Rent a flat in Berlin – It all starts here
The key to a good settlement is to find & rent the perfect flat in Berlin to live in. I would say it’s the first thing you have tick off your list along with finding a decent job. Competition has grown considerably in the past few years as the city has attracted more and more people. It’s not as easy as it used to be. Here are a few tips to stay ahead of the wave.
Renting a flat in Berlin : Mission impossible ?
Finding a flat in Berlin has become increasingly difficult the past years due to the general gentrification in many parts of the city. Rents are have also gone up due to the renewal of the city since the beginning of the 1990’s. So if you have heard it is very easy to find a flat in Berlin, you might be disappointed.
It is however somewhat still easier than in other cities in Europe like Paris or London.
With a little bit of patience (between 2 weeks and 2 months depending on your money/luck/connections) and organization you should be able to find a flat in Berlin. I will only cover here how to find your own flat to rent in Berlin. If you want more information about finding a roommate or a flat share, please go to the dedicated page this way.
If you somehow have the means to buy your own flat instead, I’ve also made a guide to buy an apartment in Berlin this way, based on my experience.
Hunting the perfect nest
The ubiquitous platforms
Once you have found the areas you would like to settle in, there a different ways to find the precious gem. There are of course, a few dedicated websites. Those are practically unavoidable.
Immobilienscout24, Immonet and Immowelt are sites with a lot of serious offers. I’d recommend creating an account on all 3 of them to receive daily updates about offers with your search criteria (search agent). Some offers are not on one and vice-versa. It’s easy and it’s quite important as it allows to be fast and be the first to reply to new inserts. Speed is key in Berlin.
Speed is key in Berlin
Be aware that most of those websites are offering unfurnished flats in Berlin, so i also made a little guide on the best ways to find furniture in Berlin here too. Those ads are also using a lot of abbreviations to describe the flat. You can find at the end of this post a little glossary of abbreviations often found on those websites. It might come useful.
Estate management & housing agencies
It’s a little daunting for non-German speakers but it can pay off to go directly to those large players in the local market to find a flat in Berlin for rent.
These companies manage dozens or hundred of private or public housing projects across the city and therefore often have their own listings. Some of if is to be found on other platforms, some other not.
- In Berlin Wohnen
- Deutsche Wohnen
- Stadt und Land
Students: check with your university
If you are enrolling in a university located in Berlin, you can also access to their housing services as well. This is managed by studierendenWERK BERLIN, which has an agreement with almost all universities (see here if yours is part of this). Portal located here.
Think social too
Another tip is to make sure to belong to as many expat related Facebook groups as possible where many offers are published everyday. It may give you access to offers you may never see on other platforms. It’s quite difficult to be refreshing your news feed in the hope of uncovering a gem, but the search function with the right keywords will generate relevant results in those groups too. If you master any other language than English, you can apply the same principle in french, spanish, italian, turkish, polish, etc groups. Some groups to consider:
- Expatriates in Berlin
- Expats in Berlin
- Rent a flat in Berlin
- Apartments/roommates Berlin
- Berlin housing, rooms, apartments, sublets
- Berlin apartments
- Berlin apartments share – rent
- Berlin LONG TERM rooms/flats
- Berlin: Long Term flats
- Berlin apartments and rooms for rent
- Flats in Berlin
An alternative for the first few months: fully furnished rentals
Several full-services agencies are also offering fully furnished rentals with an extra fee. They usually don’t make you pay anything until you sign the contract. Then the fee is included in the rent. The rent is higher than average but it does sometimes comes with cleaning & other services. This might a good solution for the first few months of your life in Berlin or if you come only for a short-time for a project or something. It can indeed sometimes be worth paying more initially to get a good footing in the city. No need to send a thousand emails, no need to go to a 100 appointments. Just book online, get the key, and get settled.
This is also a good solution to get around the evil circle of “no-flat -> no Anmeldung -> no bank account -> no-schufa -> no-flat” issue. Landlords don’t require SCHUFA records with those platforms.
They often speak English can make it easier for you if you need a fast solution to find a flat in Berlin. They often don’t require a SCHUFA record (or credit record).
How much should I pay for a flat in Berlin anyway?
