'Tense housing situation': Why a Berlin renter can't be evicted for two years

Paul Krantz
Paul Krantz - [email protected]
'Tense housing situation': Why a Berlin renter can't be evicted for two years
The last box remains in an empty room as someone moves out. In Germany, landlords can usually terminate rental contracts easily for personal use. PHOTO: FRED DUFOUR / AFP

Usually kicking out tenants for 'personal use' is a straightforward process in Germany, but a recent court ruling may complicate the issue. Here’s why a Berlin renter has been spared, and what you need to know about ‘Eigenbedarf’ claims.

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A recent court ruling in Berlin has protected a renter from eviction for two years, with the court rationing that the renter not find adequate housing in the capital’s scarce housing market.

An apartment owner attempted to terminate a rental contract to reclaim their property for personal use (Eigenbedarf) – a move that is usually justifiable according to German housing law. But in this case the renter challenged the claim in court, and won a postponement based on a hardship provision.

In a potentially precedent-setting move, the regional court officially recognised the city’s “tense situation on the Berlin housing market and the low supply of vacant apartments”, in its ruling.

Managing director of the Berlin Tenants' Association,  Sebastian Bartels, told RBB24, “The significance of this new step in the ruling cannot be overstated.”

In his defence, the tenant claimed it was impossible to find adequate replacement housing, and provided hundreds of rejected applications for other apartments as evidence.

Germany’s severe housing shortage is well documented. According to a report by the Hans Böckler Foundation, “There is a shortage of around 1.9 million affordable apartments in Germany's major cities.”

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A previous district court ruling also decided in the tenants' favour.

Bartels suggests that this ruling could amount to the eviction period following an Eigenbedarf claim being set at two years going forward. For landlords, this would imply a serious blow to their ability to terminate rental contracts quickly for personal reasons.

When can landlords reclaim property for ‘personal use’?

In German housing law, landlords can terminate a housing contract with their tenants for Eigenbedarf if they want to reclaim their property for themselves or their close family members to live in.

Close family members in this case includes: spouses, civil partners, parents, grandparents, parents-in-law, children, stepchildren, siblings, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. In some cases it can also be extended to registered partners’ children, domestic helpers or foster children.


Distant relatives like uncles, aunts, cousins and divorced spouses do not qualify.

Additionally stock corporations or limited liability companies that own apartments can not claim personal use.

What are the rights for tenants and landlords?

In a country known for relatively strong renters’ protections, personal use claims are one of the simplest procedures – from the landlord’s perspective – for terminating rental agreements.

The procedure begins with a termination letter, delivered by the landlord, that needs to specify for whom they intend to register personal use. For example, “My daughter Hannah is going to move into this apartment…”


The letter also needs to include some justification for why this particular apartment is needed. Following the example above, perhaps Hannah will start a job at an office near the apartment.

Legitimate justification could also include a change in living conditions, for example if the landlord needs a larger apartment because they will move in with a partner, or if financial losses are involved. 

Using the apartment as a study, however, or as a temporary residence during renovations would not count.

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Tenants must be notified well in advance: for a rental period of up to five years, at least three month’s notice must be given. For longer rental periods it is nine months.

Landlords are also accountable for following through with the personal use plan as it was defined in the termination letter. If personal use is registered for the landlord’s daughter, and then the apartment is instead rented to a new tenant (or even a different family member), the tenant can claim damages.

In these cases, tenants are often entitled to the difference between their old and new rent costs.


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