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Here you can find out how to find an apartment, what to consider when looking for an apartment, what rights you have as a tenant and how you can enforce them. 

1. The housing market in Germany

Many Germans live in rented apartments. Housing, especially at the cheaper end of the scale, is in great demand. The housing market in Germany has changed in recent years. Housing has become scarce, especially in larger cities. This also has an effect on prices and rents. Nevertheless the amount of rent or the purchase price for an apartment depends essentially on where (city/state) you live or where the apartment is located (location/district).

The currently most expensive German cities are Munich, Frankfurt am Main, Stuttgart, Freiburg im Breisgau, Ingolstadt, Hamburg, Mainz, Darmstadt and Berlin. In these cities, residents often pay over 30% of their income for rent.

An overview of the amount of rent in Germany – broken down by Federal state – can be found on the homepage “Rent level survey in Germany ”. The rent level survey corresponds to the average rent without additional costs (heating, electricity, water, etc.). The amount of rent can be very different and depends on where you live.

A cheap apartment on the outskirts offers not only price advantages but also the opportunity to live away from the big city in a green environment. The suburbs are particularly suitable as a place to live for young families with small children. The city centre can usually be reached quickly for commuters thanks to the good transport connections in Germany.

There are no restrictions for immigrants when looking for or buying real estate. You can rent an apartment or buy a property in Germany from your country of origin. In doing so, however, you must observe the legal provisions applicable in Germany that apply to the purchase of property (for example a notarial contract).

For the first few weeks until you have found an apartment to rent or buy in Germany, you have various options to find accommodation.

2. Find housing

The most common way to find a suitable apartment – be it for rent or for sale – is via real estate advertisements on the Internet or in relevant newspapers, which publish apartment advertisements not only in their print versions but also on their own websites. In addition, you will find various Internet portals that you can use to search for properties nationwide and individually, or place an ad there yourself looking for an apartment. Sometimes, instead of the contact details of the landlord or the housing administration, there are also code numbers or code letters in the housing offers – so-called codes. You must reply in writing to an advertisement with a box number and send the letter to the newspaper. This will then be forwarded to the landlord from there. You also have the option of hiring a real estate agent for your apartment search. This can be an advantage especially in metropolitan areas. 

Please note: Please note that if the brokering is successful, the real estate agent can charge a brokerage fee or brokerage commission. But this applies only if you hire the broker. If, on the other hand, the landlord commissions the broker to find prospective tenants for his apartment, he has to pay the commission. The agent’s commission for you as a tenant may not exceed two net cold rents plus VAT. When selling real estate, the amount of commission in Germany can be freely agreed, there are no legal requirements. In practice, owners and real estate agents base their setting of the commission on the “customary” regulations in the respective Federal State.

If you have difficulties finding an apartment, you can contact the Housing Office in the city or municipality in which you are looking for an apartment. Apartments are often brokered directly there. If this is not the case, the Housing Office staff can help with useful addresses and information. In most cities and towns there is Social housing.

Please note: As a rule, social housing can only be rented to people with low incomes. To do so, you need a certificate of eligibility for social housing, which you can obtain from the local Housing Office.

Tip: Since it is not so easy to get an apartment in many regions in Germany, it is important to be well prepared when applying for an apartment.

3. Tenancy agreement

A basic distinction is made between fixed-term and open-ended tenancy agreements, however unlimited contracts are the rule in Germany. Most tenancy agreements for apartments are Model contracts, which vary in scope and do not always apply to the individual rental situation. You can find an example in German and English on the Tenant Protection Association website .

As a rule, rental contracts are concluded in writing. However, there is no obligation to do so. Even if the same legal regulations apply to verbal tenancy agreements, a written tenancy agreement can be important evidence in the event of a dispute.

Tip: Make sure you have a written tenancy agreement that includes all the relevant details. Use the checklist for the tenancy agreement.

Please note: Before concluding the tenancy agreement, you should take a close look at each room with your landlord, discuss any renovation work and also check the functionality of the heating, electrical appliances, sockets, etc. If defects are visible before moving in, these should be noted in a protocol (Moving-in protocol). Should you notice any deficiencies shortly after moving in, please submit these to the landlord in writing as soon as possible.
The same procedure should be carried out when moving out of the apartment and the condition of the apartment recorded in a protocol (Moving-out protocol) .