As a reference for rent price, here is a map made by ImmobilienScout in 2017 to show the average price depending on the location in the city along the Ubahn-Sbahn lines. It shows the average price of a 30-year-old 70m2 flat, without utilities (kalt-miete). In 2021, you can roughly apply a 1,5 ratio on top for closer to reality prices.
Another way to check is to look at the “Mietspiegel” (Rent mirror), which is a database run by the city, keeping track of prices across districts. Enter your street in the tool to check the rent prices.
You can check with cool tool as well. Enter your monthly net income and the size of your desired square footage. It will tell you how much of your income your will need to spend on rent, depending on location.
Quick notes about costs of renting a flat in Berlin
As a rule, total costs are structured that way : Rent (Kalt Miete) + Running costs (Nebenkosten) + Utilities (Heizung & Strom).
In some cases, heating costs are included in the running costs when there is central heating in the whole building. Just be sure to include all costs when evaluating an opportunity. Remember that you will also have to open an electricity & gas contract on your own as well. It is usually not done by the landlord. More info on rent costs, cold or warm in this post.
Keep in mind, these prices don’t include the “opportunity costs” of getting a flat in Berlin. This means that since there is a harsh competition, actual prices may be higher than the theoretical ones.
What to do when the rent prices are too high?
Germany has pretty strong tenancy laws that favor tenants as a rule. If you feel like you have been screwed over by signing a contract, you can always battle your way to rent reduction too, especially if the price is not justified, regards to the Mietspiegel we just discussed. How to reduce your rent has been discussed in a dedicated post this way.
The typical process to apply for a flat in Berlin
I’ll be straight with you; finding the golden gem is only the start of the battle. You now need to prove to your future landlord that you are the perfect applicant for the square footage at hand. This is how the application process looks like usually.
1- Viewing the place
Coming early to see the flat you want to rent in Berlin. This almost always happens in groups. 4-5 at a time when it’s nice, 10 when it’s crazy. You usually only have a few minutes to make up your mind. This involves a fair amount of elbowing to get early in line. This is because landlords will often stop the viewing if they have received too many applicants already at this point.
2- Submitting the right documents
A true German experience necessarily involves a lot of bureaucracy. This is no exception :). The ad will probably mention what to bring so be aware of any specifics. As a rule, you should always bring the following to apply for a flat in Berlin.
- A SCHUFA record. There is a dedicated post about this here. In a nutshell, it’s your credit record in Germany. It is used who all the time by landlords to check if you pay your bills on time. The trouble for newcomers in Germany: the SCHUFA record will be empty. You will need to find another way to prove your trustworthiness, as mentioned here.
- A copy of your passport or ID card.
- A legitimate proof of income. This is fairly straightforward for employees working with German companies: bring a copy of your last 3 payslips. As a freelancer, you will need to show your last Steuerbescheid, where it shows how much you made last year. Alternatively as a freelancer, you can also bring a recent bank account statement (German bank preferably) that shows how much savings you have on there.
- Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung: A certificate to obtain from your previous landlord. This is a common document to submit to your prospective landlord. It states that you left your former tenancy contract without any debts. It makes you look like a trusted tenant. Template here.
- Mietbürgschaft: This is also common practice in Germany for people with no income for their own or unstable income. This is local equivalent of a guarantor, which commits to pay your debts, in case you can’t do that yourself. Template here.
- Bonus: proof that you have liability insurance. This makes you look like a responsible human being.
3- Getting selected and paying deposit
If you have been picked (congratulations), you will now need to pay up 4 months worth of rent before you can move in. The first month is payable in advance, and the 3 others are deposit. This money is exchanged when signing the contract usually. Only after paying up this amount (sometimes in cash!), you are getting the keys to the place.
4- Entering the place and inspecting its current state
In the course of the process mentioned above, you will also be looking at the current state of the flat and document any damages. This is like a photograph of how the place looks like now, so it can be compared with how it will look when you leave again. This is called a “Übergabeprotokoll“. Make sure to look everywhere thoroughly.
Read what to pay attention in this guide about flat handovers in Germany.
Tips I always tell my friends when they move here
Get a SCHUFA record, or a work-around
When you have found the flat in Berlin, the pearl you would like to chase, that’s where the fun begins! If you have just arrived in Berlin, it’s going to be slightly more difficult. Most of landlords are asking this infamous SCHUFA record. However, some of them are happy to give you keys in return of a 2 or 3 months-rent-worth deposit. It is no doubt that you maximize your chance when speaking to them in German as it shows you have been/will be here for a long time. (Commitment powa!)
