Rental contracts & Housing rights in Germany

Rental contracts & Housing rights in Germany

Rental contracts in Germany, in principle, favour the tenant. However, there are a number of points that need to be considered before anything is signed, as the rights and obligations set out in a rental contract are legally binding.

Types of rental contracts in Germany

Although they vary in length, tenancy agreements (Mietverträge) in Germany usually follow a standard form that is the same for all different housing types. This means they often contain provisions that do not necessarily apply to your specific situation. Before signing, you should read your contract carefully to make sure you understand all of its terms. 

Although oral agreements are, in principle, legally binding, they are much harder to prove. It is therefore wise to conclude a tenancy agreement in writing in case any disagreements arise.

There are two types of tenancy agreements in Germany: fixed-term (befristet) and indefinite (unbefristet).

Fixed-term (befristet) rental contracts

A fixed-term contract specifies a move-in and move-out date. It is not necessarily renewed upon its expiry. You will commonly come across these in student housing, where a room is let only for the duration of the academic year, or term. 

Indefinite (unbefristet) rental contracts

An indefinite contract has no end date. Tenants have the right to end indefinite contracts by providing notice, whereas landlords are fairly restricted and cannot terminate indefinite contracts without good reason (see below).

Rental contract checklist

Before you sign your rental contract, check it over to make sure it includes the following:

  • Your landlord’s name and full address
  • Address and description of the property
  • Start and end dates (if applicable)
  • Agreed monthly rent and method of payment
  • Deposit
  • Additional costs and / or utilities (e.g. energy (gas and electricity), water, internet, phone)
  • Specific house rules, relating e.g. to smoking, pets, subletting rooms, structural changes and redecoration
  • Landlord’s duties, with regards to maintenance and repairs
  • Notice period for terminating the contract
  • Inventory list (if the apartment is furnished)
  • Notice about any rent increases, e.g. “stepped rent” (Staffelmiete - see below)

What is included in the rent in Germany?

Your rental contract will set out exactly how much rent you are expected to pay. It will usually specify a payment date and a preferred method of payment. The most common way of paying your rent is by transferring it to your landlord’s bank account.

Utilities (Nebenkosten)

Your rent will either be “cold” (Kaltmiete - rent only) or “warm” (Warmmiete - including service costs for the building and sometimes utilities (Nebenkosten) such as gas, electricity, service costs, internet and phone bills). Make sure you understand what is and is not included, to avoid any unexpected costs in future.

Rent increases & Stepped rent (Staffelmiete)

Your tenancy agreement will also lay out any provision for future rent increases. Legally, your landlord cannot increase your rent within the first 12 months of your tenancy contract, or by more than 20% (15% in some federal states) over a three-year period.

Some landlords, therefore, charge “stepped rent” (Staffelmiete), that increases gradually over time.  A schedule for any rent increases will be included in your tenancy agreement. It is worth noting that, if your landlord charges you stepped rent, additional rent increases are not permitted.

Deposit (Kaution)

Renters usually have to pay a security deposit before moving in, to protect the landlord against any damage or non-payment of rent. The exact amount will be specified in your tenancy agreement, but it legally cannot exceed three months’ rent.

The landlord is obliged to keep your deposit separate from their other assets, for example by putting it in a special savings account. At the end of your tenancy, your landlord must pay back the deposit, plus any interest accrued in the meantime.

Rent deposit insurance

Ideal if you're a student and a bit strapped for cash, a rent deposit insurance scheme is a kind of guarantee set up between you and an insurance company or bank. Instead of paying a deposit, you pay a yearly subscription fee to the insurance provider. In return, the company becomes liable for the deposit required by the landlord. Kautionsklasse offers this service in Germany.

Registering your address in Germany

Once you have found a room, flat or house in Germany, one of the first things you need to do is register your address at your local citizens' office (Bürgeramt). Up until 2015, you were able to do this with just your signed rental contract. Following a change in the law, however, you must provide a separate document called a proof of residence certificate (Wohnungsgeberbestätigung) in order to register. 

Don't forget that if you change your address in Germany, you will need to re-register. 

Ending your tenancy in Germany

Germany protects renters’ rights and it is very difficult for landlords to terminate a tenancy.  Your contract can only be terminated on certain grounds, such as:

  • Your landlord demonstrably requires the property for their own use (i.e. they want to sell the house or move in themselves).
  • You repeatedly fail to pay rent on time.
  • You use the property in a way that violates the tenancy agreement, such as subletting rooms without permission or keeping pets there.
  • You engage in anti-social behaviour.

If your landlord has terminated your tenancy and you are unsure whether it is lawful, it would be wise to seek the advice of a lawyer or your local rent association (see below).

Notice for ending tenancy

Even if the grounds for terminating the tenancy are legal, a minimum notice period applies. Different periods apply to landlords and tenants.

Tenant’s notice

Tenants can end a tenancy by giving three months’ notice, in writing. The same notice period applies, no matter whether you have lived in the property for three months or thirty years, unless a shorter or longer notice period was stipulated in your tenancy agreement.

Landlord’s notice

The amount of notice a landlord is required to give depends on how long the tenant has been living in the property:

Length of time in property Minimum notice period
0 - 5 years 3 months
5 - 8 years 6 months
8+ years 9 months

This minimum notice period only applies if the landlord wishes to turn the property over to personal use. If you have violated your rental contract by failing to pay rent or subletting, the landlord is entitled to terminate the contract without notice. You have the right, however, to protest against the termination and the matter may be taken to court.

German tenants’ associations (Mietvereine)

Most German cities and towns will have a local tenants’ association (Mietverein or Mietschutzbund) that will be able to help you on all matters housing-related, including legal advice and negotiating with landlords. If you have any concerns, it might be worth consulting with your local branch. Most tenants’ associations will charge a fee for their services, or require you to become a member first.

What to do if you have a disagreement with your landlord

If you experience any problems with your landlord, for example, if they are failing to fix something or being unresponsive, you could take some of the following steps:

  • Submit a complaint to your landlord in writing.
  • Consult with your local tenants’ association to have them intervene on your behalf.
  • Contact a lawyer.

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