Unless you book a room in student halls, you should always try to view accommodation before signing a tenancy agreement.
- When arranging a viewing with a landlord or an agent, treat the first messages as formal business emails.
- Be punctual for the viewing.
- Put together a portfolio of documents about yourself that you can hand to the landlord or estate agent if you decide that you want to rent the flat. Bring it along to the viewing. The portfolio should include:
- A short letter of introduction / personal statement
- Evidence that you can afford the rent. For example, a credit report (Schufa report) if you have one, payslips, or confirmation that you have a Sperrkonto (if you have one for your visa) or that you receive Bafög (if applicable). For students, it is also common to include information about a guarantor or parent who agrees to cover the rent if the tenant runs out of money, along with information about the guarantor’s salary.
- A letter from your employer confirming your employment, or a student status letter from the university
- You can include a photo of yourself
- Asking questions about the property can show your level of interest.
- If you have not yet arrived in Passau, you can suggest arranging a video call to do the viewing virtually. This is not uncommon for student house shares. Alternatively, if you know someone in Passau, you could ask them to represent you at property viewings.
If you rent your room through an estate agent, some may charge a commission. However, since a law change in 2015, they can only legally do this if you instruct the agent to search for accommodation on your behalf. If you contact them about a flat that they have advertised, this should not incur a commission.
If you do hire an estate agent to find accommodation for you, they can charge up to two months' rent (plus Value Added Tax) for the service once you sign a tenancy agreement.
Before you sign a contract, make sure you understand it. Here's a check list of questions to ask yourself:
- Will you be paying a rent including utility costs (Warmmiete) or without utility costs (Kaltmiete)? Which, if any, utilities are included?
- What additional costs will you be charged for? (See the "Additional costs" section below for more information)
- Are you renting the flat furnished or unfurnished? If a previous tenant still lives there when you look around, find out which furniture (if any) is part of the flat, and which items they will take with them when they move out.
- Does the landlord require you to buy furnishings that have been left in the flat by a previous tenant? Do they require you to pay for upgrades that have been made to the property recently? (The terms to look & listen out for are "Ablöse" or "Ablösezahlungen" or "Abstandszahlung")
- Does the contract require you to repaint the walls and/or do specific maintenance on the property at regular intervals?
- Check very carefully what costs are involved before signing the lease or rental contract.
Check the European Consumer Centre Germany website for advice about renting in Germany.
Usually the landlord requests a deposit of up to three months' rent. The money should be repaid to you after the end of your tenancy. When you move out, the landlord will deduct the cost of any necessary repairs from the deposit and pay back the remaining amount. Please see exact rules in your contract. If you have left the flat in good condition, the whole amount should be returned to you back in full.
A second way to offer security to landlords is the nomination of one or more guarantors, who sign a certificate promising to cover debts towards the landlord that the tenant might incur.
If your landlord asks for both a deposit and nominated guarantors, then the total security for the landlord still does not exceed three months' rent. In other words, if problems arise, the guarantors are only liable for the difference between the deposit the landlord has collected and three months' rent. (Of course, the tenant themself is liable for any financial damage exceeding three months' rent).
However, if you offer to nominate a guarantor of your own volition (without being asked to do so by the landlord), then there is no limit to the financial liability your guarantors can be held responsible for.
In addition to the rent, several additional costs can be attached to a tenancy. These are commonly referred to as "Nebenkosten". You should ask the landlord about these before signing a contract. How things are handled varies from landlord to landlord: some set the rent at a higher level and simply deal with all the Nebenkosten themselves. Others set the rent at a lower level but put a list of Nebenkosten into the tenancy agreement, which are then charged on top of the rent.
Nebenkosten can include:
- Utility bills (gas, heating, electricity, water & sewage)
- Building maintenance and caretaking
- Maintenance of garden and grounds
- Property taxes
- Insurance costs
- Council services (e.g. waste collection and street cleaning)
- Utility bills and maintenance for the common areas (e.g. stairwells, common rooms, shared washing machines etc.)
- Elevator costs (electricity and servicing)
- Cable TV connection
- Snow clearance
- Car parking spaces or garage costs
Besides the regular Nebenkosten, some other expenses sometimes arise:
At the start of the tenancy, your landlord may require you to make a one-off payment that is separate from the security deposit. Unlike the deposit, the one-off payment will not be refunded in full when you move out.
There are several different types of one-off payment. However, in common use, the words are often used interchangeably, so if you hear any of these expressions, ask for clarification what exactly the landlord means.