4. Rental deposit

A rental deposit is usually agreed in the tenancy agreement. The amount of the deposit can be negotiated. The deposit may be a maximum of 3 net rent (excluding running costs and costs for heating and hot water supply) (monthly rent without additional costs).

The rental deposit is transferred from the tenant to the landlord. The tenant may pay the deposit in 3 monthly instalments. The first instalment is due at the beginning of the tenancy. The landlord must separate the cash deposit from his or her other assets in a special account (deposit account). Other forms of deposit are possible, but must be agreed between the tenant and the landlord. For example, a bank guarantee, the creation of a joint savings book, a savings book with a blocking notice are conceivable.

After the end of the lease the landlord has to repay the deposit with the interest accrued in the meantime if he or she has no more claims against the tenant.

5. Rent

The rent for a rented apartment consists of the net rent (excluding running costs and costs for heating and hot water supply) and the costs for the supply of heating, hot water, possibly gas as well as the operating costs for the residential complex (gross rent). The electricity costs are usually billed separately on the basis of a contract that you have to conclude yourself with the electricity supplier.

If your landlord wants to increase the rent over time, he or she can only do so under certain conditions.

6. Defects in the apartment

If defects or faults occur in the apartment during the rental period, the tenant is obligated to inform the landlord of the defective condition of the apartment so that he or she can remedy the defect.

Tip: If you report a defect to the landlord, it is important to set a deadline to remedy the defect.

Until the defect has been remedied, the rent may be reduced to a reasonable extent. However, get advice before you reduce the rent, as there is a risk of termination by the landlord in the event of an unjustified reduction.

In cases in which the landlord does not remedy the defect, you can either contact the local housing inspection office or the building regulations office. You can also take advantage of the fee-based advice from the local rental association or a lawyer.

7. Termination of housing

Basically, the law distinguishes between the ordinary and the extraordinary (immediate) termination of the lease. It is very difficult for landlords to terminate a tenancy. Tenancy law usually protects the tenant and therefore provides for high formal hurdles. Tenancy law obliges the landlord to give reasons for termination, whereby only certain reasons for termination are permitted.
According to the law, different periods of notice apply to tenants and landlords if the tenancy is to be terminated.

Notice period for tenants:

Tenants can generally terminate an open-ended rental agreement always with a notice period of 3 months. The length of stay does not matter.

The notice of termination must be in writing. In order to terminate in due time, the landlord must be notified no later than on the 3rd working day of a month so that the current month still counts. Saturdays are considered working days.

There are cases in which the tenancy agreement for tenants contains shorter notice periods than the regular 3 month notice period. If a 1-month or even 14 day notice period has been agreed in the contract for the tenant, the tenant can terminate the contract with this short notice. Conversely, this does not apply: The landlord must observe the statutory notice periods and must not shorten them in his or her favour.

Please note: If the tenancy agreement says “waiver of termination” or “exclusion of termination”, this means that termination is excluded for a certain period of time. The right of termination may be excluded for a maximum of 4 years from the time the contract is concluded. If the termination exclusion runs longer according to the contract, the clause is ineffective, so that the tenant can terminate at any time with a period of 3 months.

Notice periods for the landlord:

  • up to a rental period of 5 years, landlords who have a reason for termination must give notice of 3 months.
  • If the tenant has been living in the apartment for more than 5 years, the notice period is 6 months.
  • If the tenant has been living in the apartment for more than 8 years, a notice period of 9 months applies.

If there are serious reasons for an extraordinary (immediate) termination, the landlord must present this in writing.

8. Housing benefit

Housing benefit is a State benefit to provide financial support to people on low incomes. You can get financial support from the State to cover your housing costs. There are two forms of housing benefit:

  • as rent support if you rent an apartment or a room or
  • as mortgage and home upkeep support if you live in an apartment or house that you own.

You will only receive the grant if you are actually in the Federal territory and are entitled to freedom of movement according to the law on the general freedom of movement of Union citizens (FreizüG / EU). You can only receive housing benefit if you submit an application to the local housing benefit office, the municipality, city, district or district administration. You will be given comprehensive advice there.

Please note: You can find more information about housing benefit and how to apply in several foreign languages on the website of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB).

TIP: You can find more information on the housing market, building subsidies and the promotion of housing on the homepage of the Federal Ministry of Housing, Urban Development and Building and the guide published there on the search for accommodation in Germany