Office for the Equal Treatment of EU Workers

Housing

1. The housing market in Germany

Many Germans live in rented accommodation. Affordable housing is in high demand. The prices of houses and rental flats in Germany have risen significantly over the past ten years. The housing market in Germany offers a wide range of options, but the amount of rent charged or the price when buying a property depends to a large extent on where you live (which town and which of Germany’s 16 Länder, or federal states) or where the property is located (location and area of town).

The most expensive German cities are Munich, Frankfurt am Main, Stuttgart, Freiburg im Breisgau, Ingolstadt, Hamburg, Heidelberg, Mainz and Darmstadt. In these cities, people often spend more than 30% of their income on rent. Affordable accommodation on the edge of a city not only offers financial advantages, but also allows you to live in a green environment away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The suburbs are a particularly good place for young families with small children to live. Commuters usually have a short journey to the city centre thanks to the good transport links in Germany.

Migrants are not subject to any restrictions when looking for somewhere to live or buying a property. You can rent or buy a property in Germany from your country of origin. However, you must comply with the legal provisions which apply in Germany when buying a property (e.g. a notarised agreement).

For the first few weeks, until you have found a property to rent or buy in Germany, you have various options when it comes to finding somewhere to stay.

2. Finding somewhere to live

The most common way of finding a suitable property – whether to rent or buy – is to look at property advertisements online or in newspapers, which publish property listings both in their print versions and on their websites. In addition, you will find a wide range of online sites where you can search for properties across Germany which match your individual criteria, or where you can place your own advertisement looking for a property. Sometimes, instead of giving the contact details for the landlord or letting agent, property advertisements simply list a code consisting of a series of numbers or letters (known in German as a “Chiffre”). You answer an advertisement with a code by writing a letter and sending it to the newspaper. The paper will then forward it to the landlord. Another option is to engage the services of an estate agent (Immobilienmakler) when looking for a property.

Please note: It is important to be aware that if an estate agent successfully arranges a property for you, he or she can charge you a fee (Maklercourtage) or commission (Maklerprovision). However, this is only the case if you engage the estate agent’s services. If the landlord engages the estate agent to find potential tenants for the property, then the landlord has to pay the commission.
If you are renting a property, the maximum amount which you are allowed to be charged in commission is two months’ net rent (excluding running costs and costs for heating and hot water supply), plus value added tax. When buying a property, the level of commission can be freely agreed in Germany; the law does not set any requirements. In practice, when setting the level of commission, property owners and estate agents tend to be guided by the “typical” market arrangements in the Land (federal state) in question.

If you have any difficulties in finding somewhere to live, you can contact the housing office (Wohnungsamt) in the town or municipality where you are looking for a home. The housing office often runs its own placement service. If that is not the case, the staff can help you by providing useful information and places to contact. Social housing exists in most towns and municipalities.

Please note: Social housing can normally only be rented to people on low incomes. You will require a certificate of eligibility for social housing (Wohnberechtigungsschein), which you can obtain from your local housing office.

Tip: As finding somewhere to live is not especially easy in many regions of Germany, it is important to be well-prepared when applying for a property.

3. Tenancy agreement

In general, a distinction is made between fixed-term (befristet) and open-ended (unbefristet) tenancy agreements, but open-ended agreements are the norm in Germany.
Most tenancy agreements are standard agreements, which can vary in length and sometimes contain provisions which do not apply to the specific situation.
Tenancy agreements are usually concluded in writing. However, there is no requirement for this to be the case. Although the same legal rules apply to oral tenancy agreements, a written agreement can be an important piece of evidence if a dispute arises.

Tip: Make sure you receive a written tenancy agreement which contains all the relevant details. You can consult this checklist for tenancy agreements.

Please note: Before signing the tenancy agreement, you should inspect each room with your landlord, discuss any renovations, and also check that the heating, electrical appliances, power sockets, etc. are all working. If any defects are visible before you move in, they should be recorded in a move-in inventory report (Einzugsprotokoll). If you find any other defects shortly after moving in, notify the landlord promptly in writing.
The same procedure should be followed when you move out, with the condition of the property being recorded in a move-out inventory report (Auszugsprotokoll).

