Signing Your First Rental Contract in Germany: 8 Things You Should Not Ignore!

Renting an apartment is probably one of the biggest adult responsibilities you will take up during your living abroad experience. A space to yourself, one that you come back to after work or school, one that you will host parties in and cook for your friends and family, and one that will see your best and worst days. 

As romantic as it sounds, there are a few things you need to be aware of before signing your first rental contract in Germany, and we have broken them down for you. 

8 Important Things You Need to Know About Your First Rental Contract in Germany 

Consider this our take on a master list—a checklist, if you must—of all the things you need to be aware of before you sign your first rental contract in Germany. 

#1 Understanding Rental Agreements in Germany

rental contract in germany

Knowing the different types of rental agreements in Germany is crucial before signing on the dotted line. There are two types of rental agreements you need to be aware of in Germany: fixed-term (befristet) and open-ended (unbefristet). 

FeatureBefristet (Fixed-Term) ContractUnbefristet (Open-Ended) Contract
End DatePredeterminedNo fixed end date
Typical DurationA few months to several yearsOngoing
Landlord ReasonRequired (e.g., renovations)Not required
Benefits for TenantsPredictable move-outGreater stability, rent increase caps
Drawbacks for TenantsFinding a new place before the end of the contractLonger notice period for termination
Suitable forTemporary assignments, short staysLong-term expats, those seeking stability
Types of rental agreements in Germany

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#2 Rent Control and the Rental Index 

The Mietspiegel is a rent index published by many cities in Germany. The rent index is responsible for providing information on the local average rent for comparable apartments based on factors like size, location, age of the building and facilities.

It is a very useful tool for tenants to understand the usual or typically placed rents for similar apartments. A rent index is extremely important as it allows all parties to negotiate rent prices with landlords or challenge excessive rent increases in existing tenancies. For landlords, it sets a base price point while preparing the rental contract in Germany. 

Rent Control Laws in Germany You Need to Know 

Germany has a two-pronged approach to rent control. Introduced in 2015, the Rent Brake law applies in cities with tight housing markets. It restricts rent increases in new tenancies to a maximum of 10% above the local comparable rent listed in the rental index.

Secondly, Rent Increase Cap limits rent increases in existing tenancies to a maximum of 20% over a three-year period. The increase is calculated based on the previous rent, not the city’s rental index.

#3 Rental Components You Need to Know When Signing the Rental Contract in Germany 

When you sign your rental contract in Germany, you need to be aware of three terms: warm rent, cold rent, and amenities

Cost DescriptionWhere is it used?
Kaltmiete (Cold Rent)This is the base rent for the apartment itself, excluding utilities and operational costs.Used for rent increase caps Usually mentioned in the rental indexDoes not reflect the total cost of living.
Warmmiete (Warm Rent)This is the total monthly rent you pay the landlord and includes Kaltmiete and a prepayment for operational costs like heating, water, garbage disposal, and sometimes property taxes.Headline figure advertised in rental advertorials Adjustable based on usage of amenities. 
Nebenkosten (Additional Costs)These are additional costs not included in the Warmmiete and are billed separately by the provider.Common examples include electricity, internet, phone, etc. Changes depend upon the size of the apartment and the number of people.
Warm rent vs. Cold rent

Caution Money (Kaution) or Deposit 

The Kaution is a security deposit paid by the tenant to the landlord at the beginning of the tenancy. It serves as a guarantee against any potential damages beyond normal wear and tear caused by the tenant during the occupancy.  The Kaution is typically equivalent to 2-3 months of cold rent, but it can vary depending on the landlord and local regulations.

The caution deposit is paid when drawing the contract and the landlord is legally obligated to return the Kaution to the tenant within a reasonable timeframe (usually 2-3 months) after move-out, minus any deductions for repairs due to damages beyond normal wear and tear.

Also read: 20 Unbelievably Long German Words for Simple Things

#4 Rights and Responsibilities of Tenants When Signing Your First Rental Contract in Germany 

Being a tenant in Germany comes with a set of rights and responsibilities outlined in tenancy agreements and relevant laws. 

Tenant Rights:

Tenants have the right to quiet enjoyment of the space they have owned through signing their rental contract in Germany. This essentially means that landlords cannot enter the property without the tenant’s permission except in emergencies or for pre-arranged maintenance work with sufficient notice.

It is necessary to highlight that landlords are responsible for maintaining the property in a habitable condition. This generally includes fixing defects that affect the usability or safety of the apartment, such as plumbing issues, heaters, or electrical systems. Tenants are expected to look for damaged or malfunctioning domestic equipment and report them to the landlord within the first month of renting.

Tenants, obviously, have the right to use and enjoy shared spaces in the building, such as courtyards, laundry rooms, or bicycle storage. They are also expected to follow any house rules established by the landlord or a tenants’ association.

rental contract in germany

Tenant Responsibilities:

Moving to the tenant responsibilities, the most important of which is the timely payment of rent. Any form of late payments may lead to penalties and even eviction in severe cases.

