Lease Agreement

At a glance

Once you have found housing you would like to stay in, it is time to sign a lease agreement. The following information might help you understand how this process usually works in Germany.

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Renters enjoy considerable protection under German law, but there are things that you can do to avoid problems from the outset and protect yourself.

Costs and clauses - What's in my lease agreement?

In most cases, rent contracts include more than the fact that Landlord A allows Renter B (you) to live in a room or flat for a certain amount of rent. Make sure that you understand what is agreed upon. This extra information can include

  • Termination date (how long your rent contract runs)

  • A description of the flat with size, rooms, etc. - in other words, what you are paying rent for.

  • The costs which are included in your monthly rent payment. Please also see below under "Utilities / auxiliary costs".

  • Responsibilities for cleaning common areas such as stairwells or clearing snow from sidewalks

  • Damage deposits to cover open bills for utilities or repairs

  • Renovations and cleaning that are expected from you when you move out. Generally, if you move into a freshly renovated flat you are in charge of repairing damage and making simple renovations for normal wear and tear from your time in the apartment: as needed, this could mean new wallpaper, painting walls, filling in holes from hanging pictures, or painting the insides of doors and window frames where needed. These should be done in an appropriate fashion, but can be done by yourself or by a handyman that you select. If you install things like shelves, you must remove them when you move out. Use common sense and talk with your landlord to clarify what needs to be done. If water pipes break or the toilet is out of order, contact your landlord to have him order repairs. The landlord is also responsible for any painting that must be done on the outside of the building or on balconies.

  • Quiet hours: Certain quiet hours are set by law (10 p.m. to 6 a.m. every day and in addition 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and all day on Sundays and holidays). Your rent contract may also specify additional quiet times - see the information under At Home: House Rules.

  • Whether pets or barbecuing are allowed or prohibited; whether you have the use of laundry rooms or yard and garden - see the section "House Rules" on the page At Home.

  • Whether you are allowed to sub-let the flat.

  • Minimum notice that you must give your landlord if you want to leave the flat earlier than agreed upon. If nothing else is specified in the contract, a fixed-term rent contract cannot be terminated early by either side, and if their rent contract runs indefinitely without a fixed end date, renters must give landlords at least three months’ notice. See below under "Giving notice".

Utilities / auxiliary costs

Besides your monthly rent you may be charged for diverse additional costs. In Germany you differentiate between consumption costs and auxiliary costs. Even if you sign a rental contract with a rent including heating (Warmmiete) this does not necessarily mean that you will not have any other costs. Please have a close look at your rental contract and ask your landlord if you are in doubt.

Consumption costs usually include:

  • warm water (Warmwasser)
  • heating (Heizung)
  • fresh water, tap water (Frischwasser)
  • electricity (Strom)

The easiest way to bill these costs is by use, so there should be meters in your apartment or building. If utilities do not provide meters there are rules for how to legally calculate the use according to use and living space.

Other auxiliary costs can be:

  • house insurance (Versicherung)
  • land tax (Grundsteuer)
  • garbage (Müllgebühren)
  • surface water drainage charge (Niederschlagswasser)
  • chimney sweep (Schornsteinfeger)
  • gardener (Gartenarbeiten)
  • cleaning of hall/staircase (Reinigungsdienst)
  • winter service (Winterdienst)
  • electricity for common areas such as lights in the hall/staircase (Allgemeinstrom)
  • internet or television service
  • etc.

They are usually calculated by the number of people living in the house and/or the living space.

If your landlord charges you for these, an auxiliary cost statement must be provided one year after any accounting period the latest. Then you can take twelve more months to lodge objections. The limitation period is three years.

The hand-over protocol when you move in and move out

When you make an appointment to pick up your apartment key, you should always inspect the flat carefully with your landlord and list any damage or problems that you see. Make pictures if you see that something is broken or damaged. Are there broken electrical outlets? Are there windows that do not close properly? Scratches in a parquet floor? Holes in the wall? In general, when you move out you are responsible for repairing any damage to the apartment that was not there when you moved in. Such items should be recorded in a protocol that is signed by yourself and your landlord to help make sure that you get your damage deposit back.

