Renting accommodation in Germany - tips for first-timers
One doesn't have to be in Germany very long to realize that when it comes to renting Germans do it very differently than the rest of the world.
A few important tips
First off, you will be required to sign a rental agreement and pay a deposit of up to three months' rent. Sometimes you may have to pay a fee to an agency (Makler) of up to two months' rent plus MwSt (VAT). Combined with the first month's rent this comes to a total of six months' rent up front before you even move in. Yes, it's expensive.
The rent deposit goes into a special bank account that requires signatures from both you and the landlord. It's not uncommon to have transfer the deposit to the landlords account if he lives in a different city and have him or her open the account. If this is the case make sure you keep a copy of your bank statement.
Note on Kaution:
The law requires that the landlord holds your deposit separate from his own funds. Any interest accrued on the capital amount belongs to the owner of the money, i.e. the tenant. In many cases the deposit is placed into a savings account in the name of the tenant but the landlord keeps the "savings book" for the duration of the tenancy, and until the matter of liabilities and repairs is settled. the landlord can hold the deposit for up to 8 months which really sucks if you're moving and having to come up with another deposit on top of moving.
Redecorations on moving out
When signing the lease you will be usually given a choice of painting now or when you leave. Always ask to leave the place unpainted. If you agree to paint it when you leave then it has to be to the landlord's satisfaction, which means that if you paint it and he doesn't like it then he will bring in the professionals and bill you for it.
Make a note of any problems (scratches on floor etc); this must be noted in the contract. It is a good idea to take photographs beforehand so that you are not held responsible for what's not yours.
Finally as strange as it sounds Germans often rent places without a kitchen. If you'e moving from outside the EU I'd highly recommend checking the box that says EBK (Einbaukuche). This means you will only see places that have a kitchen.
It is recommended that you join the renter's association (Mietverein). This is cheaper and just as good.
Cold (Kaltmiete) and Warm Rent (Warmmiete)
Cold is what the property rents for, Warm is rent plus utilities plus Nebenkosten (NK) or Wohngeld.
Nebenkosten and Wohngeld
NK or Wohngeld are basically condo fees and in Germany the majority of the running costs are passed on to the tenant,everything from property taxes to the lady who washes the floors each week, elevator maintenance (but not repairs) . This can include utilities. The amount of NK will vary from unit to unit depending on whether heat is included or not. Also once a year the landlord will send you a final bill much like average billing for your hydro bill, if you use less, you get a refund, if you use more you pay extra.
Rental Advertisement Abbreviations
Advertisements for apartments are always heavily abbreviated. Not knowing what the abbreviations are short for is bad enough in English, but trying to understand them in German can be a nightmare unless you're very familiar with the language. So here are some definitions to give you a head start.
2 Zi. Whg = 2 Zimmer Wohnung = 2 room apartment (i.e one bedroom and one living room)
mobliert = furnished
EBK = Einbaukuche = Kitchen is included (stove, cabinets, fridge, sink). Without EBK means the kitchen is an empty room with pipes and wires sticking out of the wall!
EBK (Abl VHB 600) = With kitchen but you have to pay 600 for it (VHB - verhandelbar - negotiable) In this case the tenant moving out wants to sell the kitchen to you.
Parkett = Parkett flooring = Hardwood floors
Laminate = Laminated floors
Helles, schones, Bad mit F. = Bright, nice, bathroom with window
Tiefgarage = Underground parking usually at an extra fee
2 OG m. Lift = Third floor (US English), second floor (British) (2nd Obergeschoss) with elevator
Miete = Rent
Spulmaschine = Dishwasher
WaMa = Waschmaschine = Washing machine
ca. 100 qm (or m2) = About 100 square meters multiply by 10 to get square feet
kalt/warm = Heating and other costs included in the price (warm) or excluded (kalt)
+NK +TG +3MM KT = Plus maintenance costs (Nebenkosten), plus charge for underground garage (Tiefgarage), plus 3 months' deposit
Provisionsfrei = No agency fees update - agency fees must be paid the by landlord now.
Nachmieter = Follow-on tenant. Typically the current tenant is looking for someone fast, so they can leave their contract earlier than the contracted notice period.
ab. 1 Mai = Apartment is available from 1st May
Topausst. = Top quality furnishings
ab sof. = sofort frei = Available immediately
WG-geeignet (also "auch WG" or just "WG") = Wohnung Gemeinschaft = Suitable as a flatshare.
