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 a short-term rental until you get the papers in order before you start flat hunting.
The paperwork for renting a flat in a big city in Germany might almost equal the paperwork for buying a flat in another country source. While the background checks might feel a bit over the top you must understand that once you have a proper lease contract, the landlord can basically not terminate the contract unless you do not pay the rent.
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 through the flat and check your credentials. Bring a pen to fill out the application form.
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-subsidized 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 on how to get a WBS in Berlin.
- Long-term lease: unbefristeter Mietvertrag – a lease agreement (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.
- Short-term lease from an agency like *Homelike or *Smartments which specialize in renting to expats.
Size of the apartment
The size of the apartment is expressed as the number of rooms and as square meters. The kitchen, hallways, toilets and bathrooms don't count as rooms.
Example: a flat with one sleeping room and a living room as well as a bathroom and a kitchen would be listed as a 2 room apartment.
- 1 Zimmer: one room plus kitchen and bathroom
- 2 Zimmer: two rooms plus kitchen and bathroom
- 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.
How much does it cost to rent a flat?
Please read more in our guide about the 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 fewer formalities.
The first months in Berlin
How to improve your chances to get a flat in Berlin?
- Sometimes it is already hard to even get an appointment. Consider signing up with a service like ImmoScout24s MieterPlus. This paid account puts your applications for flats on top of the queue in landlords' inboxes.
- Be the first to call when you see an ad. Often visiting appointments are closed after a given number of applicants.
- 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.
- Go directly to offices of big rental companies like Deutsche Wohnen and ask for flats which are not advertised yet source.
- 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 who 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 through public transport.
What papers are expected to rent a flat?
Listings on websites, Facebook groups and 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 emails with all flats in your categories.
- Immobilienscout24.de - one of the biggest real estate websites in Germany.
Websites specializing in 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.
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)
Property management agencies
Buildings in Berlin are mostly managed by agencies, the so-called Hausverwaltung or HV. You can call an 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 are written at the entrance of some buildings, usually near the mailboxes.
- WG Zimmer & Wohnungen Berlin – over 173.000 members
- Berlin apartments – over 95.000 members
- Flats in Berlin – over 88.000 members
- Easy WG – Shared apartments, over 90.000 members
- Berlin apartments & rooms for rent – over 11.000 members
Municipal housing associations
323.000 flats are owned by the federal state of Berlin source. These are managed by municipal housing associations, the so-called Städtische Wohnungsbaugesellschaften*. Here is a list of the addresses of municipal housing associations. Available flats are listed on their websites or on the website www.inberlinwohnen.de. The biggest associations are:
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 to 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 organization which offers tenants' counseling 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 extent of what tenants can ask as a premium. We recommend using 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, university billboards and malls in Berlin.
Small pets, like animals that 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.
Berlin is generally safe but there are some crime hot spots.
- We heard that many ads on Craigslist are scams.
- Never wire any money in advance without exchange of contract and keys.
- Scammers rent AirBnB flats and advertise them as available flats source. 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 scams.
- The deposit should go to a rent deposit account (Mietkautionskonto) in 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 fake real estate agents who claim to search for a flat for you but only copy from ads on the internet.
- There is a list of more scams on Reddit.