4. Deposit

In general, a deposit (Kaution) is agreed in the tenancy agreement. The amount of the deposit can be negotiated. However, the maximum deposit permitted is three months’ net rent (excluding running costs and costs for heating and hot water supply; this is known in Germany as the “Kaltmiete”).

The tenant remits the deposit to the landlord. The tenant is allowed to pay the deposit in 3 monthly instalments. The first instalment is payable at the beginning of the tenancy. The landlord must keep the deposit separate from his or her other assets, in a special account (Kautionskonto). Other types of deposit are possible, but must be agreed by the tenant and the landlord. Possible options include, for example, a bank guarantee (Bankbürgschaft), a joint savings account (gemeinsames Sparbuch), or a savings account which can only be accessed with the permission of both the tenant and the landlord (Sparbuch mit Sperrvermerk).

After the end of the tenancy, once the landlord no longer has any claims on the tenant, the landlord must pay back the deposit plus the interest accrued in the meantime.

5. Rent

The rent paid for rental accommodation consists of the net rent (Kaltmiete), plus the costs for heating, hot water supply, gas where applicable and the running costs (Betriebskosten) for the building, with the total being known as the gross rent (Warmmiete). Electricity is normally charged separately on the basis of a contract which you enter into personally with the electricity provider.

In some cities, you can expect to pay around 14 euros per square metre in gross rent and costs such as heating, water and gas. In small towns and rural areas, the average is around 8 euros per square metre. This means that you can expect to pay between 400 and 700 euros in rent for a property which is 50m² in size. That said, these figures are merely a rough guide.

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

6. Repairs

If, during the tenancy, defects or maintenance issues emerge in the property, the tenant is required to notify the landlord so that he or she can carry out repairs.

Tip: When you notify the landlord of a defect, it is important for you to set a time limit for repairs to be carried out.

Until the defect has been repaired, the rent can be reduced by an appropriate amount. However, seek advice before you reduce the amount of rent you pay, as an unjustified reduction leaves you at risk of having your tenancy terminated by the landlord.

In cases where the landlord does not repair a defect, you can contact either the local housing oversight office (Wohnungsaufsichtsamt) or planning office (Bauordnungsamt). However, you can also seek advice (for a fee) from the local tenants’ association (Mietverein) or a lawyer.

7. Ending the tenancy

In principle, the law makes a distinction between termination of the tenancy by notice and termination without notice. It is very difficult for landlords to terminate a tenancy. As a rule, tenancy law protects the tenant and therefore establishes high hurdles for any termination of the tenancy by the landlord. Tenancy law requires the landlord to state the grounds for terminating the tenancy, and only certain grounds are valid.
Under the law, different notice periods apply for tenants and landlords when it comes to terminating a tenancy.

Notice to be given by tenants:

Tenants with an open-ended tenancy agreement can, in principle, always end the tenancy by giving 3 months’ notice. The length of the tenancy is irrelevant.

Notice must be given in writing. To give due notice, the letter of notice must reach the landlord no later than the third business day of the month, if the current month is to be counted towards the notice period. Saturdays are not considered business days.

In some cases, the tenancy agreement may include a shorter notice period for tenants than the normal 3-month period. If the agreement contains a 1-month or even 14-day notice period for the tenant, the tenant can end the tenancy by giving this amount of notice.
However, this does not apply to landlords: the landlord must comply with the statutory notice periods and is not permitted to reduce them for his or her own benefit.

Please note: If the tenancy agreement includes a no-termination clause (“Kündigungsverzicht” or “Kündigungsausschluss”), this means that the tenancy cannot be terminated for a certain period of time. The right to end the tenancy may be waived for a maximum of 4 years from the time when the agreement is concluded. If the agreement states that the no-termination period is longer, the clause is invalid, meaning that the tenant can end the tenancy at any time by giving 3 months’ notice.

