Understand your rights as a tenant with this guide to the German rental market, including tips on where to look for houses and apartments for rent in Germany.
Moving to a new country can be a challenging experience, especially when it comes to finding the right place to live. In this guide, the specialist expat mortgage adviser Hypofriend explains how the renting process works in Germany.
The certified German mortgage broker Hypofriend combines advanced algorithms to tailor the right mortgage product to your personal circumstances. Unlike most comparison websites, they do not solely focus on the cheapest product, but on the product that is right for you, ensuring long-term financial security.
Do many people rent in Germany?
While most countries swing strongly in favour of either renting or buying your home, the options are balanced in Germany, with just under half the population renting their accommodation. More than half of the population live in apartments, making detached family houses somewhat harder to find, particularly in urban areas.
Munich has the highest rents, but a 2017 study by the Hans Bockler Foundation found that Bonn was the city where renters spent the largest proportion of their salaries on housing costs, at 30.3%.
Should you rent or buy?
House prices and rents have risen dramatically in Germany in the last decade, and that trend shows no sign of abating. In 2017, rents on new contracts rose by 4.5%, slightly down on the 4.9% recorded in 2016.
There are no restrictions for expats looking to purchase a property, making it an attractive investment for many expats planning on staying three years or more – i.e. long enough to outweigh the purchase costs. Find out more in Expatica’s guide to buying a home in Germany.
Data from Statista based on the last quarter of 2017 shows that Munich, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Ingolstadt, Freiburg, Berlin and Hamburg were the German cities with the highest rental costs per square metre.
Finding a property to rent in Germany
You don’t usually have to pay estate agent (Makler) fees when searching an apartment to rent in Germany, as these are the burden of the person letting out the flat.
If you want to pay an agent to help you find a home, this can alleviate some of the pressure of searching for a property yourself – but at a price.
Property portals in Germany
Online property portals are widely used in Germany, with some of the most popular websites as follows:
- Immobilien Scout 24 (German only)
- Immowelt (German only)
- immobilo (German only)
- Mr Lodge (multiple languages – Munich only)
- Wohnungsbörse (German only)
- Zeitwohnwerk (German and English)
If you’re looking for a bargain, a flat share (Wohngemeinschaft) is usually cheaper than living alone.
Finding temporary housing and furnished apartments
Flat shares are often arranged informally and can be found through flat-sharing websites as well as forums and message boards. If you’re considering an informal flat share, it’s important to remember that without a contract, you’ll find it harder to invoke your rights as a tenant.
Sub-letting is legal in Germany and can be an option for temporary accommodation.
Good places to find sub-lets are usually among your network of friends and acquaintances and on the internal message boards of large organisations. Several online portals allow you to search furnished apartments and flat shares.
- Studenten-WG (German only)
- Tempoflat.de is an online portal for furnished lodgings for short- and mid-term rental
- Mr Lodge (multiple languages)
- Zeitwohnwerk is a national network of local agencies providing furnished accommodation in Germany.
Descriptions of properties to rent in Germany
Properties advertised in Germany usually state their size in square meters of living space (Wohnfläche), as well as indicating the number of bedrooms (Schlafzimmer) and bathrooms (Badezimmer). In addition, some sites list the total number of rooms (which typically doesn’t include bathrooms), the energy rating, and the year of construction.
Many German properties are let unfurnished, often without curtains, light fittings and kitchen appliances.
Apartments may be in divided former family homes, such as farms or townhouses, but purpose-built apartment blocks and tower blocks are also common. A split townhouse may be called a Mehrfamilienhaus, while Appartementhauser or Wohnblock is more common for purpose-built apartments, although the terms are somewhat interchangeable.
A Wohnsilo is a somewhat derogatory term for a tower block, i.e. an apartment building with dozens or hundreds of units spread over eight or more floors.
Applying for a property to rent in Germany
The Germany property market is competitive, so it’s important to get all your documentation in order. You should expect to submit:
- An application form, usually handed out at the viewing;
- Copies of your photo ID and residence permit (if you require one);
- Proof of income (Einkommensnachweis), typically wage slips for the last three months;
- A certificate from your previous landlord indicating you have no outstanding rent due (Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung);
- Your credit report (you can order this online through Schufa).