But accidents do happen. If something is broken or damaged while you are living in the flat, don't wait until you are ready to move out to speak with your landlord! Often, conflicts can be defused with a combination of common sense, honesty and courtesy. Also, please read the information below about Liability insurance and renters' associations.

When you get ready to move out, you should make an appointment with your landlord to return the key and make a final inspection of the flat. This final inspection is called the Abnahme, and it gives both you and your landlord the chance to make sure that everything is returned in a clean and orderly condition. If there is damage to the apartment that was already there when you moved in, the protocol of the apartment’s condition that was made when you moved in can resolve any questions. Make sure that both you and your landlord sign the final inspection protocol.

Your landlord has the right to wait a certain period of time to check the last utility bills and tally up any necessary repair bills before returning the balance of your damage deposit.

Liability insurance and renters' associations

If you are renting a furnished flat and particularly if you are here with your family and children, it is always a good idea to take out private liability insurance in case something is damaged or broken while you are there. See more information on the page Banks and Insurance.

You may also want to consider becoming a member of a renters' association. For a small yearly membership fee, they can provide advice about your rights as a renter and assist you in resolving conflicts. Ask your support team for addresses.

Do I have to let my landlord in the door?

Under certain circumstances, your landlord has the right to enter and inspect your flat, for example:

  • if he needs to show the rooms to potential renters who might move in after you leave,

  • to make repairs or to prepare for repairs or renovations,

  • to read meters, or

  • if he has reason to believe that you are not following the terms of your contract (for instance, causing damage to the apartment, keeping pets or having sub-letters if this is not allowed).

However, if there is no imminent and obvious danger (such as water running out the door from broken pipes), your landlord must give you sufficient notice before entering your apartment, and he must name the reason for wanting to inspect the apartment. If the suggested appointment does not suit you, you may turn it down, but you are obliged suggest another time.

German consumer credit rating (SCHUFA)

You may encounter the term "Schufa". This is the central German consumer credit rating. As a foreigner newly arriving in Germany, you will not yet be on file with the Schufa until you open a German bank account. If your potential landlord wants to see a Schufa credit rating summary before you have such a file, ask if you might provide a letter from your institute or Human Resources office or from your personal support team instead.

Once you have lived in Germany for a while, any sort of credit or installment payment (including a mobile phone contract, for example) will be documented as a measure of your credit-worthiness.

How do I get a Schufa statement?

Once a year, every resident in Germany has the right to request his or her own Schufa file free of charge to check it for errors, the "Datenübersicht nach § 34 Bundesdatenschutzgesetz", which can be found here. You will need to provide a scan of your passport and a copy of your residence permit.

There is also an option of ordering an official report such as landlords might request as evidence of your credit worthiness, a so-called "Bonitätsauskunft." This service costs 30 EUR, and the report includes a brief official credit rating for landlords, etc., and a second, more detailed report for your own files. The English-language order form with explanations is available here.

Both documents are also available in German, English, Turkish, Russian, Italian and Polish from the SCHUFA download page.

Giving notice - terminating a rent contract early

Renters enjoy substantial protection under German law, but they have obligations as well.

If you have a fixed-term lease, neither you nor your landlord have a legal right to terminate the contract before the end date given in the contract, unless special circumstances apply such as health hazards, damage or pests that make the apartment unusable, etc. Often, though, it is possible to make special arrangements with your landlord. It is important that you speak with him early on if you find that your plans have changed.

If your rent contract runs indefinitely with no set termination date and no shorter notice period is defined in your contract, you must give your landlord at least three months' notice. You are not required to give a reason, but your termination notice must be actually delivered to your landlord by the third working day of any month for that month to count toward the required three months. You may send your termination notice by registered mail or put it in your landlord's mailbox yourself (if possible with witnesses). The very best method is to hand over your termination notice to your landlord in person and to ask him to confirm receipt.

Your landlord, on the other hand, cannot terminate a rent contract without a fixed end date except under exceptional circumstances, for example if he needs the apartment for his own personal use. The minimum notice period depends on how long you, the renter, have lived in the flat.

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