Welcome to Berlin, where the subject of affordable housing has become a battleground for politics, the local economy and ordinary people trying to make a living. Now, one thing is for sure: a cheap apartment in Berlin isn’t easy to come by anymore, and there are many historical as well as political reasons to account for the current dilemma.
But even if you’re willing to pay a premium for a well-kept apartment, it’s getting harder everyday to find vacancies. When openings are advertised, they’re usually crowded with plenty of competition. Nevertheless, there are a few things you can do to avoid scams and find an ideal apartment that suits your needs.
Table of contents
- Finding unfurbished apartments
- Furnished apartments & WGs
- Apartment swaps
- General information on finding a flat in Berlin
Finding unfurbished apartments
Unfurbished apartment offers are the norm in Berlin (and Germany as a whole). They can be found via professional housing platforms, such as Immowelt and Immobilienscout24.
But competition on the online market is fierce, especially for very cheap rent in popular neighborhoods near the city center (anything inside of the Berlin S-Bahn Ring is considered city center). That’s why three particular things stand out when applying for viewing appointments:
- Pace: First come, first serve
- Preparation: Do your homework
- People: Use and pester your network of friends, colleagues and acquaintances for leads
Pro-Tip 1: Get the premium account
Many of my friends have successfully found apartments on the aforementioned platforms by signing up for a temporary premium account. Premium users usually receive offers (matching their requirements) faster than regular users, which can make all the difference. I don’t vouch for this, but I’ve heard good stuff – so make what you will of it.
Pro-Tip 2: Use your people
Pro-Tipp 2: Most people I know found an apartment through friends, colleagues, Facebook groups and other networks. Use your social network to find opportunities – it pays off in this difficult market. Many people have started trading apartments on the DL, so it can be hard to track down good leads without knowing anyone in Berlin. But never give up!
Pro-Tip 3: Prepare your paperwork
So many people – whether expats or high school graduates – don’t understand the importance of being prepared. You should always bring the following papers to a house viewing, or even send them at first contact:
- SCHUFA Nachweis (Credit Score Check). You can get it for free, but if you’re on a schedule, there’s also a premium account feature which will get your report faster and gives you access to your records.
- Working contract and/or proof of income. These can either be bank statements of the last 3 months or a working contract if you’re just signed a job in Berlin. Remember: Your Nettokaltmiete should be no more than 1/3rd of your regular income. If that’s the case, you can solidify your position with a co-signer (your parents, your brother, your significant other). They also have to provide their income statements.
- A photocopy of your ID / passport.
- A “Mieterselbstauskunft”, a sort of CV that you can find and fill out online or will be provided to you by the landlord.
- Mietschuldenfreiheit: A letter from your former landlord stating that you don’t have any outstanding debts.
Pro-Tipp 4: Look towards the East
Mitte, Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Wedding are currently the most popular districts, followed by Prenzlauer Berg, Schöneberg, Charlottenburg and Friedrichshain. Looking in these areas will probably result in many disappointing experiences. But there are other, up and coming neighborhoods you should not dismiss (and aren’t far off the city center, either): Lichtenberg, Oberschöneweide and Friedenau, for example, are in the process of development. Many beautiful neighborhoods and communities are appearing here. As a rule of thumb: look East instead of West, where the market has been oversaturated for a long time already.
Pro-Tipp 5: Look for state owned housing
Degewo, Gesobau, Gewobag, Howoge, Stadt & Land and WBM may seem like cryptic names to you, but they may be your shot at fair housing. These institutions are state-owned housing providers and are usually cheaper than the privately owned competition. After selling off most of their properties in the 90ies, Berlin is currently investing in buying back buildings in order to rent them out. I literally just found a 1-flat apartment for 300 Euro in Prenzlauer Berg on the Gewobag search (which gave me only 8 results, so demand is pretty high), so it may be worth a shot.
Furnished apartments & WGs
If you’re a student, interim worker or otherwise temporary resident in Berlin, you may be in luck. Although furbished apartments are much, much more expensive, are less protected and are usually subject to the landlord’s will, they can be a life-saver while you’re looking for a longterm solution (or while you’re finishing your course in Berlin).
It can be economically wise to opt for a one-year (or less) contract if you don’t have much time to look for an alternative, or if you don’t want to invest in an apartment without any furniture.
WGs are a good idea, too, if you can share a flat with someone else. This will give you a greater range of possibilities and more flexibility in neighborhoods, although prices have been rising for shared flats just as well (and can sometimes come out almost as expensive as a furnished and serviced studio in a student accommodation, for example).
If you already have an apartment in Berlin and you’re looking to upgrade (or downgrade), you may get lucky by swapping your apartment. I wrote an article about that a while ago. You can find a lot of pearls in great neighborhoods, although I might add that the process of swapping an apartment is just as tedious (if not more) than finding a new one.
General information on finding a flat in Berlin
Never pay upfront
Never, ever pay any money to any landlord upfront, without signing a contract, getting the keys and having seen the apartment. There have been a lot of scams going on, especially on Kleinanzeigen. Don’t trust anyone – if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Rental prices in Berlin
Since 2007, rent in Berlin, and Germany in general, has increased by 28%. You can expect to pay no less than 8€ per square meter for an apartment in a desirable location. While that may sound steep, the German law is very “Mieterfreundlich”. Once you have signed a lease, the landlord is unlikely to increase the rent because of the strict rent increment regulations in place. There are exceptions to this rule: for example, if the landlord decides to renovate or completely redevelop the building. This is a very common tactic by shady real estate owners, effectively pushing out old renters and therefore cancelling cheap contracts.
Types of rent contracts
Most leases in Berlin are unlimited or come with a 2-year initial contract after which they are declared unlimited. This means that the tenant can stay as long as they want in the apartment. However, they are required to give a 3-month notice should they want to vacate. Serviced apartments can be available for short-term leases not exceeding one year.
To evict a tenant, it will require the landlord to serve the tenant with a vacation notice through the court, or by issuing a 3-month notice. The tenant may dispute the eviction if they find it unreasonable. Again, the German law is usually very sensitive about a tenant’s rights. Don’t let landlords scare you with eviction notices.
Kaltmiete vs. Warmmiete
In your lease agreement, it should be well indicated whether or not the rent is inclusive of the utilities. An agreement that does not cover utilities is considered being a cold rent (Kaltmiete) while an agreement that covers the utilities is termed as a warm rent (Warmmiete). Understanding the renting terms available is important.
Deposits and fees
A deposit equivalent to 3 months of rent is the standard requirement in Berlin. The amount cannot be over 3 months’ rent and these funds are kept in an escrow account. This is an account separate from the landlord’s rent account or an agent’s account.