A guide for renting an apartment in Berlin

This guide gives you practical tips how to find a flat in Berlin, how to be prepared when visiting, a list of all the documents you need to impress the landlords and tricks to skip the waiting lists!


This post was last updated on August 15, 2020
An old building in Berlin

How does it work: the process to rent a flat in Berlin

Do you need a place to live immediately? Please continue with our article on short term rental in Berlin.

I recommend you get all your papers in order first, see our checklist of documents you need to rent a flat. You should at least have 3 payslips and show that you are creditworthy by having a good Schufa score. Consider staying in short term rental until you get the papers in order before you start flat hunting.

Be prepared to wait in a line when visiting a flat and that people rush to the landlord and submit files with family stories, job references and all kinds of official documents in order to be at the top of the list of applicants.

Rentals are advertised on websites, newspapers, lamp posts or social media. Once you hear about a flat, get in touch as soon as possible and maybe send already all the necessary documents in advance.

On the day of the appointment a person which might or might not be speaking English will walk you trough the flat and check your credentials. Often you have to fill out forms so have a pen ready.

Once you applied and got elected for an apartment, be prepared to pay a deposit (Kaution) into a bank account. The deposit is three months of rent.

Types of renting

  • Sublet: Untermiete – somebody lives in a place and rents the whole apartment or a room to you. This the most common way newcomers in Berlin find a place to stay. Please note that subletting has to be permitted by the landlord, otherwise the risk is that both tenant and subtenant get kicked out of the apartment.
    Important: you need the permission of the owner in order to officially register an address. This is called Anmeldung.
  • Shared apartments: Wohngemeinschaft or WG – Usually a form of Untermiete. Can be anything from communities with a set of ethics and rules and a political agenda to people in need of money who rent out a room but where you rarely ever see your flatmate.
  • Subsidized: a Wohnungsberechtigungsschein or WBS is the certificate you require to rent a state-subsidised apartment. These apartments are cheaper and can only be rented with a WBS document. The subsidized flats are not necessarily of poor quality: they can be nice, old buildings where the owner gets state subsidies. Read more in our guide how to get a WBS in Berlin.
  • Long term lease: unbefristeter Mietvertrag – a lease agrement (Mietvertrag) must be long term unless the owner has legal reasons to limit the lease duration. Reasons can be a renovation of the building or self-use of the apartment by the owner. This does not apply to subletting. A long term lease gives the tenants many rights and you can only be kicked out of the flat if you don't pay the rent or when disregarding some rules. The tenant can terminate the contract usually with a 3 months notice period. The lucky ones who have long term leases are called Hauptmieter.
  • Short term lease: befristeter Mietvertrag – this is the rule for many sublet contracts. Short term leases are illegal if you rent directly from the owner unless for some reasons like self-use or renovation.

Size of the apartment

The size of the apartment is expressed as the number of rooms and as squaremeters. Kitchen, hallways, toilets and bath rooms don't count as rooms.

Example: a flat with one sleeping room and a living room as well as a bath room and a kitchen would be listed as a 2 room apartment.

  • 1 Zimmer: one room plus kitchen and bath room
  • 2 Zimmer: two rooms plus kitchen and bath room
  • Maisonette: duplex
  • Wohnfläche: total size in squaremeters (m²). One squaremeter is roughly 1550 square inch.

We have compiled a list of words and acronyms often used in housing ads.

How much space do people in Berlin have?

This is a list of common apartment sizes I see among friends but of course many Berliners have more or less space.

  • 25m² to 60m² for one person, one or two rooms.
  • 40m² to 80m² for two persons, two to three rooms.
  • 60m² to 100m² for a family of three or four persons.

Community gardens at the Tempelhofer Feld in Berlin

The community gardens at the Tempelhofer Feld in Neukölln. Many neighboorhoods in Berlin have parks.

How much does it cost to rent a flat?

Please read more in our guide about costs of renting in Berlin.

How long does it take to find a flat in Berlin?

Anything between 2 months and 1 year for long term rentals. The time it takes depends on the location, the quality of the apartment and whether you have a regular salary and good references. Some landlords prefer employees over freelancers. There are less popular but interesting neighborhoods to live in Berlin.

Short term leases or sublets are easier to find and need less formalitites.

The first months in Berlin

See our guide about finding a short term rental in Berlin.

How to improve your chances to get a flat in Berlin?