Notice to be given by landlords

  • If the tenant has been living in a property for up to 5 years, landlords who have grounds for ending the tenancy must give the tenant 3 months’ notice.
  • If the tenant has been living in the property for more than 5 years, 6 months’ notice must be given.
  • If the tenant has been living in the property for more than 8 years, 9 months’ notice must be given.

If there are serious grounds for terminating the tenancy without notice, the landlord must state them in writing.

8. Housing benefit

Housing benefit is a public benefit which provides financial support for people on low incomes. You can receive financial assistance towards your housing costs from the state. There are two forms of housing benefit:

  • rent support (Mietzuschuss), if you are renting a property or room, or
  • mortgage and home upkeep support (Lastenzuschuss), if you are living in a flat or house which you own.

You only receive this support if you are actually living in Germany and are entitled to free movement under the Act on the General Freedom of Movement for EU Citizens (Freizügigkeitsgesetz/EU).
You can only receive housing benefit if you submit an application to your local housing benefit office (Wohngeldbehörde) within your local authority (at municipal, town, association of municipalities, or county level). The housing benefit office will give you detailed advice.

FAQ Housing

Rent increases are normal, but the landlord has to comply with certain rules. A rent increase is only allowed if your rent is lower than that of comparable properties in your neighbourhood. In many towns, the rent for comparable properties can be determined using the results of a rent level survey (Mietspiegel). The rent level survey shows the usual amount of rent depending on the property’s size, location within the town and amenities. You can find information about this online.

The first rent increase is not permitted until at least 12 months after you move in, and the period between future rent increases must also be at least 12 months. If the rent paid by the tenant today is relatively low, it may not be raised to the level for comparable properties in one go. There is a limit: the rent may only be increased by a maximum of 20% within a three-year period. In some of Germany’s Länder (federal states), the limit is 15%.

Please note: If you are faced with a sudden rent increase, it is important for you to seek advice, for example from a tenants’ rights association (Mieterschutzverein).

Some tenancy agreements provide for “stepped rent”, or in other words automatic rent increases at regular intervals (Staffelmiete). In this case, you know from the outset what to expect. In the case of stepped rent, additional rent increases are not allowed.

You have various options when it comes to finding somewhere to stay for your first few weeks, until you have found a property to rent or buy in Germany:

  • Hotels cost an average of around 70 to 90 euros per person per night. Guest houses (Pensionen) are much cheaper.
  • Accommodation in youth hostels (Jugendherberge) normally costs between 20 and 30 euros per person per night.
  • You can also use websites to rent a room in private residences.
  • One affordable alternative is to move into a shared flat (Wohngemeinschaft). This can be a particularly interesting option for young people, as it gives you the opportunity to get to know people quickly. Please look online for a Germany-wide search site.
  • For a furnished 2- to 3-room flat on a temporary basis, you should expect to pay around 500 to 1200 euros per month, depending on the location and region. In addition to online sites dedicated to this option, you will also find many other commercial websites which allow you to search for accommodation to suit your specific requirements.

When you need advice, another option besides consulting a lawyer who specialises in tenancy law is to seek advice from a tenants’ association (Mieterverein).

To receive free personal advice from a tenants’ association, you must be a member and pay a membership fee. The level of the membership fee is set by each tenants’ association independently. At the moment, the average is 50 to 90 euros per year. The fee often also includes legal expenses insurance for tenancy law.

If you are interested in a property and would like to apply to rent it, it is important for you to be able to submit the following documents:

  • An application form, which is usually handed out when you view a property;

  • Copies of your identity card or passport;

  • Proof of income; this typically means your payslips for the past 3 months.

    Please note: If you have only just started a job in Germany, you can also provide a certificate from your employer stating your job and pay. Do not hesitate to contact your employer and ask whether you can receive any assistance in looking for somewhere to live.

  • Landlords often ask apprentices for a rent guarantor agreement (Mietbürgschaft). This is a simple letter guaranteeing payment of the rent up to a defined amount. This means that, in the event that you are unable to pay your rent, someone else (usually your parents or relatives) will pay it and associated costs for you.

