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What you need to know if you sub-let in Germany

Many foreigners in Germany end up living as subtenants. It is often more convenient - especially for those of us staying for just a short while - but it also comes with risks. So what are your rights? We take a closer look.

What you need to know if you sub-let in Germany
Signing a contract. File photo: DPA

Expats decide to enter sub-tenancy agreements for various different reasons. If you’ve just moved to the country as a young professional you often move into a room in a Wohngemeinschaft (WG or shared flat) as your first step to finding your feet in the country. More often than not you sign an Untermietvertrag (sub-contract) with the Hauptmieter (main tenant) rather than dealing directly with the landlord.

To be clear. if you haven’t personally signed a contract with the landlord (or more commonly with the Hausverwaltung), you are a sub-tenant.

Others decide they want a furnished apartment – and the way things work in Germany – that normally means subletting an apartment from someone who is out of the country for a year or two.

Sub-letting is convenient: you can find a place relatively quickly and you don’t need to go through all the complicated paperwork of proving your finances are in order.

Unsurprisingly, though, it can make you more vulnerable to the whims of the main tenant or landlord. Here is what you should know to ensure you avoid ugly arguments with those you live with.

READ ALSO: Here’s where rents are falling and going up in Germany

Signing the contract

Legally you don’t need to sign a contract as a sub-tenant – a verbal agreement counts. But the devil is in the detail – so all tenant associations strongly urge you to put the agreement down on paper.

The main tenant will most likely download a standard template from the internet. These contracts are normally fairly thin on detail though, only giving the address of the property and details of notice of cancellation of contract.

Before you sign the contract it is advisable to ask whether the main tenant has received permission from the landlord to sublet the room. If they have not received this permission and the landlord finds out, then he has the right to cancel the original contract immediately – meaning you’ll end up on the street with all your belongings before you know it.

On your side, you should ensure with a furnished property that the washing machine etc are listed in the contract and that a clause is inserted stating that they are in working order.

READ ALSO: Know your rights: The advice you need about renting in Germany

             A student searches for flat-share. Photo: DPA

The level of the rent

Somewhat strangely given how regulated rents are in Germany, the main tenant can charge you whatever they like as the rent. So it is important to inform yourself first on what a typical rent is in the area you are staying.

If they are demanding a level of rent that seems too high for the property you are moving into, it is probably best to walk away. Who knows what other surprises they have in store for you further down the road?

The main tenant’s responsibilities

Whatever happens, the main tenant is ultimately responsible for damages in the apartment – they are the ones who have a legal agreement with the actual owner and ultimately they are liable for property damage. This means that a Hauptmieter could well demand that you have a Haftpflichtversicherung (liability insurance) before signing a contract with you.

The main tenant has to ensure that the rooms you move into are in the condition set out in the contract. Any paragraph inserted into the contract which tries to get them out of this responsibility is legally null and void.

If you find that something is not working – eg the washing machine is broken – you have a right to pay only part of the rent until it has been fixed. In other words: the main tenant is responsible for the upkeep of the apartment, not you.

The main tenant also isn’t allowed to terminate the contract with the landlord if that would lead to a breach of his contract with you. He also isn’t allowed to try and provoke the landlord into cancelling the contract by not paying the rent. If you are kicked out because the main tenant hasn’t kept up to date on payments then they are legally obligated to cover your moving costs.

Staying warm in winter

The main landlord must provide heating between October and April. If heating is not provided in your house then you have the right to pay reduced rent to the main tenant until the problem is rectified. The main tenant must then take the problem up himself with the landlord.

Cancelling the contract

This is the aspect of subletting that causes the most conflict. What if for whatever reason the main tenant decides they don’t want you living in the apartment anymore? Whatever they claim, they are not allowed to kick you out from one day to the next.

The exact length of a Kündigungsfrist (notice period) depends on the type of rooms you rent. Here’s the breakdown.

Was the room empty when you moved in? That means you have fairly strong rights. You yourself have to give the main tenant three months’ notification – and you have to notify them by the third day of the month. For example if you notify them by June 3rd you are tied to the contract until August 31st.

For an unfurnished room the main tenant has to give you six months’ notice unless they have good reason to cancel the contract – i.e. you have broken your side of the bargain. And if you’ve lived there for more than five years that period of notification is even longer.

SEE ALSO: Renting in Germany – What you need to know

For furnished apartments the period of notification is much shorter. Both parties can give notification of just two weeks – and they don’t need to provide any reason for doing so.

Taking over the contract

Imagine this: you are subletting the perfect apartment with a view over the city and the main tenant decides she doesn’t want to live there anymore. Perfect you might think – you can take it over and have it for yourself. Well unfortunately, your dreams might be dashed by reality.

Living in the apartment as a subtenant does not give you any privileges when it comes to taking over the contract. As long as they give you the required period of notification your time’s up. Legally you have never had a relationship with the landlord so they have no legal responsibilities towards you.

So if the landlord wants everyone to move out so they can find new tenants on increased rent, they have every right to do so.

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Everything you should know about renting a furnished flat in Germany

Furnished properties are increasingly popular in Germany - but it's worth knowing the rules around them to make sure you don't get overcharged. Here's everything you need to know before signing the contract on a furnished flat.

Everything you should know about renting a furnished flat in Germany

For someone moving to a new country or city, it seems like a dream scenario: you find a new place, pick up the key, and simply move in and unpack. Everything you need, from your bed to your coffee table, is already there waiting for you. 

You can dispense with the endless trawls through IKEA showrooms and trips across town to pick up second-hand furniture on Ebay Kleinanzeigen – not to mention the stress of endless decisions on colour schemes and measurements. 