  • Be the first to call when you see an ad. Often visiting appointments are closed once a certain number of people called.
  • Be the first on the appointment and wait directly in front of the door. This increases your chance to be the first in the flat and the first to fill out the application form which puts you on top of the list.
  • Have all the documents ready. We have a checklist with all the necessary documents to rent a flat for you.
  • Write a cover letter.
  • Your income should be at least 3 times the rent of a flat.
  • Mention that you want to stay several years. Tenants which often change are more work for the landlord.
  • Look for alternative ways to find a flat.
  • Don't be picky about location. The outer ring has many nice places and might be well connected trough public transport.

What papers are expected to rent a flat?

See our checklist with all the necessary documents to rent a flat in Berlin.

Listings on websites, Facebook groups ad property agencies

Websites for long and short term rental and shared apartments

These are the big websites where many flats are advertised. Please be advised that many people read these ads so competition is probably high for any reasonable housing offers on these sites. Ads can be in German or English.

Tip: Some of these websites have the option to register your search criteria and then they send you daily or weekly mails with all flats in your categories.

Websites specialising on classified ads have many flat ads as well:

  • Ebay-kleinanzeigen.de - one of the biggest sites for classified ads in Germany. Many people reported this as a very good option to find a place to live.
  • Kalaydo.de

www.craigslist.de is probably less popular in Germany and reportedly often used for scams source so we do not recommend it here.

Websites for shared apartments (WGs)

We highly recommend WG-gesucht.de. This website is specialised in shared apartments, what the Germans call WG, short for Wohngemeinschaft.

Property management agencies

Buildings in Berlin are mostly managed by agencies, the so called Hausverwaltung or HV. You can call a HV directly and ask if they have free flats. There is a list of property management agencies in Berlin here. Often the name and phone number of the agency is also written in the entrance of some buildings, usually near the mail boxes.

Facebook groups

Ask around and become a Nachmieter

You will be surprised how many people find a flat by just asking around. Ask anybody you meet: in bars, on the playground, at the job, in your university. There are occasions like I know somebody who knows somebody who is moving to India where flats become available. Often this is only for a short term rental but sometimes people don't return and want to get rid of their flat by finding a subsequent tenant or Nachmieter.

There are a couple of advantages in this: the tenant doesn't have to renovate anything in the flat like painting walls. The property management has less work because they are presented with a new tenant. You have the advantage that there is no or less competition and that you know the flat already. In some cases, living for some time in a flat might legally entitle you to take over the flat from the former tenant. We recommend this organisation which offers tenants' counselling for a small monthly fee.

Often tenants ask their followers to pay a premium to take over existing furniture like a kitchen. This gets misused to ask fantasy prices for very old stuff. While you might be in a weaker position as a Nachmieter because you want that flat so badly there are laws as to the extend of what tenants can ask as a premium. We recommend to use legal counseling from the Mieterverein in this case.

Hanging flyers with a reward for anybody who can arrange a flat might be an option too. These flyers are all over lamp posts, universtity billboards and malls in Berlin.

Pets

Small pets, like animals which usually live in cages, don't need approval by the landlord unless they are dangerous (snakes) or cause trouble like too much noise. The contract can say that you are not allowed to keep a cat or a dog. A cat or a dog in the apartment is fine if the contract doesn't say anything but you might have a harder time finding a flat.

Your contract can get terminated if you keep a dog or a cat and your lease contract explicitly says that these animals are not permitted.

Safety

Berlin is generally safe but there are some crime hot spots.

Scams

  • We heard that many ads on Craigslist are scam.
  • Never wire any money in advance without exchange of contract and keys.
  • Scammers rent AirBnB flats and advertise them as available flats. These scams are hard to detect as the scammers actually have the keys to the apartment.
  • Never pay in order to visit a flat.
  • Beware of money transfers where the destination account is not a German bank account. Payment requests involving services like Transferwise, WesterUnion and the like are probably scam.
  • The deposit should go to a rent deposit account (Mietkautionskonto) on a German bank.
  • If you are searching remotely: check if the landlord is a real person. Can you find the person on Facebook or Linkedin? Google his or her name and address. Does the address exist? Do you find the landlord's name in combination with the address?
  • Beware of so called real estate agents who claim to search a flat for you but only copy from ads in the internet.
  • There is a list of more scams on Reddit.

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