While the landlord is responsible for major repairs, tenants also have certain maintenance obligations for the property, such as maintaining the regular upkeep of the apartment, arranging for good ventilation to prevent mold, and disposing of waste in a proper and clean manner.

While the landlord is supposed to help with all major repairs, tenants are responsible for bearing the cost of minor repairs caused by their negligence or exceeding normal wear and tear.

Most buildings usually have what is referred to as house rules that outline the expectations from tenants regarding noise levels, proper waste disposal, laundry schedules, and guest policies.

#5 The Role of Property Management When Renting an Apartment 

In many German rental situations, the Hausverwaltung (property management company) acts on behalf of the landlord. 

What Does Property Management Include?

The Hausverwaltung oversees the day-to-day operations of the building. This mainly includes coordinating maintenance and repairs of common areas like elevators, hallways, and roofs, managing cleaning services for shared spaces, handling garbage disposal and recycling, and dealing with tenant inquiries.

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rental contract in germany

#6 Keep in Mind the Inspection and the Handover Protocol 

The handover protocol, unlike most countries, is a documentation protocol in Germanyis observed during moving in and moving out. Essentially, it serves as a record of the apartment’s condition, protecting both you and the landlord.

This document contains a detailed protocol documenting the state of the apartment during handover to the tenant and it serves as a reference point for when you move out. Simply said, it helps avoid disputes about pre-existing damages that you might be blamed for later. The final condition of the apartment is what determines the return of your Kaution when you leave.

Common Things to Check and Document During the Initial Inspection:

When you are first moving into your rented apartment, there is a checklist of things you need to keep in mind. This includes the general condition of the walls, ceilings, and flooring, the functionality, and the opening and closing of all doors and windows.

Also, it’s important to ensure the quality of all sanitary facilities, electrical systems, and kitchenware. Finally, since you are moving to a country that is mostly always cold and experiences harrowing winters, make sure to check all meters and the workings of the heaters, switches, and power outlets.

#7 Terminating Your Rental Contract in Germany

Knowing the proper procedures for terminating your rental contract in Germany is essential to avoid any complications or unnecessary costs. 

Always provide written notice to your landlord or property management company of your intention to terminate the tenancy. On your written notice, clearly state your desired move-out date, ensuring it adheres to the legal notice period as outlined in your contract or by law.

Also, on your move-out date, return all keys to the apartment to the landlord or property manager. Many tenants often forget about returning their keys and end up in trouble much later.

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rental contract in germany

Legal Notice Periods You Need to be Aware Of

The general sense of practice is to provide 3 months of notice if you have lived on the property for up to 5 years, 6 months of notice after the fifth year and an additional year for anything more than 10 years.

Contract DetailsContact Details
Fixed-Term ContractThe notice period typically depends on the reason for termination and might be specified in the contract.
Early Termination by TenantIf you have a valid reason to break the lease early, such as taking a job in a different city, you might be able to negotiate early termination with the landlord. This might involve finding a replacement tenant.
Open-Ended ContractBoth tenants and landlords are subject to specific notice periods as stipulated by law (§ 573 BGB German Civil Code). The notice period generally increases with the duration of the tenancy.
Residential contract types in Germany

#8 Legal Resources and Tenant Associations in Germany

German tenancy law offers a strong framework for protecting tenants’ rights. However, disputes with landlords can still arise. There are both legal resources and official tenant associations that can help you with any problems that you may encounter. 

Tenant Associations (Mieterverein) are non-profit organizations that specialize in tenant rights and offer various services, including providing legal advice and guidance on tenancy issues and representing their clients in disputes with landlords, often for a significantly lower fee than private lawyers.

Mietervereine is typically present in most major cities and towns in Germany. You can find their contact information through online searches or by asking at your local Bürgeramt (citizen’s office). They have variable membership fees, but worry not, because mostly these fees are reasonable compared to private legal institutions.

There are a few additional resources you can consider, apart from the legal route, including consumer advice centers, which are government-funded centers that offer general legal advice and visiting personalized, practicing lawyers. Although, we recommend lawyers only if your concern cannot be directly addressed through a tenant organisation.

Again, to reiterate, joining a Mieterverein offers significant advantages, particularly when dealing with complicated situations or potential conflicts with landlords.

One of the biggest advantages (among others) is cost-effectiveness, with membership fees being a much more affordable option compared to hiring a private lawyer. They can offer expert guidance and represent you in mediation or court proceedings, significantly increasing your chances of a successful outcome.

rental contract in germany

There you go! 

A long list of all the things you need to know about signing your first rental contract in Germany. Sure, the list may seem long and exhausting, but please remember that most of these are standard procedures. If it’s your first time getting an apartment, welcome to your newfound journey of adulthood. 

If you are a seasoned apartment renter, make sure to brush up on your memory because we are sure it’s all in the nitty gritty!

If you are unsure about the kind of rental home you are looking for, make sure to visit Urban Ground. It offers a diverse range of offerings, including single flats, apartments for families, and shared residences for students and workers. 

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