Moving to Berlin: Your Rental Contract
Let’s start with a congratulatory air five! If you’ve made it to a rental contract then you’ve probably hit the jackpot and found yourself a suitable flat. Go you! Before you start mentally decorating your new Wohnung, let’s make sure your future there will be as smooth and happy as possible; the foundation of which will be your rental contract.
What’s important now is to make sure that all the hard work you’ve put into the flat search pays off and that you end up with a complete, comprehensive and fair rental agreement. It is the basis of your security as a tenant and of the relationship with your landlord, so don’t just scribble your signature in a moment of celebration now that your search is over.
What should be covered in your rental contract?
First things first, here are the basics that should without doubt be included in your Mietvertrag (rental contract). If they ain’t there then it ain’t fair, so make sure and tick them off before proceeding any further.
- Duration of the rental agreement
- Rent amount — and what that includes and excludes
- Additional costs (heating, water, building maintenance etc)
- Deposit amount and information on the interest it will earn
- Redecoration requirements
- Inventory, if any furniture included
- The Übergabeprotokoll is a separate document noting the condition of the apartment upon your moving in.
- Obligations and rights of both tenant and landlord (e.g. notice period, pet policy etc)
- General house rules (this includes who is responsible for repairs, i.e. you, or your landlord)
Your Berlin rental contract – the specifics
Additional costs (Nebenkosten)
These are a very important part of your contract as they effectively raise your rent amount. If it you have found a place with a seemingly low Kaltmiete, be very careful when reading the contract regarding the Nebenkosten to ensure there isn’t anything suspect. If it states in the contract that they will change after the first year, make sure to clarify why and whether or not the reason is legitimate.
Costs like water, gas and electricity are generally paid monthly at a pre-agreed standard rate that should be stated in your contract. Meters are read yearly and you are then either refunded anything additional you have paid, or obliged to pay any outstanding amounts that haven’t already been covered.
Deposit Amount (Kaution)
The deposit system here is fairly standard; pay it when you move in and, all going well, you will be refunded it when you move out along with the interest it has earned. Naturally, the landlord has the right to withhold the money in order to cover the costs of any damages to the property that may have been incurred during your tenancy.
For your new home in Berlin, a landlord can legally charge you up to three months’ worth of basic rent or Kaltmiete as a deposit.
That said, they must also pay you any interest earned on your deposit during your rental period. For that reason, make sure that your deposit is being paid into a special separate account designed expressly for that purpose. That way, you know exactly where your money is, and your landlord cannot withhold it from you when the time comes. Keep in mind however, that legally, landlords have up to 6 months before they must return your deposit.
If you move into a flat that has been redecorated just before you arrive (that is to say freshly painted walls, etc.) then generally you will be obliged to redecorate it before you move out. That usually just means giving it a fresh coat of paint.
If you move into a flat that hasn’t been redecorated then you have no obligation to do anything to it before moving out. It is up to you if you want to redecorate once you have moved in but again you should be under no legal requirement to.
Make sure your contract sticks to that.
Inventory and/or Übergabeprotokoll
An inventory would be applicable in the case of a furnished apartment. Check that everything on the list is present in the apartment and check the condition the furniture is in. Take note, in writing, of any damage/marks/stains etc. so as to protect yourself from having to pay for these when you move out.
The Übergabeprotokoll is the same idea except about the actual rental property itself. Note any defects at all on walls, floors, and window frames etc, no matter how minor.
Both inspections should take place with the landlord present, at both the beginning and end of your tenancy, after which you should both sign off that (hopefully) the rental period has culminated without any defects or damage to the property.
Legally, the notice period for an open-ended contract is three months, on both the tenant and landlord side. Unless otherwise stated in your contract, that is the requirement. That being said however, the landlord must have, and be able to prove, a good reason to give notice, which you can object to.
When it comes to repairs look out for Kleine Reparaturen, or small repairs. These are small things that are generally expected to be fixed by the tenant, everyday things. Make sure that there is a cap on the amount you spend per year. The bigger jobs should be the landlord’s responsibility.
The rest of the building rules, like no noise after 10pm or particulars about rubbish disposal for example, may seem like trivial memos but remember that they do form a part of your actual rental contract and therefore can form grounds for cancellation of that contract if broken.
Though it may seem like a minor detail, it can be a costly one if you happen to lose them. Check that you have received the number of keys stated in your contract and make sure you return them all when you leave. If you lose your keys you will have to pay for locks to be changed and if one of those lost happens to be for the front entrance to the building then you will have to pay to replace all of your neighbours’ keys too. Not ideal.
Need help with your German rental contract?
Your rental contract can often be a fairly hefty document, and will more than likely be in German. Once signed by you and your landlord it is legally binding, so it is important that you read it thoroughly and understand exactly what it is you’re getting yourself into.
Don’t be intimidated. If possible, ask a German friend to read through it, they should be able to spot any glaring mistakes/warning signs. Alternatively, it’s a good idea to sign up to your local Mieterschutzverein or tenants’ association that can provide professional advice and support. By joining the association you are eligible for help in all aspects of your tenancy. They can represent you should any conflict with your landlord arise and as a member you should be covered by their legal insurance. You’ll need to have a little German to join the Mieterverein, or you can always bring your trusty German-speaking friend with you. By this stage, you really owe that person a beer!
If you are dealing with a property management company (Hausverwaltung) rather than directly with a landlord, it’s a good idea to look up reviews of the company itself. Some are much more reputable than others and it makes sense to put a little bit of research into the company you’re putting your faith into.