How can I find a flat in Germany?
Housing expenses have been rising sharply in Germany in recent years, and living space is becoming increasingly scarce, particularly in larger cities. The situation is better in smaller cities or rural areas, but finding an affordable flat may be a challenge even outside the large cities. The tips and information which follows will facilitate your flat-hunting, and considering them can lead to a better result.
What do I need to know?
Landlords usually require various documents from people who apply for a flat. Without these documents, in principle, you do not have any chance of finding a flat. The following documents are usually required:
- Tenant's personal information ("Mieterselbstauskunft"), including your name, your contact details (phone number and e-mail), your job title, your current address, etc. Many landlords and property management companies have their own specific personal information forms, which is usually distributed before or during the flat viewing. The applicants usually fill out the form on site and give it back to the company's agent. You can find a sample personal information form ("Mieterselbstauskunft") on www.wohnungsboerse.net.
- A copy of your Schufa credit report. You can learn more about this report in our chapter "Schufa".
- Proof(s) of income from the last three months (for employees) or your most recent tax assessment (for the self-employed). If you receive support from the Social Welfare Office or Jobcentre, you also need a copy of the respective office's confirmation that they will cover the rental costs. You can obtain this confirmation from the staff member responsible for you at the Social Welfare Office or the Job Centre.
- Proof of Rent Payment Certificate ("Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung"). On this certificate, your current landlord confirms that you have always paid your rent and there are no arrears to be paid. If you are still living in a refugee accommodation centre, the centre management or the staff responsible for you in the relevant Office can prepare you a Rent Payment Certificate.
- A copy of your passport and residence documents.
- If applicable, a copy of your WBS; i.e. a document certifying your eligibility for rent subsidised housing. You can find out more in this regard in our chapter "WBS".
You must prepare these documents both in print in a folder and as a PDF file to be sent by e-mail. Some landlords expect the documents to be handed directly during the flat viewing - others may ask you to submit your papers by e-mail. In the latter case, send the necessary documents to the specified address as quickly as possible, as landlords usually prefer to pick the first tenant who meets the requirements.
Tip: You can increase your chances by adding a cover letter to your application- in this letter you can briefly introduce yourself and your family, explain your life situation in Germany and describe your plans for the future (e.g. you will soon start vocational training or a university degree). If you do not speak German well enough yet, it is advisable to give the contact details of a German-speaking friend for further pre-contractual communication. Many landlords are concerned that they may not be able to communicate with their non-German tenants in case of a problem; that is why a German-speaking friend or acquaintance can be quite helpful.
Some newspapers and magazines still publish housing ads, but internet ads exceed them in number by far, so the best place to start your search is online.
On housing websites, you can specify the rent range, location and other features of the flat you are searching for and then go through the details of your search result one by one. Many websites also offer you the opportunity to set up an alarm, by which the website would automatically send you a message anytime an apartment matching your search terms is added to their database. On websites like eBay Kleinanzeigen, Immobilienscout24 and Immonet, you can find numerous ads and search for what suits your needs. If you are looking for a room in a shared flat, WG-gesucht is one of the websites you can check. When you are looking for a room in a shared flat, it is worthwhile to take a look at the pin boards in the universities and search local Facebook groups for a suitable room. Alternatively, you can post what you are searching for on these platforms, so others can find you.
Online ads often include images of the place and all necessary information, including rent, utility costs, the date you can move in, and the preferred channels of communication with the landlord. In principle, the landlords expect the applicants to send them a message via the housing website or an email. Write a few short sentences about yourself in this email or message and ask for a flat viewing appointment (“Besichtigungstermin”). You must read the description in each posting carefully and contact the landlord for further questions. Some landlords publish their phone number in the ad, and some prefer communication through message and email. Keep in mind that you should be quick to react when you find a place that fits your needs, as a suitable tenant is often selected pretty fast and the ad vanishes from the internet in no time.
In some cities, there are organisations which provide help for individuals who are searching for a flat. Counselling centres for Adult Migrants as well as the Youth Migration Service in your area can give you the addresses of meeting places and clubs nearby. Friends and acquaintances can be of great help - ask them if they can help you in your search. They may know someone who is renting a flat or looking for a new tenant who can substitute for them. The more people know about your search, the higher your chances of ending up with a nice flat.
You can also hire a broker to find you a flat, but make sure you choose a reliable one. You must only pay a broker if you have successfully signed a contract for the flat he has found. A broker usually charges you the equal amount of two rents plus the VAT (“Mehrwertsteuer”) for their service.
