How rental laws work for tenants in Germany

Marle

Updated on Sep 03 • 5 minute read

The German rental laws seem to be a jungle full of rules and exemptions - and to be honest, it's not the wildest story you'll find yourself digging into when going to Germany as an expat.

Still, this topic of your tenant rights in Germany certainly isn't as dull as it seems and at the end of the day, it’s for having your very own home in Germany!

We'll walk you through the rental laws in Germany, explain your tenant rights in Germany and guide you through renting, tenancy agreements, and terminating rental contract in Germany. So, get ready to transform you into the top expert in tenancy rights in Germany!

Kaltmiete, Warmmiete, deposit: What’s it all about?

Looking at the descriptions of the accommodation, you'll quickly get the hang of it: there's a reference to Kaltmiete, Warmmiete, and a triple Kaution (deposit). What's it all about?

As the name suggests, Kaltmiete (cold rent) is the rent for the bare flat, i.e. without heating, electricity, or the internet. So, should you rent a flat with Kaltmiete, then this must be stated in the rental contract.

A flat is considered to be with Warmmiete if you can move into a warm home. All additional costs such as heating and electricity are included in the rent.

No matter whether it is Warm- or Kaltmiete: The rent must be paid by the first of each month.

Every time you rent accommodation in Germany, the landlord or landlady will ask you for a deposit as this is common practice in Germany. Here, the amount varies depending upon the landlord:

At times the deposit can be as little as one month's rent, but no more than three months' rent.

What your rental contract ought to cover

Splendid, you've already mastered the first hurdle: you’ve found your own home in Germany! But before you sign your rental contract, let's go through it step by step so that everything is as clear as crystal for you. The tenancy agreement between you and the landlord sets out all the details in written form - and with it, all rights and obligations of both parties. So before signing, make sure that your rights and obligations are clear to you and that there is nothing missing.

So, a rental contract should include the following aspects:

  • Details of the tenant and landlord: The first name, surname and full address must be given
  • Details of the rental object: The accommodation needs to be fully described
  • General information such as an address, location, floor
  • Rental conditions: Rent including bills (Warmiete) or excluding bills (Kaltmiete)
  • Utilities and operating costs (property tax, refuse charges, sewage)
  • Inventory (if the flat is furnished) (Pay attention here that if something is broken, it’s written down here)
  • The term, in which condition the flat must be handed back
  • Parking (if available)
  • Deposit amount
  • Rental start
  • Payments
  • Due date of payments
  • Bank details
  • Conditions under which the rent can be increased
  • House rules

So, before signing the contract, take a little time to read it carefully – and then feel free to sign it.

By the way: not too much can go wrong. Even if you sign a rental agreement, German tenancy law is pretty much in favor of the tenant. In other words, it gives you extra protection from the law!

How to terminate your rental contract in Germany

Luckily, a rental contract won't tie you to a home as tightly as if you'd bought it. Certainly a good deal for those that tend to be a little fickle.

In fact, if you'd like to terminate a rental contract in Germany, there are only one or two things you need to bear in mind. Sorry, but you can't move out from one day to the next, so you have to give three months' notice. The German Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch) stipulates the following:

"Notice of termination [by the tenant] is permissible at the latest on the third working day of a calendar month with effect from the end of the month after next.”

In other words: you have to submit the notice of termination by the third day of the month at the latest and can then move out in three months from that time. Say: If you give notice on 3 May, you will be out of the flat by 31 July (May, June, July).

To terminate your tenancy agreement, simply write a letter to the landlord and send it in written form and on paper (remember, don’t send it by e-mail, only a letter counts!). Explain the intention to terminate the lease (without giving specific reasons) and have it signed by the main tenant of the flat. Ta-da, you'll be out in three months!

Depending on the landlord, you can also speed up the process a bit by looking for a new tenant who can move in earlier. However, you’ll first have to agree on this with your landlord.

Handing over accommodation in Germany

Once you hold the keys to your home in your hand and take a tour around with the owner, you're almost set! All that's missing is the official handover of accommodation. At this point, you will review the inventory (especially in the case of furnished flats) and inspect and meticulously describe the state of the flat. Have a close look and write down whatever you notice.

Typically, you are allowed to alter most things in rental flats: from the colour of the walls to the shelves on the wall. However, you're expected to put everything back in its original state and paint the walls white when you move out. So, upon moving out, the landlord will - unless otherwise agreed - have the flat with white walls and thoroughly cleaned. Most rental agreements state this beforehand.

Know your tenant rights in Germany

Getting a grip on your tenant rights in Germany, in particular abroad, could easily prove to be challenging. And luckily, you don't need to fight for your tenant rights in Germany in most cases simply because most landlords play by the rules.

However, to be safe and sound, there are one or two tenant rights in Germany that might give you peace of mind.

1. Protection from eviction

As a tenant in Germany, you are under the protection of the law. This means you’re safe from sudden evictions and the like. Every tenant in Germany is protected by the legal notice of contract termination of at least 3 months. The longer you reside in the apartment, the longer the notice period becomes.

Additionally, your landlord can’t cancel your rental contract (Mietvertrag) without a legally valid reason (berechtigtes Interesse).

As a tenant, however, you can cancel an open ended rental contract at any time, as long as you give the landlord 3 months notice. The landlord does have the ability to start eviction proceedings if you don’t pay the rent for 2 or more months. So, if you’re having financial difficulties, make sure to talk to your landlord about it, to prevent that kind of escalation.

2. Making sure your rental deposit is returned

At the start of your tenancy, you pay a deposit (Kaution) to cover for any damages you might cause during your stay in the rental property. In order to prevent the landlord from pulling a fast one by blaming existing damages on your stay, you should schedule a walk-through with the landlord.

During this walk-through, you inspect the place for any scratches, damage, stains and any form of wear and tear that might already be there. Compile a list of any damages and make sure you take pictures. Make sure you get the landlord to sign the document and share the information with them as well.

Rent protection association (Mietschutzverein) guides you with German tenancy law

Should you get the feeling your landlord is not acting with fair means, you're lucky to find the Mietschutzverein (tenants' protection association), which stands by you with its expertise and expert knowledge for your tenancy rights in Germany.

Now, do you suspect that your tenancy agreement contains some odd clauses? Then you might want to check with the tenancy protection association. With their skilled sense of judgment, they can quickly spot any oddities in your tenancy agreement.

Once you’ve joined the Mietschutzverein and you're a member for a few weeks, legal costs arising from a dispute with your landlord will be covered. Of course, we keep our fingers crossed that you’ll never get into this situation!

Just about every city offers its own tenancy protection association. However, if you can't find one on Google, simply call the German Rental Association directly (0221/94077-0) or write an e-mail (info@mieterbund.de).

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