Tips on Finding a Place to Live
About 50% of the German population lives in rented housing, and they spend on average 30-35% of their available income (after taxes) on rent and utilities. Real estate is quite expensive in Germany due to the price of the ground and comparatively-high construction costs. Considering the additional cost when buying property (taxes, notary, fees) that can easily add up to another 10% of the price, it is usually not worth buying, especially if the stay in Germany is limited to a short period.
Munich and its surroundings have always been a desired place to live, and due to its economic development and prosperity over the last 25 years, it has become even more attractive. Unfortunately, this also means considerable competition on the rental market and rather high rents. These will drop noticeably when leaving the area covered by the S-Bahn service and are moderate throughout most of Bavaria.
What to Expect From Your Accommodations
An obvious difference for most expatriates (“expats”) will be the size. Americans will often consider German houses rather small, whereas they might seem bigger to someone coming from England, France, or a Scandinavian country. The overall quality of buildings is very high, even though styles may vary and facilities sometimes depend on the age of a property. Some terminology: The size of a house or an apartment is usually given in “square metres” and number of rooms. If you need two bedrooms plus living and dining space, you will have to look for a 3 to 4-Zimmer (four-room) apartment or house. Kitchen, bathrooms, halls, or basement rooms are not included in the number of rooms. A house with 150sqm of living space (Wohnfläche) and 80sqm of additional area (Nutzfläche) will offer 2-3 bedrooms, bathroom(s), kitchen, hall, and additional space, generally storage or hobby rooms in the basement or under the roof. Unfurnished accommodations are literally just that. There are no built-in cabinets, no light fixtures, curtains or curtain rods, and often no fitted kitchens (Einbaukueche or EBK) - at least not in the bigger apartments or houses. Furnished accommodations are easily available in Munich but will be more difficult to find outside bigger towns.
Practical Help in Finding a Place to Live
The most convenient approach will be to employ a relocation specialist. Companies offer a wide range of services from assisting with your housing needs, helping with registration, residence, and work permits, driver’s license, registration of utilities, to finding doctors, cleaning help, or language courses. It is generally a good method to avoid frustration and ease your and your family’s relocation.
The Immobilienmakler is the German counterpart to a real estate agent. The disadvantage of using one to find housing is the high cost since these companies will charge you around two months’ net rent plus tax for the place they find. On the other hand, in a market as competitive as Munich’s, they are often your only chance. Relocation companies will also work with real estate agents.
Newspapers are a third and less expensive way to find a place. Ads appear in most bigger daily papers twice a week (usually Wednesdays and Fridays), but you have to be very fast to call and available to visit, or the place will be gone before you even know where it is. An additional drawback may be the language problem.
Another good approach is through the network of the expat community at the international schools or clubs. With people moving almost constantly, houses are handed over from one family to another.
You have found your place to live; now you need to sign the lease (Mietvertrag), which will be difficult to understand even if you already know some German. It is advisable to go over the contract with someone able to explain all the details and some of the regulations not mentioned in the lease because they are part of the law.
Duration of contract and notice period: The legal notice period for an open lease which is now the norm is three months. Leases for a fixed term are no longer legal.
The monthly payment to the landlord is due at the beginning of a month and consists of two parts, the rent (Kaltmiete) and the utilities (Nebenkosten). Whereas the Kaltmiete is generally fixed for the duration of the lease (exception is a Staffelmiete with an annual increase built in the contract), utilities can vary from year to year. For apartments Nebenkosten usually include: water, heating, garbage collection, the landlord’s share in property tax, insurance for the property, chimney cleaning, etc. For rented houses the Nebenkosten will usually include the landlord’s property tax, landlord’s insurance for the property, trash collection, chimney cleaning, etc. Be aware that there are additional payments for electricity, water, heat, etc. and your own insurances (see sections II.E and H).
It is a landlord’s obligation to provide the tenant with a balancing of these utilities once a year, (usually within the first six months of the following year) especially if they include consumable quantities/factors. According to the balance, you can expect a refund or may have to pay the difference.
As a security for any damage or unpaid rent, the landlord will ask for a deposit amounting to two to three months’ rent. In some cases a bank guarantee will do the trick. The landlord must deposit cash received as a deposit into an interest-bearing savings account. After the lease ends and the property has been handed back without damages, the deposit plus the legal interest rate for the period of the lease must be paid back.
Handover statement (Übergabeprotokoll): This protocol is usually part of the contract and you should insist on one when taking over the property, as it is in the interest of both parties. Here the state of the property and any damages as well as any eventual inventory should be noted. It will also state the meter readings and the number of keys received.
Rights and Obligations as Tenant
Some of a tenant’s rights and obligations will clearly be stated in the rental contract and the house regulations (Hausordnung) which are an integral part of the contract; others are covered by German law and not expressively mentioned in the contract. Because of the multitude, only the most important ones are listed below:
In most cases, the relationship between landlord and tenant will work out just fine; should major problems arise, a good place to ask for advice is for example the tenants’ organization (Mieterbund) (www.mieterbund.de) or one of the Mietervereine in Munich.
The Landlord’s Obligations
The legal period of notice is three months. A tenant should let the landlord know of the actual move-out date well in advance. The tenant must hand back the property in a clean and proper state and with all keys. All damages must be repaired and renovation work completed by the move-out date according to the contract or the law. Generally, the walls and ceilings of the property have to be painted - often professionally - and carpets cleaned. In case of a longer lease, windows, doors, and radiators may have to be painted. Do not forget to read your meters (or have them read) so that utilities can be balanced accordingly. Also, cancel your TV and telephone registration, and arrange for your mail to be redirected. Within Germ any the cost for this service is €15 for up to six months; redirection to overseas is very expensive.