PLZ 803 = Postal code area 803xx, i.e. in this case central Munich
ZH = Zentralheizung = central heating
So, now you understand the secret code you can translate the following example:
Sendling: 70qm, EBK, Splm., Laminat, Bad mit Fenstern & Wanne,grosszügig geschnitten, hell & rhg., sgt. Anbindung (S2, A99, A8)Nicht WG-geeignet, ab 1.5., KM + 740,- +100, -NK PLZ 809
Sendling (district): 70 m², with kitchen and washing machine, laminate flooring, bathroom with window and bath, spacious floor plan, bright, quiet location, good connections (S2 S-Bahn, A99 and A8 motorways), not suitable as a flatshare, free from May 1, rent: €740 per month excluding all bills (which cost about an extra €100 per month), located in postal district 809.
How to do everything wrong and hate living in Germany
This is what happened to a couple from the TT Germany chat forum. They were relocated from America to Germany, they rented a large, older, empty house from a co-worker. Heating was by propane and were told it would cost about €1,000 a year. They also paid the Kaution (deposit) out of their own pocket rather than having the company pay it or provide a letter. The actual heating costs turned out to be much higher than that, so much so that they were forced to move. After moving they fought with the landlord over getting the rental deposit back; after getting a lawyer involved (at their expense) they finally received a letter detailing all the damage that had been found and explaining why they would not get any money back. Because the money hadn't been placed into a special account, they had a hard time getting it returned.
What they did wrong? Well, just about everything.
They should have asked to have the contract in the company name. The Kaution (deposit) went into the landlord's bank account instead of a joint account; this left them with little legal recourse to get it returned.
The problems with the floor should have been noted in the contract.
When it became apparent that the heating costs were way out of line they should have contacted a lawyer (specializing in renters) and brought along a translator. The lawyer then draws up a letter explaining that the heating costs are out of line and they will not be paying the rent until this issue is settled. At this point the landlord contacts his lawyer and they send loads of letters back and forth, a court date is set and then the judge rules on who is right. Generally speaking, judges look kindly upon poor tenants; worse case scenario is you have to pay the rent due. In this instance most people felt that the heating costs were so far out of line that the landlord would have been held responsible for part of the costs.
When the landlord refuses to return the rent deposit, contact a lawyer and if he still refuses to return it or disputes damages or doesn't provide you with an itemized bill for repairs, it will mean going to court. This happened to a friend of mine and it cost the landlord €6,000.
Important note on short-term lets (furnished apartments)
Munich seems to be a bit unusual in that many landlords require you to sign a contract and post a deposit. If possible, let your company handle it. If you run into problems it will be very difficult to follow up on.
Secondly, if possible try and find a place that requires neither; it can be done - I have never paid a deposit or signed a contract for short term housing.
If you do have to sign a contract, make sure the condition of the place is clearly marked - you don't have to note every scratch or stain, but the more detail you can provide the better. It would be sufficient to note that there are stains on the carpet (so you don't have to steam clean it two months later) and stains or scratches on the wall, that the couch is old and worn out, the oven is dirty etc. Basically you want to make sure you only have to worry about a final cleaning when you leave and not repainting the whole place.
Also, be careful about the notice period so you don't get stuck paying for an empty place. It seems like a real pain to do this when you may only be in the place for 2-3 months but its the only way to protect yourself against dodgy landlords.
Finding Somewhere to Live
Local newspapers and listings magazines are good places to find accommodation. Other options are:
ImmobilienScout24 - an online exchange for apartments in Munich and the rest of Germany.
Wohnungsboerse.net - an example of a "provision-free" website, where you pay a fee (typically around €70) to receive the contact details of people offering apartments and houses for rent 'Provision-frei' (without any agency fee).
Null Provision.de - an online exchange for apartments without agency fees.
Studenten-WG.com is good for finding flatshares and small apartments.
TT Accommodation Classifieds - Don't forget Toytown Germany's own classified ads section, which is the most active English language accommodation exchange in Germany. Browse to the classified adverts section of the respective city or region to read about currently available apartments. You can also start an "accommodation wanted" thread.
Finding a place in Munich
In Munich, Germany we recommend the market leader Mr. Lodge - Furnished Apartments
Mr. Lodge assists with finding a dream home online. They offer assistance, advice and guidance throughout the entire rental process: Finding a property, arranging and translating the rental contracts into English, and at the end, arranging the apartment and key handover. During your tenancy Mr. Lodge remains in touch with the customers and helps if any support is necessary.
With more than 20 years of rental market experience and a competent and friendly team of over 50 employees, Mr. Lodge provides customer service in the following languages: German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Swedish, Dutch, Danish, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Slovenian.
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