As the number of people in looking for flats is constantly on the rise, many are in urgent need of a flat- and this is a situation the fraudsters misuse to benefit. That is why you should be cautious during your search, mainly when an opportunity seems “too good to be true”, in particular, when a flat is too cheap or in cases where the other party demands you to transfer the money beforehand and promises to send you the keys later. The same is the case when you are asked to pay the deposit in cash on the flat viewing day. Important: Remember, you should never pay before signing an actual rental contract and receiving the keys to the flat.
If you have decided to hire a property management agents to find you a flat, make sure you never pay unless the amount of your payment and its purpose is explicitly clarified in a written agreement. The payment should take place when they have successfully found you a flat. Make sure the property management agent you have found is legitimate - some fraudsters would introduce themselves as a property management agent, take your money but cut contact afterwards.
If you receive financial support from the Social Welfare Office or Job Centre, you have to notify them before you start looking for a flat. The Social Welfare Office and Job Centre cover the rental costs up to a certain amount and only if certain conditions are met. So in the first step, you must ask your administrative assistant to endorse your flat-hunting by a written confirmation.
Your administrative assistant can also tell you how high the rent may be and what other conditions there are to fulfil. The permitted amount of rental costs vary from city to city and depends on several factors, including the type of heating and the size of the building. The flat you find must not exceed the designated size range. Also, keep in mind that the Social Welfare Office and the Job Centre usually reject fixed-term rental offers as well as rental offers with graduated rent. Make sure you inquire about the conditions that apply to you before starting the search.
Once you have the agreement of a landlord, ask them to issue you a rental offer ("Mietangebot ). On this rental offer, all pertinent information regarding the flat as well as the phone number of the landlord must be specified. Many offices have specific rental offer forms that you can hand over to the landlord to fill out - you can ask your administrative assistant for such a form. After your potential landlord handed you the filled rental offer, you have to take this document to your administrative assistant as soon as possible, so that he or she can check the rental offer and confirm that they will take over the rental costs. After receiving the written confirmation of the reimbursement ("Bestätigung der Kostenübernahme"), you can officially sign the rental contract with your landlord.
If you earn little or no money, you are entitled to social housing. Social housing refers to flats which are cheaper than others because the state subsidises them. To rent such a flat, you need a certificate of eligibility for subsidised rental housing ("Wohnberechtigungsschein" or WBS) from the competent office in the city or town you live. The WBS proves that your income is below a certain limit. You must show the WBS to your potential landlord during the flat viewing session.
You can find more detailed information in our chapter WBS.
In a "Wohngemeinschaft" or WG, several persons share a flat. In most WGs everyone has their own room, but the bathroom and kitchen are shared. Finding a room in a shared flat usually is somewhat easier than finding your own flat, because you do not have to convince a landlord, but only the member(s) of the flat share. Furthermore, a room is cheaper than a whole flat.
If you receive financial support from the Job Centre or Social Welfare Office, you will need to submit to the Office both your sublease agreement and the primary tenant's rental contract. Many administrative assistants also want to see a confirmation from the landlord which proves the primary tenant is allowed to sublet the room.
- Be punctual!
- Choose the right outfit for the day.
- Treat other interested people respectfully.
- If there is a large group of applicants, try to directly talk to the landlord and make a good impression. Inquire, for example about the nearest school or express how much you like the flowers in the backyard. Try not to bring up tricky topics such as renovation work.
- Prepare your folder with all the necessary documents beforehand.
- Read the contract carefully before signing it. If you cannot speak German very well yet, ask a friend who is more proficient to accompany you and read you the contract.
- When the flat is handed over to you, have all the already existing issues and damages documented by taking photos. Otherwise, you will be held responsible for any problem or damage in the flat when you move out.
- Usually, you will be required to pay a security deposit directly after signing the contract. The landlord may demand a maximum of three months' rent as deposit, which you may pay in three monthly instalments. If you do not cause any damage to the flat, your landlord must repay you the deposit (with interest) when you move out at the end of your contract.
- It is necessary to register your new place of residence as soon as you move in. To do so, contact the registration authorities (“Bürgeramt” or “Einwohnermeldeamt”) nearby. You can learn more about the process in our “Registration” chapter. In some cities, presenting the contract is sufficient - in others, you will need to provide a so-called "Confirmation of Residence" or "Wohnungsgeberbescheinigung" in which the landlord confirms you have moved in.
- Notify the Immigration Office of your new address as soon as possible. If your asylum procedure is still ongoing, you must also immediately notify the BAMF of your new address, otherwise, you may miss some critical letters.
- Inform all other authorities you are dealing with (e.g. the Job Centre, Social Welfare Office and Tax Office), your bank and your insurance company about your new address.
- To make sure that you do not miss any letters, you can send a forwarding order to Deutsche Post and Pin Mail AG for a certain period of time. Keep in mind that you have to pay for this service.
