'Complete shock': How sophisticated scammers are targeting desperate Berlin tenants

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
'Complete shock': How sophisticated scammers are targeting desperate Berlin tenants
Flats in the Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Monika Skolimowska

With Berlin in the grip of a worsening housing crisis, the capital has become a prime environment for fraudsters and con artists. We spoke to a couple who spent €7,000 on their dream apartment in Neukölln - only to find out it was a scam.

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When Polish-born couple Karolina Grzywnowicz and Kuba Rudzinski went to visit their soon-to-be new apartment in Berlin, the excitement was palpable.

After a gruelling six-month flat search, the two freelancers had finally found a place in August, and - having promised to take all the furniture off the former tenants’ hands - they heard that they'd been selected and could take over the flat in November, after renovations were carried out. 

With high ceilings and spacious rooms, the apartment ticked every one of their boxes. What's more, it also happened to be situated in a dream location in the hip and creative district of Kreuzkölln on a beautiful street near the canal. 

Having shelled out their savings and borrowed money to secure the flat, they were desperate to finally move in - and with just a matter of weeks to go, the anticipation was growing. So on their way back from a walk one evening, they decided to stop by and see how the renovations were coming along.

That's when they sensed that something was amiss. 

“There were no traces of the refurbishment on the staircase, and then when we approached the apartment we heard the voices of a family behind the door, and we were like, OK, something is wrong,” Kuba said.

Instead of an empty, half-renovated flat, Kuba and Karolina found a couple with a small child. Looking stressed and uncomfortable, the father told them to leave their numbers and promised to contact them once he had put his kids to bed. 


Within a few hours, their hopes of moving into their dream apartment had been shattered as they found out the whole thing had been an elaborate scam.

A subletter had rented out the 90m2 apartment from the family for two months and listed it for rent on a fake letting agent's website. 

Using a key box to organise viewings, they had then taken thousands of euros from multiple victims - including €7,000 from Kuba and Karolina - for the deposit, rent and furniture. Then they had disappeared into the ether.  

A growing problem 

"It was a complete shock, we were just hit by it," Kuba recounts. "What do you even do in that situation? We had already told our previous landlord we were moving out, we were asking them to buy the kitchen from us."  

Kuba and Karolina's story isn't unique. In fact, rental scams like these are common in the German capital - and amid the city's housing crisis, the issue is getting worse.

According to Berlin police, scams have been on the rise for several years and in the last two years, case numbers have stretched into the thousands.

READ ALSO: Why Germany’s housing crisis is expected to drag on

Anecdotally, Kuba says he has seen countless fraudulent adverts in his ongoing house search. "We have been looking continuously since then and we are much more aware now, we kind of know what’s a scam and what is not, and there is a lot," he said.

"I would say that every second day there is a scam offer."

Karolina Grzywnowicz and Kuba Rudzinski

Berlin residents Karolina Grzywnowicz and Kuba Rudzinski. Photo courtesy of Kuba Rudzinski

Most worryingly, many of these scams are highly sophisticated: Kuba and Karolina's Neukölln flat had been listed on a perfect replica of an existing estate agent website with the company name Deha Wohnen. Every single one of the links worked; nothing looked out of the ordinary.

When the couple took their rental contract to their local tenants' association, the lawyer they spoke to saw nothing that seemed suspicious. 

The amount of money the letting agent was asking for wasn't exactly in line with German law, she said, but since Kuba and Karolina were not in a position to negotiate she advised them to agree to the terms and transfer the money they had asked for. 

READ ALSO: What is Germany doing to solve its housing crisis?

By the time the couple found out about the scam and reported it to the police, the Deha Wohnen website no longer existed.

'Driven out of Berlin' 

In many ways, the tide of rental scams flooding Berlin housing portals is symptomatic of a larger problem: the explosion of high rents in a once-affordable city and the desperate shortage of living space.

In 2022 alone, around 77,000 people moved to Berlin, putting pressure on the city's already squeezed housing market. 


According to official estimates published by the Senate, only around 1.4 percent of Berlin's housing stock currently stands empty, leaving a miniscule pool of available properties for house-hunters to pick from.

In popular districts like Neukölln, which have been heavily gentrified in recent years, the selection is even more limited. Having lived in the district for six years, Kuba and Karolina were put under pressure to move out of their current flat after the property was sold and the new owner decided they wanted to move in. 

READ ALSO: How a boom in furnished flats is driving up rental prices in Germany

For the young couple, the situation was especially difficult: though both earn good money in their respective jobs as a graphic designer and visual artist, the fact that they are freelancers made searching for a flat an uphill struggle.

“For some German people here, it’s unthinkable, the life we lead,” Kuba explained.


Ultimately, the difficulty of finding a new place played a major role in their decision to leave Berlin and accept a job offer Karolina received abroad. 

"There is such a high level of distrust, because we have been on so many viewings, and we have shown all these documents, like all crucial and private details of our lives," said Kuba. 

"We’ve lived in other countries and nowhere else is like this."

Blocks of flats in Berlin

Blocks of flats in the German capital of Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Florian Schuh

Most brutally, the couple is still saddled with debt from the thousand of euros they had to borrow while trying to rent their dream apartment.

"We still have the debt and we are not people who usually take debt, so this is really bringing us down," Kuba explained. "We actually dream of paying it back."

Meanwhile, the couple still haven't heard any updates from the Berlin police, who they reported the scam to way back in October, despite trying to chase up their case.


Approached by The Local, a spokesperson for the police said they could not comment on individual cases but stated that they "are taking all necessary measures to investigate and identify the suspected fraudsters and any other parties involved".

With little hope of recovering their money, Kuba and Karolina are preparing to move out of their current apartment and hope they can pay down their debt by selling furniture onto the landlord.

Then they plan to move away from Berlin and leave Germany behind - possibly for good - saying goodbye to more homes than one.

If you have been affected by a similar scam or can offer helpful information in Kuba and Karolina's case, get in touch by emailing [email protected].


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