It’s exactly this that makes furnished flats such a popular choice with foreigners. While they may not be a long-term option, the ease and flexibility of being able to move-in straight away makes them a great short- or medium-term option while you’re finding your feet in a city.

So, what’s the catch? 

A search for furnished flats on any rental property portal will reveal all. 

For around 30 square metres in Hamburg – the size of a large hotel room – it’s not unusual to see prices of around €2,700 or more per month, which amounts to a pretty hefty €90 per square metre. In Berlin, €3,000 per month may well be the price you pay for a tiny studio in a central location: €100 per square metre.

In the banking hub of Frankfurt, things are marginally more affordable. Here, a 30-square-metre furnished flat will set you back around €1,500. But that’s still a pretty steep €50 per square metre. 

Listings like these can give the impression that landlords are allowed to charge whatever they please for a furnished property. Thankfully, that’s not true – though the rules can get a little bit murky, especially when it comes to short-term lets.

READ ALSO: Six confusing things about renting a flat in Germany

Here’s a few other things you need to know. 

What is a furnished flat?

If a flat is rented as a furnished flat, it should have at least the bare essentials that are required to live in it. Generally, that would mean a bed, wardrobe, table, chairs and sofa, etc. 

However, you can occasionally find furnished flats that are “löffelfertig” (spoon-ready), which as the name suggests means they have everything you need, right down to cutlery and crockery. 

Why are furnished flats more expensive?

Generally speaking, landlords are entitled to compensation for the furniture they buy for the property, which can push the monthly rent up by as much as a few hundred euros per month. 

Since they don’t have to be clear about these costs and how different parts of the rent are calculated, some landlords may inflate the base rent as well, meaning that tenants may end up paying way over the odds. 

It’s also worth knowing that if properties are specifically defined as either holiday or short-term lets, landlords are exempt from many of the usual rent controls. 

Furnished holiday flat Germany

A modern furnished flat in Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Bades Huk | BRITA SOENNICHSEN

If the furnished flat is considered to be a holiday let, then the tenant is often required to pay tourist tax for each night they stay there. In this case, the flat also doesn’t have to be furnished to a particularly high standard as it is only intended to be lived in for a very short time. You may find this type of flat absurdly pricey compared to normal rentals in the city, and if money is a concern it’s best to steer clear of holiday lets for longer-term stays. 

If you work in the city and are staying somewhere for more than two months, the landlord may decide to class the property as a temporary let. In this case, the landlord is exempted from clauses like the Mietpreisbremse (rent brake), which are designed to slow down the rate of rent increases, and you should have a clear duration or move-out date specified in your contract.  

It’s important to note that the landlord will usually have to give a good reason for restricting the time period of the rental. This could be the fact that they or their family want to use it themselves or are planning renovations at a later date. 

READ ALSO: Altbau vs Neubau: What’s the difference and which should I rent in Germany?

How much more can my landlord charge?

As mentioned above, holiday and temporary flats can often be rented out for eye-watering prices – but there are strict rules on categorising a rental flat as temporary or holiday accommodation.

For an ordinary furnished rental, the rent should usually be roughly based on standard prices for similar properties in the same area (a system known as the Mietspiegel), with any premium features or fixtures adding slightly more to the monthly rent. As mentioned above, the landlord can also charge a surplus for the furnishings they include in the flat.

The broad rule of thumb here is that this should be linked to the value of the furniture and its depreciation in value of the course of time. Though landlords aren’t forced to be transparent about the system they use, the two most commonly used ones are the Hamburg and the Berlin model. 

Furnished flat

A cosy bedroom in a furnished flat. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/VDM | Rauch

With the Berlin model, the landlord is allowed to charge two percent of the total value of the furniture each month.

The furniture is assumed to have a lifespan of 10 years, so if the furniture is new when the tenant moves in, they can charge two percent of the purchase price of the furniture each month. If all the furniture in a flat cost the landlord €5,000, that would amount to €100 extra in rent each month. The value of the furniture goes down by ten percent per year, so after five years the landlord would charge €50 per month on top of rent, and after ten there would be no surcharge.

The Hamburg model assumes that furniture goes down in value over the course of seven years, after which time it’s worth just 30 percent of its purchase price. The amount that the tenant pays towards the cost of the furnishings each year is based on these calculations.


Can I take furniture out of a furnished flat?

Yes! If you’re someone who likes to put your own stamp on a place, then you’re fully entitled to replace some of the furniture with your own.

But – and this is a big ‘but’ – you’ll be responsible for storing the furniture safely until you move out, and putting everything back in its previous place.

In other words, we don’t recommend chucking the coffee table out on the street with a ‘Zu verschenken’ label before moving in your own piece. We guarantee your landlord will not be amused once they find out. 

To clarify what’s meant to be in the flat when you move in (and when you move out), tenancy law experts recommend having a full inventory in the contract. That should help you avoid any nasty disputes in the future.

What if the furniture is damaged, missing or defective? 

If furniture is damaged, missing or unusable, you’re entitled to have it repaired or replaced and can also ask for a rent reduction.

Once again, it’s useful to have a full inventory of what should be in the flat to help you with these negotiations.

Do tenants in furnished flats have the same rights as other tenants?

Generally, yes. Having furnishings inside a property doesn’t change the legal status of the contract.

That means that your landlord can’t, for example, suddenly ask you to move out at short notice and without any cause. As mentioned, they also need to have a specific reason for limiting the duration of your contract – otherwise the move-out date isn’t valid.