How to Rent a Flat in Germany
Published on April 20, 2020 / Updated on January 12, 2024
Are you moving to Germany and need help with renting a flat? The process can be quite chaotic in the beginning for expats, especially for those that don’t speak German.
As an expat that moved to Germany from the US, Adriana can definitely say the process is pretty different, so she recommends learning German early on to help make things easier.
Even if you haven’t yet moved to Germany, it’s a good idea to still start searching for the locations you’d like to live and determine what your price ranges are. That’ll help you narrow things down when you arrive and start viewing different flats in person. It’s pretty common to take up to 6 months to find the right flat in major cities like Hamburg and Berlin, because there is so much demand. This is particularly true if you’re searching for your own flat instead of shared living (Wohngemeinschaft or WG for short).
There are four main websites that are commonly used for finding flats in Germany:
I recommend using these sites, because you know the majority of listings are authentic. It’s also a good idea to start learning German as soon as possible to help you navigate these sites, as well as for any further communication with your potential landlord.
Important note: if the listing sounds too good to be true or they ask you to pay in advance to view the flat, because the owner is out of town or some weird excuse, run like the wind! It’s absolutely a scam! I know from experience, because I nearly fell victim to one of these scams, and for other new expats, they’ve also lost out on a bunch of money, because they didn’t know how the system worked. So, never pay in advance to view anything!
Although it’s annoying and takes time, it’s worthwhile to fill in your profiles on these websites, because landlords do look at them to check whether you fit their criteria. Because the demand is so high for flats in Germany, they can use any small reason to reject your application.
One of the most important pieces of information you’ll need to apply for your flat is your credit report, otherwise known as SCHUFA-BonitätsCheck. Even when you’re brand new to Germany and have no credit history here, you still need to provide this information for any flat applications. The credit report from your home country is never applicable, because that is only for that country.
I recommend getting your SCHUFA online such as through immowelt, and then you can download and print it within just a few minutes. It usually costs around 30 EUR. I do recommend getting the paid version instead of free ones, because then you know it’s a complete, accurate document.
When you’re comparing flats, there are a few things you need to consider such as the minimum time for renting (Mindestmietzeit), whether your contract is limited (befristet) or not (unbefristet), the condition of the electricity (Energieausweis), and the deposit amount (Kaution). To make one important note on electricity, definitely avoid renting a flat that uses Nachtspeicherheizung (a type of stored heating that takes ages to heat up), because it’s insanely expensive, complicated to use, and also smells weird.
In addition to the credit report, most landlords will require an additional application document that outlines your financial history and relationship status (single or married etc). If you are an employee, then you can use your monthly salary documentation here to prove your income. If you are a freelancer, you’ll need something called an Einkommensteuerbescheid (income certification) from your tax advisor. If you haven’t worked in Germany before, either your employer or tax advisor can help you with these documents.
Furthermore, take these application documents to all of your viewing appointments. Don’t wait for the landlord to ask, because you’ll end up missing out. Find the person responsible for renting the flat at the viewing and turn the application documents in directly in person.
Once you apply to view a flat, you need to begin following up. When you apply using these websites, it’s often the case that you don’t hear back from them. What I recommend is scrolling down to the bottom of the listing and calling the responsible rental company and asking for a viewing appointment (Besichtigungstermin) directly there. This way, your name stands out from the hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of applications they get for a single flat.
This was exactly what got me my flat in Hamburg. I went to a viewing appointment, turned in my documents in person to the landlord, and then followed up with that contact every day about the status of the flat until they finally gave me it. It’s seriously no joke that flat listings are rented out in mere minutes and 50+ show up to the viewing appointment, so if you want to find a flat in the bigger cities in Germany, you have to be determined. Furthermore, the more of this process you can handle in German the better, because you’ll be that much more likely to be accepted.
After you’ve been chosen for a flat, you then need to do a pre-check (Übergabeprotokoll) to note all the conditions of your flat (such as prior damages) so you aren’t held responsible for them later on. You do this by meeting your landlord at your flat and then looking over everything carefully and noting it down. You’ll also receive updated counts for your electricity and water that you’ll need to sign up for your contracts for those later on.
Once the pre-check is done and you’ve agreed on a move-in date, you’ll then set an appointment to sign your rental agreement. In most cases, the contract is entirely in German, so I definitely recommend improving your German language skills so you understand what you’re signing. Then you’re free to move in!