You guide to German rental laws and tenant rights

Marle

Updated on Sep 03 • 7 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.

However, as dull as it might sound, the topic of tenant rights in Germany is pretty important. It’ll surely make your search for a new home in Germany easier and make you more confident when signing a rental contract.

So bear with us as we walk you through the rental laws in Germany, explain your tenant rights in Germany and guide you through renting, tenancy agreements, and terminating rental contracts 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 already included in the rent.

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

Want to know more about service costs in Germany? Head over to our guide!

Every time you rent accommodation in Germany, the landlord will ask you for a deposit as this is common practice in Germany. The amount varies depending on the landlord. At times the deposit can be as little as one month's rent, but no more than three months' rent.

Types of rental agreements in Germany

You’ll come across two major types of rental agreements in Germany; indefinite (unbefristet) and fixed-term (befristet).

In either case, keep in mind that minimum rental periods in Germany can be lengthy. Most of the German landlords will demand an initial lease period of 2 years.

Indefinite rental agreement

Indefinite rental agreements in Germany have no termination date. That means that tenants can end their lease by providing a notice. However a landlord can only terminate a rental contract under specific circumstances.

Fixed term rental agreement

Fixed term rental agreements in Germany have move-in and move-out dates outlined in the contract. Neither party is obliged to renew the lease agreement after its expiration. You’ll often come across such agreements when looking for student accommodation in Germany.

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.

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.

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): make sure that if something is broken, it’s written down here during the inspection
  • The term in which condition the flat must be handed back
  • Parking (if available)
  • Deposit amount
  • Rental start
  • Rental 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 favour of the tenant. In other words, it gives you extra protection from the law!

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), 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 hanging on them. However, you're expected to put everything back in its original state 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.

Registering your address in Germany

Once you found your dream house in Germany, it’s important that you register your new address within 14 days. Make sure you bring your filled registration form, identity document, rental agreement and a proof of residence certificate.

Rent Increase in Germany

As you saw above, a rental contract often has a clause that specifies the terms for the potential rent increase. But be mindful that German rental law states that the landlord can’t increase rental prices within the first 12 months.

The landlord is allowed however to increase the rent up to 15% within a 3 year period. But this increase should be justified. In fact, the tenant can refuse to pay the increased amount if they think the landlord is asking too much.

Your local tenant association is usually the right place to look for information about rental statistics in your area which you can base your decision on.

Terminating 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.

But keep in mind that to be able to terminate your German rental contract you have to comply with a three months notice period, unless your contract states otherwise.

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 email, only a letter counts!). Explain the intention to terminate the lease (without giving specific reasons) and get 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.

Know your tenant rights in Germany

Getting a grip on your tenant rights in Germany 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 a few important tenant rights in Germany that you should know.

1. Protection from eviction in Germany

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. If you reside in your flat for 5 - 8 years, your landlord has to give you a 6-month notice, and for any period longer than that - a 9-month notice.

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. Return of deposit in Germany

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 the landlord signs the document with all the information in it.

To prevent paying for damages to your apartment and furniture made during your lease, we advise you to take up liability insurance.

3. Rent reduction and withholding in Germany

If there’s a critical malfunctioning or defect in your apartment, you are allowed to reduce your rent to compensate for the inconvenience. You can do that single-handedly and a court approval isn’t necessary. As long as the rent decrease is small and proportionate to the problem it should be approved without dispute.

To initiate this process, simply inform your landlord about the problem in writing and allow for adequate time to fix it. If your landlord doesn’t take any action, you’re allowed to decrease your rent or withhold it completely if the problem critically affects your life.

However, before deciding to reduce or withhold your rent in Germany, we recommend first seeking advice from your local Tenant Association, or the Centre for Consumer Protection in Europe.

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

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

Now, do you suspect that your tenancy agreement contains some odd clauses? That’s one of the reasons you might want to reach out to the tenancy protection association. With their skilled sense of judgement, 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 email (info@mieterbund.de).

On a last note, we recommend you use a reliable rental platform when looking for your new home abroad.

In HousingAnywhere, we know all about the struggles expats face when navigating unfamiliar waters. And whatever destination in Germany you choose, we make sure your relocation goes as smoothly as possible!

Good luck in your search!

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