- Ablöse / Ablösesumme / Ablösezahlung: If a tenant invests in a property, they can under certain circumstances pass on some of these expenses. It's quite common for departing tenants to make an arrangement with incoming tenants that furniture, fitted kitchens, washing machine and other items stay in the flat. Essentially, the new tenant is asked to buy things from the previous tenant. In such cases, get an itemised list of the things and inspect each thing closely before agreeing. There may be room for negotiation on the price, so try to get an idea of how much it would cost you to buy equivalent items yourself. When you move out yourself, you can then try to negotiate an Ablösesumme with the next tenant (but due to wear and tear, you'll probably get less money than you yourself had to pay at the start). A note on language: in common use, the word "Abstandszahlung" is sometimes used interchangeably with "Ablösesumme" even though the two are technically different things.
- Abstand / Abstandsforderung: When a property is still occupied by a previous tenant, sometimes an offer is made that they could move out early (before the end of their own contract) so the new tenant can move in sooner. In such cases, they might ask for an "Abstand" payment to incentivise this. This is where things get complicated: legally, they must not ask for a simple incentive payment. However, they are allowed to ask you to cover or subsidise their moving costs, and if you agree to do so, they will have to present you with a bill from the removals company.
- Abschlagszahlung: Landlords can ask you to pay one-off or regular advances for the Nebenkosten. The landlord should then periodically compare the advances you paid with the total bills, after which they may ask you to cover the difference if that is agreed in your contract. You are of course entitled to ask for an itemised list and proof of the Nebenkosten that have been incurred. Legally, the advances should be set at a value that has to be below the expected total Nebenkosten. Therefore, you may get additional bills when the landlord compares the advances paid with the costs incurred, but there should never be a scenario where you get partial refunds after overpaying.
Modernisation costs & rent increases
Property owners sometimes make upgrades to rented properties while tenants live there. They can transfer a proportion of the costs of these upgrades to the tenants by increasing the rent afterwards. They must notify tenants three months in advance before carrying out such refurbishment work.
Your landlord may require you to take out insurance. The following types of insurance are relevant in this case:
- Haftpflichtversicherung - liability insurance: this insurance covers damages that you do inadvertently to other people's property.
- Hausratsversicherung - contents insurance: this insurance covers your own property against loss or damage.
There are some important things to be aware of when you move in:
- You should do a complete inventory ("Übergabeprotokoll" or "Transferprotokoll") with the landlord and record any pre-existing damages or flaws in the property.
- You should record the numbers on the electricity and gas meters on the day you move in and report them to your suppliers as soon as possible thereafter
- You must get a "Wohnungsgeberbescheinigung" filled in and signed by your landlord. You need this to register with the local government – something every person living in Germany must do. If your new home is in the city of Passau, see Passau's local government web page about Anmeldung for the paperwork & office hours.
- Check our page about German laws & everyday life to avoid any unexpected problems
Some tenancy agreements for shared flats and houses name a primary tenant, who has a direct contract with the landlord, while the housemates are sub-tenants of the primary tenant. Those are regular, long-term sub-letting arrangements.
Short-term sub-lets are also popular, and they are one of the common ways to rent a furnished flat in university towns. Tenants who leave their apartments or rooms for a few months or more, but who expect to return, sometimes arrange to sub-let their accommodation. Similarly, tenants who decide to move out within the fixed term of their contract sometimes sub-let their accommodation.
Be aware that sub-letting is not an automatic right. Many tenancy agreements explicitly forbid sub-letting, so you need to be sure that you don't break your contract if you do want to sub-let a flat.
In house shares that are contractually organised into primary and secondary tenants, people don't need permission from the landlord before sub-letting their rooms. However, it's advisable to always inform the landlord of such intentions to avoid conflict.
Tenants who rent a whole apartment or room directly from their landlord may only sub-let their accommodation with the explicit permission of the landlord. Even if the tenancy agreement explicitly forbids sub-letting, landlords can in some cases be convinced to permit their tenants to sub-let.
Some useful things to know:
- The rental income earned through sub-letting is subject to income tax. However, it is the profit that is being taxed, not the total rental income. Therefore, those offering sub-lets must list the rental income (from the secondary tenant) and the expenses incurred (their own rent & payments to the landlord) in their tax declarations.
- When a primary tenant sub-lets their property, all the responsibilities towards the landlord must be passed on to the secondary tenant. However, from the landlord's perspective, the primary tenant remains the liable person.
- It's advisable to do a complete transfer protocol / inventory when sub-letting
- Similarly, it's advisable for primary tenants to charge secondary tenants a security deposit. Like all security deposits, this has to be kept in separate accounts from the primary tenant's own money and returned after the end of the sub-let.
If you have a question about housing or tenancy agreements, these people and services can advise you:
- Students: the social counselling service offered by the Studentenwerk can advise you and if necessary refer you to a tenants' association.
- International students in the Faculty of Computer Science and Mathematics: the International Student Assistants can help you with housing questions.
- International staff and researchers: the Welcome Centre can assist you.
- For conflicts about a sum larger than 3000 Euro, students can contact the Civil Law Advice Clinic to receive advice. (German website)