  • Proof of rent payment certificate (Bescheinigung über Mietschuldenfreiheit): This is confirmation from your previous landlord that the rent was always paid on time. A document of this kind carries a lot of weight and provides strong evidence that you are a reliable tenant. However, you have no legal entitlement to receive a certificate of this kind.

  • If you own property in your home country, you should state this as well.

  • Proof of your creditworthiness, such as evidence of whether you are debt-free (e.g. the Schufa credit report or another form of adequate evidence from your home country).

If you do not have all of these documents, for example because you have just arrived in Germany, you should state the reasons for this in your application.

Property advertisements generally provide the following information:

  • Rent (net rent and advance payments towards running costs)
  • Size in square metres (floor space),
  • Number of bedrooms,
  • Bathrooms (number and amenities),
  • Kitchen,
  • Balcony (50% of balcony floor space is included in the property’s floor space),
  • Total number of rooms (not including the bathroom and kitchen),
  • Energy rating (the building’s energy consumption),
  • Year in which the building was constructed,
  • When it was last renovated or refurbished, where applicable.

Most properties in Germany are rented unfurnished.

To avoid any surprises, you should check whether the rent stated in the tenancy agreement is the net rent (Kaltmiete or Nettomiete) or the gross rent (Warmmiete or Bruttomiete).
The net rent is the basic rent for the property. However, on top of this there are a range of service charges or running costs which can significantly increase the total amount of rent to be paid. These include the costs of hot water, heating, waste collection charges, garden maintenance or janitorial services.
The gross rent includes all of these costs and is therefore the actual price you have to pay. The cost of electricity is usually not included in the rent. You have to conclude a separate contract with an electricity supplier.

Can the landlord simply increase the rent?
Rent increases are normal, but the landlord has to comply with certain rules. A rent increase is only allowed if your rent is lower than that of comparable properties in your neighbourhood. In many towns, the rent for comparable properties can be determined using the results of a rent level survey (Mietspiegel). The rent level survey shows the usual amount of rent depending on the property’s size, location within the town and amenities. You can find information about this online.

The first rent increase is not permitted until at least 12 months after you move in, and the period between future rent increases must also be at least 12 months. If the rent paid by the tenant today is relatively low, it may not be raised to the level for comparable properties in one go. There is a limit: the rent may only be increased by a maximum of 20% within a three-year period. In some of Germany’s Länder (federal states), the limit is 15%.

Please note: If you are faced with a sudden rent increase, it is important for you to seek advice, for example from a tenants’ rights association (Mieterschutzverein).

Some tenancy agreements provide for “stepped rent”, or in other words automatic rent increases at regular intervals (Staffelmiete). In this case, you know from the outset what to expect. In the case of stepped rent, additional rent increases are not allowed.

It is very difficult for landlords to terminate a tenancy. As a rule, tenancy law protects the tenant and therefore establishes high hurdles for any termination of the tenancy by the landlord. Tenancy law requires the landlord to state the grounds for terminating the tenancy, and only certain grounds are valid.

In principle, the law makes a distinction between termination of the tenancy by notice (ordentliche Kündigung) and termination without notice (außerordentliche Kündigung).

1.The main ground on which private landlords can terminate the tenancy by notice is for their own use. In other words, landlords can give tenants notice if, for demonstrable reasons, they need the property for themselves, for close relatives or members of their household, such as their carer, for example.

2. Grounds on which a landlord can terminate the tenancy without notice include:

  • if the tenant repeatedly fails to pay the rent on time or in full,
  • if the property is used in a way which violates the tenancy agreement, for example if more people are living there than permitted, if it is sublet without permission, if pets are being kept there contrary to the agreement, etc.,
  • if the tenant engages in anti-social behaviour.

This list is not exhaustive.

Tip: If you are unsure
• whether the termination of the tenancy is lawful, or
• whether the grounds stated lead to termination of the tenancy,
seek advice or consult a lawyer.