburg's Eimsbüttel area.

Flats in Hamburg’s Eimsbüttel area. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Bockwoldt

The real estate portal expects rents for existing properties in Hamburg to rise by nine percent this year alone. That would be two percentage points more than the inflation rate expected by the Bundesbank for 2022.

And in a city with a home ownership rate of 21 percent, this affects many of the 1.85 million residents.

From the first to the second quarter of 2022, asking rents in flat ads in Hamburg have risen by five percent. 

This is by far the highest value in Germany’s seven largest cities. Cologne achieved the second highest increase with 3.7 percent, while rents in Stuttgart fell by 0.7 percent.

In Berlin, asking rents for existing flats rose by just 1.4 percent, but broke the €11 per-square-metre mark.

Berlin nevertheless remains one of the cheapest of the large cities in Germany. Only Düsseldorf, at €10.81 per square metre on average, is lower. Cologne is the third least expensive place to rent with an average of €11.58 per square metre, according to asking prices for existing properties.

The graph shows the average costs per square metre for existing properties.

The graph shows the average costs per square metre for existing properties. Screenshot: ImmoScout24

Munich remains the most expensive city for renting with an average price per square metre of €16.93 per square metre. With a decrease of 0.7 percent for existing rental flats to €12.26 per square metre, Stuttgart was the only city to record a slight price decline in rents compared to the first quarter.

What about new build flats?

In the second quarter of 2022, Berlin recorded the largest price increase among the cities for new flats for rent, with an increase of 4.5 percent. These were offered in new lettings on ImmoScout for an average of €15.37 per square metre, exceeding the threshold of €15 per square metre.

In the German capital, the average monthly ‘cold rent’ for a new flat with 70 square metres is €1,075.90. Berlin is now above the level of Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Frankfurt am Main and Stuttgart.

But Frankfurt and Stuttgart also cracked the €15 threshold for the first time in the second quarter. In the financial capital, the rent level rose by 2.6 percent from the first to the second quarter to €15.17. Stuttgart is just above this at €15.24 per square metre.

In Munich, asking rents for new flats increased by 3.1 percent. With an average asking rent of €19.64 per square metre, Munich remains the most expensive city in Germany. In Cologne, asking rents for newly built rental flats rose only moderately, by 1.7 percent to €12.88 per square metre.

Graph shows the average costs per square metre for new build flats in cities.

Graph shows the average costs per square metre for new build flats in cities. Screenshot: ImmoScout24

How is demand affecting the situation?

Experts say the dynamics are changing on the rental and property markets in Germany.

“Demand continues to be significantly higher than the available supply,” said Thomas Schroeter, managing director of ImmoScout24.

“Due to the rise in interest rates, demand has shifted from buying properties to renting. As a result, rent-seekers now face even more competition when looking for a flat.”

READ ALSO: How property prices are dropping in major German cities

Immoscout24 registered the highest demand for rental flats in Berlin, with a whopping 217 enquiries on average per flat advertisement per week. In Cologne, the demand was 78 enquiries per ad, and in Hamburg, the real estate site registered 68 enquiries per ad on average.

What will happen in future?

It doesn’t look like the situation will ease off this year. Experts predict that by the end of 2022 in Hamburg, for instance, the price increase for existing flats will be nine percent – the highest in Germany.

In Berlin, by the end of the year, rents for existing apartments are expected to rise by 5 percent overall, and in Cologne and Stuttgart, 6 percent. 

Vocabulary 

Existing apartments/flats – (die) Bestandswohnungen

Asking price – (der) Angebotspreis

New build/new construction – (der) Neubau

Basic rent or ‘cold rent’ – (die) Kaltmiete

Rent including other costs – (die) Warmmiete

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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