British Expat Guide To Renting A Property In Germany
Helpful information for British Expats wanting to rent a property in Germany
Choosing to rent in Germany will put you in good company, currently over half of the population are living in rental accommodation. There is no pressure for young people to jump onto the property ladder and it is common for people never to buy property in their lifetime. Affordable housing is in demand as rents have been rising year on year, with Munich, Frankfurt and Hamburg demanding some of the highest prices.
How do I find property to rent in Germany?
The expensive way would be to employ an estate agent, generally it is the landlord who pays the estate agents fees so why take on an extra cost? Most Germans and expats find their new home through online portals, local adverts and by word of mouth.
The most used websites for property rental are
- Immo Scout 24
- Zeitwohnwerk – furnished accommodation
- Wunderflats – furnished accommodation
Don’t limit yourselves to just these online portals, the local paper and local online buy and sell pages like Ebaykleinanzeigen are also great places to look for rentals. If you are moving into an expat community, put some feelers out there, with the transitory nature of expat life you might just get lucky.
What are some useful terms to know?
- Wohnung – Apartment
- Haus – house
- Erdgeschoss – Ground floor
- Obergeschoss – Upstairs, 1st, 2nd,3rd etc
- Dachgeschoss – Top floor, in the roof space
- Kaltmiete (KM) – Cold rent This is the basic rental cost of the apartment monthly
- Warmmiete (WM) – Warm rent This is the basic rental cost plus utilities
- Nebenkosten (NK) – Additional costs, which account not only for your utilities but also for any communal charges like maintenance and cleaning of common areas
- Einbauküche (EBK) – Built-in kitchen
- Mietvertrag – Lease or rental contract
- Mieter – Tenant
- Vermieter – Landlord
- Makler – Estate agent
- Heizung – Heating
- Strom – Electricity
- Wasser – Water
- Altbau – Old building, pre 1900
- Aufzug – Lift
- Kaution – Deposit
- Nach Vereinbarung – by arrangement, this normally refers to pets, your landlord must give permission for pets to live in the property
What types of accommodation are available?
There really is something for everyone’s wish list from modern new build (Neubau) which can mean anything built between the sixties and today) to a half-timbered (Fachwerk) property from 1685. In bigger cities there will be more high-rise apartments (Hochhaus) and housing blocks (Mehrfamilienhaus). Whilst further out into the suburbs you will find more detached single-family homes (Einfamilienhaus), semi-detatched (Doppelhaus) and even terraced homes (Reihenhaus).
Multigenerational homes are popular, particularly in southern Germany with parents, grandparents and adult children living in different flats (usually on different floors) within in the same house. When children move away, or family circumstances change an empty flat is then usually rented out for extra income.
How do I secure the place I want?
The market is incredibly competitive, to even get to view a place can be difficult. What you need to be is prepared, fast and decisive. Get your ducks in a row. When you do get invited to a viewing have all the documentation on hand to get your application in as quickly as possible, if you love the place:
- Photo ID and your residence permit (if you require one)
- Proof of income, in the form of bank statements or payslips, a work contract or letter from your employer. If you have rented in Germany before you can also ask your previous landlord for a confirmation that you owe no outstanding rent.
- A copy of your credit report (Schufa)
Go the extra mile
Always be punctual, polite, enthusiastic, and tidy when attending rental viewings. Some landlords may live nearby, or even in the same house, so you will be being judged about whether you’ll be a good tenant and also a good neighbour. This is a time that a babysitter or dog sitter may come I useful for any unruly members of your household.
An application form will be given before, during or after a viewing. This need to be completed fully and legibly. People have been known to go to great lengths to provide the landlord with a family CV including photos if they really want a place. Make sure to answer all the questions and give your potential new landlord no choice but to pick you.
If you do have a pet be sure to add a photo to your application and emphasise how quiet/well-mannered/well trained they are. Most importantly reassure the landlord that you will purchase extra insurance to cover any damage caused by your pet.
What are my legal rights as a tenant in Germany?
Renters in Germany are quite well protected by the law. Your landlord must give you a minimum of three months notice of the termination of your contract, which only gets longer, the longer you live at the property.
Any damage to the property may result in some of your deposit being retained so it is important to have a ‘walk through’ with the landlord or estate agent to take pictures and note the condition of the property when you get the keys. Just a little protection, in case your landlord proves to be a little unscrupulous when you move out.
What to expect in a German rental?
There are a few quirks to German rentals which might be a surprise to your average Brit.
A kitchen is not always included. A space or room where the kitchen should be fitted will be present, but you will have to source your own kitchen for your rented apartment or house. Occasionally the previous tenants will want to sell the one currently in place, but this additional cost will be payable to the tenants directly.
Don’t just bring lightbulbs, bring light fittings. Many an expat has spent their first night in a new place by the light of a laptop or a bedside lamp, very atmospheric. You will likely be faced with wires hanging from the ceilings and walls, even in the bathroom. On the positive side you don’t have to put up with old ugly light fittings but be prepared to add this expense to your shopping list.
The number of rooms advertised is not simply the number of bedrooms. The kitchen, bathroom/s, hallway, cellar and attic aren’t counted as within the number of rooms (Zimmer) advertised. It’s this quirk that leads to advertisements for apartments with 3.5 rooms, which depending on the layout could mean an open kitchen diner, or an office area without a door. Thankfully most adverts will have a floor plan, but it can be confusing.
Your parking space is extra. The rent for your parking spot/garage will usually be shown separately to your monthly cold rent figure. Some landlords allow parking spaces to be sublet, particularly if the tenant has no car, so no need for the space. Depending on where you are based, that parking spot could be worth more than you’d expect, spots in busy cities can demand high prices so why not let the spot pay for itself?
Paint when you leave. Most rental contracts require that the tenant leave the apartment as they found it, and since most rental contracts require you to leave your place freshly painted you might just find yourself painting surrounded by packed boxes when you leave. What can I say? it is quite a treat to walk into a freshly painted apartment and just start unpacking, but I do struggle to remember that feeling with paintbrush in hand when I’m leaving.
Names over numbers. When you do move into your new place it is important to put your name on your external buzzer and/or mailbox ASAP. Whilst German buildings are numbered your individual apartment won’t be, so without your name, no one will be able to find you.
The large deposit (Kaution). At three times the cold rent, this can be a significant amount of money. It must be put into a holding account so it cannot be used by you or the landlord for the entirety of your lease and can be repaid up to six months after you have vacated the property and the landlord has taken his damages (if applicable) from it. This can be important when moving from one place to another, you will have to provide a new deposit before your last one has been refunded.
Depending on the region you can expect to spend a quarter to a third of your income on rent, so it is important to find a property that suits you and your pocket. The competitive market can mean that looking for, visiting and applying for accommodation can take months. A good estimate would be to give yourself at least three months in which to find something. Additionally, a good dose of compromise and a sense of humour will probably also be needed to get you into a place that you can call home.
When you find that perfect place, and do sign a lease, don’t forget to register your new address at the Bürgeramt. This is Germany, Ordnung muss sein (there must be order).