Apartment rental

Tips for first-time renters

One doesn’t have to be in Germany very long to realize that when it comes to renting Germans do it very differently to the rest of the world. This isn’t meant to be a definitive guide to renting in Germany but rather some tips and tricks to avoid major hassle and expense when moving.

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.

Kaution (deposit): The rent deposit usually goes into a special bank account which requires signatures from both you and the landlord. It’s not uncommon to have send the deposit to the landlords account and have him open the account, if this is the case make sure you keep a copy of your bank statement.

Edited by Tom Graham 06.12.2006: 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 indeed until the matter of liabilities and repairs is settled. Without the book the tenant has no access to the funds. (Edit ends.)

Secondly, 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. You will also have a harder time fighting damages.

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.

Finally it’s best to find a place with a kitchen, especially if you’re moving from outside the EU. Simply check the box that says EBK (einbaukuche).

Legal insurance may seem like a waste of money but in Germany you need it. Alternatively you can join the renter's association (Mietverein). This is cheaper and just as good but you may need good German skills.

Cold (kaltmeite) and Warm Rent (Warmmeite) - Nebenkosten and Wohngeld:

Cold is what the property rents for, Warm is rent plus utitlies plus Nebenkosten (NK) or Wohngeld.

NK 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, use more 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)

• möbliert = 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 (Ablöse 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• Spülm. = Spülmaschine = 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• + Prov. = Plus agency fees• 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, Spülm., 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 GermanyThis 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 €1000 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 12,000 DM.

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.

Important note on Telephone and DSL

It's pretty much standard to have internet and sometimes telephone. If your place doesn’t have it, I don’t recommend setting it up yourself. It is very expensive to do. Best bet is to find a place that has it and ask them to turn the phone on against a deposit (100 to 200 euros is quite reasonable) or as an alternative have them install it and you pay extra per month, but the line rental is in the landlord's name not yours. Either that or get a laptop and a surf stick. These days they are quite cheap

Finding Somewhere to Live

Local newspapers and listings magazines are good places to find accommodation. Other options are:

Immobilien Scout24 - an online exchange for apartments in Munich and the rest of Germany.

Wohnungsbörse.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 Munich'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.

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