- You must register with an electricity supplier company. In principle, the electricity is not included in the total rent ("Warmmiete"), so you have to pay for it separately. When you register, the electricity company will ask you for the flat's current power meter reading. You can find this digit on the handover protocol which you have received from the landlord or property manager agent at the start of your rental contract. Read more about this topic in our chapter "Housing".
- Each household is obliged to make contributions to the German public broadcasting. After you register your new place of residence, you will automatically receive a letter from the Department of Contributions at the German public broadcasting concerning your monthly contributions. You can read more in this regard in our chapter "Licence Fee for Public Broadcasting".
When it comes to housing for asylum seekers, recognised refugees, asylum seekers and persons with subsidiary protection, a national ban on deportation or a tolerated stay ("Duldung"), some special rules and regulations apply. As a member of one of the groups mentioned above, you can only move to an apartment or another city after a certain period, and in some cases, you are not allowed to do so at all. Here you learn about the rules and regulations which apply to your housing situation based on the type of residence status you have.
What should I consider regarding housing as a refugee?
Whether you can move (from shared facilities) to a flat depends on your residence status.
- I have been recognized as an individual entitled to asylum, refugee protection or subsidiary protection: You have the right to move in to a private flat.
- I am an asylum seeker: Whether you are allowed to move to a flat as an asylum seeker depends on your country of origin, the period you have already been in Germany and the local regulations in your federal state of residence. In principle, asylum seekers must live in an initial reception centre between (at least) six weeks to a maximum of 24 months, i.e. during this period, you are not permitted to move into a flat. Please note: Asylum seekers from the so-called "safe countries of origin" must live in the initial reception centres for the entire duration of their asylum procedure or, in case of rejection, until their departure or deportation from Germany. You can learn more in our chapter “Safe Countries of Origin”.
- I have a tolerated stay permit ("Duldung"): In principle, an individual with a tolerated stay ("Duldung") is not allowed to move to a flat and should live in shared accommodations provided by the state. This general rule is also specified on your tolerated stay document ("Duldung") as a requirement. In some districts, however, there are only few places available in accommodation centres. In this case, either the officials will permit you to search for a flat, or they will allocate you one. If you are obliged to live in a shared accommodation facility, you can try and apply for an exemption from this requirement at the Immigration Office. Furthermore, you must apply to the Social Welfare Office so that they take over your rental costs. The authorities may accept your request, but they may also refuse it. In general, your chances are rather low if you do not have valid reasons for the exemption, e.g. mental or physical illnesses. You can seek advice from a counselling centre or a lawyer in advance. For instance, you can find help at Pro Asyl. Their staff speak German and English and can be reached at +49 (0) 69-242 314 20 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note: If you earn your income through your own work and live in a shared accommodation facility, you may be demanded to pay a high rent for your spot from your wages.
Whether you can move to another city or municipality depends on your residence status:
- The asylum seekers, recognised refugees and individuals entitled to subsidiary protection who receive social benefits from the Social Welfare Office or Job Center, usually have to reside in the federal state in which they have gone through their asylum procedure for three years. The federal states can also introduce additional regulations which require you, for instance, to remain in the district in which you were residing during your asylum procedure. These residence regulations (“Wohnsitzzuweisung”), however, are disputed. If you have valid reasons for moving to another district, you can submit an "application for cancellation of the residence assignment" („Antrag auf Aufhebung der Wohnsitzzuweisung“) per §12a (5) sentence 2c Residence Act to the Immigration Office currently responsible for you and the Immigration Office in your destination city. Ask for advice from a counselling centre nearby in advance. You can, for instance, seek help from Pro Asyl. Their staff speak German and English and are accessible at +49 (0) 69-242 314 20 and email@example.com.
- Asylum seekers and those with a tolerated stay permit (i.e. "Duldung") usually have to stay in the district to which they have been distributed at the very beginning (when applying for asylum). You can only move when you earn a living through your own work and do not depend on social benefits from the state. . Those who rely on financial support from the Social Welfare Office have a slimmer chance of being permitted to move to another district or city. In principle, the Immigration Office will agree with your move out if, for instance, you are very ill and cannot find a specialised doctor in your town, or in case you need to look after a sick family member in another city. You have to justify your reasons by proper attestations. Seek advice from a counselling centre or a lawyer in advance. You can, for instance, reach out to Pro Asyl for support. Their staff speak German and English and can be reached at +49 (0) 69-242 314 20 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Never pay before signing a contract. If you do not fully understand the contract in German, ask a friend to explain it to you. Make sure that you agree to all terms and conditions specified before putting your signature under any document.