If you don’t have one of these documents, for example because you’ve just arrived in Germany, you should indicate the reasons for this on your application.
You may be able to increase your chances of success in a competitive market by including a letter from your employer (in lieu of proof of income) or asking a friend or relative to act as a guarantor (if you have no reliable income, e.g. as a student).
German tenancy agreements
Minimum tenancies can be long in Germany where it’s not uncommon for a landlord to request an initial lease period of two years.
Make sure the lease agreement includes all the relevant details, and that you understand the conditions for breaking the agreement before the end of the initial contract period.
Most tenancies are unlimited, which means that once the tenancy has begun, the landlord can only end it by evicting the tenant through the courts or giving at least three months’ notice. This notice can be contested by the tenant, and will usually only be accepted where the landlord has a good reason for the notice being given. Likewise, rent increases should be justified, unless they follow a course that was laid down in the tenancy agreement.
Limited contracts exist where the landlord has a good reason for being unable to continue renting the property after a certain period, such as a need to use it themselves or planning to sell. These are rarely extended or renewed.
In both cases, the tenant can give notice according to their contract. A three-month notice period is typical after the initial contract period.
Cost of renting a home in Germany
How much you’ll get for your money varies significantly depending on where you’re living in Germany, and in each city, you can easily double or triple the estimated minimums by looking for a central location or a larger, family property.
It is also worth noting that rooms are typically on the smaller side (particularly by American standards), with two bedroom apartments under 65 square metres being common.
Average rents in Germany are typically described as a cost per square metre.
According to the Federal Institute for Building, Urban and Spatial Research, the apartments in Germany are rented out for an average of €8 a square metre, with prices ranging from around €4 per square metre (Wunsiedel/Vogtlandkreis) to €10 (Berlin) to €16 (Munich).
Thanks to heavy international investment plus an economy which weathered the financial crisis relatively well, Germany’s properties are in demand and rents are rising across the board. As legislation restricts rental increases for existing tenants, prices are often increased dramatically when a new lease is arranged.
This means that even if you take over a lease from a friend or rent an identical unit in the same building, the rent for the new lease may be much higher. In 2015, rent control laws (Mietpreisbremse) were introduced, but a report by the German Institute for Economic Research in 2018 found that they had only had an effect on a tiny proportion of tenants.
Deposits and utilities in Germany
A deposit (Kaution) is usually requested by the landlord and is commonly equal to three months’ rent. It should not be more than this amount, and must be deposited in a special savings account.
Utility costs are not typically included in the rent – but this should be laid out in the tenancy agreement. The property will typically be described as Kaltmiete, literally the ‘cold rent’, i.e. without heating or utilities. A Warmmiete will include heating and possibly the other costs (Nebenkosten) such as management fees and other utilities.
Moving in and out
An inventory and inspection should be completed when you move in and out, accurately describing the contents of the property and the condition. Tenants are typically allowed to decorate, including painting walls, but will be expected to return the property to a neutral state (usually white walls) and remove any added items (such as carpets or curtains) before moving out.
Germany law is broadly in favour of the tenant. If you have any concerns, you can contact the national tenants’ association, the Deutscher Mieterbund (German only) or find your local tenants’ association (German only) called a Mieterverbände.
A landlord has the right to evict a tenant for not paying their rent after two months, however, the eviction process can be very slow, taking more than six months in some cases.
Dramatically increasing rents in popular urban areas mean that some landlords and developers have a strong interest in changing tenants so they can then increase the rent. This has led to some unscrupulous tactics being used, including failure to properly maintain the building. Legal methods are also used, including paying tenants to leave.
Some cities, including Berlin, have strict limits on the amount that a rent can be increased over a given period so if you find yourself facing a sudden rent increase after you’ve already signed a tenancy agreement, it’s important to seek advice. As a general guideline, rental increases should happen at most once per year and up to a maximum of 20% increase over three years.