For the third time since I arrived in Germany a year ago, I’ve just found a new flat. And for the third time, it’s in a great location, with cheap rent, and cool housemates. After the process is over it all seems relatively painless but when you are staying in a hostel and facing imminent homelessness, it can be overwhelming. Especially if you don’t speak German, especially if you’re on a deadline to find a place before semester starts, and especially if you’re not familiar with the technicalities of the German rental system. Here are the most important things to know before you start flat-hunting.
First of all, be careful to avoid scams! The internet is rife with people looking to take advantage of unsuspecting and desperate university students who all flood into town at the same time. I had three run-ins with fake apartments during my hunt. Each time it was something along the lines of “I can’t show you the apartment because I am out of the country in India/England/Brazil, but I can give you pictures and when you pay a deposit by bank transfer, I will courier you the keys.” Obviously fake, obviously irritating, and obviously a disheartening waste of time. Be careful when responding to ads: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Be persistent and show up early. When I was looking for a place, first in Göttingen and then in Berlin, I was on to find flatmates every three hours looking at new ads. This was over a month before classes started and it was still tight to find a place. You will have to respond to lots of ads, go to lots of viewings, have many interviews, and complete a lot of tedious paperwork. Although I didn’t have to, I have a couple of friends who used an agency to find a flat and has positive experiences. The landlord pays for the service, not you, so if you’re really in a jam, it’s worth looking into.
During your search, make sure you take notice of whether the rent is warm or cold (kalt in German) because this can affect the final price you pay. If you’re moving into a WG (flatshare), the rent will probably be advertised as warm. Warm rents include all utilities like electricity, gas, and water. So, if you’re only going to stay in Germany for a short-time (a year or less), you will probably prefer a ‘warm’ rent because its all-inclusive and you don’t have to organize the utilities yourself. Rent can also be cold which means that only the rent is included and nothing else.
Before you sign the contract, your landlord might ask for a Schufa, which is essentially the German equivalent of a credit score check. It’s a record held by a company called of whether you have paid your bills and fulfilled your contracts in the past, but as you’ve never lived in Germany before, you won’t have one. You can get around this by taking a room in a flatshare first. By opening a bank account and establishing some rental history you should be able to get a positive Schufa score when you move onto your next flat.
After finding a place, make sure when you sign the contract you have a German-speaking friend read over the details for extras like repair costs, package utilities at a fixed rate, and responsibility to paint or renovate at the end of tenancy. „Kleinreparaturen“ (small repairs taken over by the tenant) should for example be limited to maximum 8% of the total yearly rent price. Be especially careful here, I lost a lot of money on the last one!
Lastly, and most importantly is getting the infamous Anmeldung. As a prerequisite to most administrative tasks in Germany, including getting a mobile phone, opening a bank account, and applying for a student visa, you need to have an Anmeldung. This is a registration paper from the city that you receive when you turn in a lease agreement and the right forms. It is an essential piece of paperwork that you simply can’t go without. If you are confused about it all, you can do like me and check . Another note; If a landlord can’t provide the right documents for you to get your Anmeldung, it is probably because they are not allowed to sublet, and it may be worth it to look elsewhere. However, if you’re staying with friends while you get set-up, they can also register you while you search for a permanent place. And what’s more; you need to register within 14 days after moving in.