A useful paper that might help your case is a “Mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung” (Roughly; free of rent-related debts certificate). It is a paper provided by your former landlord that states your left your tenancy without any debts. If you come from abroad, make one in English with this long German word as a title. It it not guaranteed every landlord will accept it, but it’s better than nothing. Here is one in German for reference.
Get your insurance policy in order
As a landlord, one big concern is obviously how well you take care of their property when you live in it. This fact is hard to assess before-hand naturally but you can definitely take the edge here. Show that you are prepared by showing a liability insurance policy in your stack of documents. This states that in case things go wrong in the place, you will be able to cover any damages. I have made a dedicated post about liability insurance in Germany this way where concepts, tips and recommended providers like Getsafe are introduced.
Avoid the obvious hip areas
To be honest, it can be quite hard if you want a flat in the hippest corners of Kreuzberg or Friedrichshain. That’s because EVERYONE wants to move there. In the most wanted areas, it can be become quite intense and some potential tenants don’t hesitate to come to directly with all necessary papers (which you should probably do too) to directly take the flat if they are interested. It might be a good idea to do the same. It’s also reasonable to expect mass group visits in those areas.
Go outside the Ring and find a place near an Sbahn station, you could zip to town quite fast. You may use this app to get an idea of how much commute this or that address would represent.
Become a Nachmieter
An alternative strategy might be to find people soon leaving their flat and looking for a “Nachmieter” to take it over, the new tenant starting a new contract with the landlord. This means that the shortlisting is done by the tenant and not an agency or a landlord. This might increase your chances to get a foot in the door and work your charm. Arguably, a strong financial situation is less important than a good character and a proven track record of reliability.
Find something short-term to look for something long term
Do not hesitate to first move in a temporary rental for the time you rent a flat in Berlin, it’s very easy to rent out a room for 2 weeks to some person going on holidays for example, or better a whole semester abroad. You’d usually have more luck with flat shares (guide on WGs this way) You’ll be then more efficient. You can of course go with AirBnB or consider Wimdu, which is a German competitor to AirBnB.
Use your phone and speak German if possible
Most landlords simply don’t bother to deal with the English language, just because they have enough applicants in general. Speaking German is a big big plus, you may try bring a German friend with you to help with first impressions. If there is a phone number in the ad, you may also want to try to call, in addition to writing. Who knows? That might help you place a joke in, something the person might remember when meeting them in person. Every bit helps.
Other things to know
As of October 2015, the owner of the flat has to pay any agency fees when renting out a flat and not the other way around. Good news for tenants.
Some of you did ask about some tips for renting flats for a week-end or a short holiday in the German capital. SiB is not a lifestyle blog to recommend you this district or that district. However, i feel like i’m always repeating the same things to my friends and relatives when they visit me or my family. This is why i have made a different post about renting holidays apartments in Berlin. I hope you find it useful too.
You will find that inserts have sometimes strange abbreviations to describe the place. Here is a list of the most common ones.
- Whg (Wohnung) = flat
- App. (Apartment) = studio
- DG (Dachgeschoss) = flat located under the roofs
- WG (Wohngemeinschaft) = well, we explained that there 🙂
- Maisonette =a flat with 2 floors
- MFH (Mehrfamilienhaus) = multi-flat building
- möbl. Zi. (möbliertes Zimmer) = furnished room
- zur Miete = for rent; z. verm. (zu vermieten) = for rent
- zum Kauf = for sale
Flat size – Layout
- Zi (Zimmer) = Room(s), without bathroom & kicthen
- qm or m2 (Quadratmeter)= square meters
- ca. (circa) = approximately
- Wfl. / Wohnfl. (Wohnfläche) = living space
- Nfl. (Nutzfläche) = usable space
- SZ (Schlafzimmer) = bedroom
- Bad (Badzimmer) = bathroom
Rent & Utilities
- Miete = Rent
- jährl. (jährlich) = yearly
- JM (Jahresmiete) = annual rent
- MP (Mietpreis) = Rent price
- mtl. (monatlich) = monthly
- K or Kaut or KT (Kaution) = deposit, 3 MM Kaution =3 months worth of deposit
- KM (Kaltmiete) = the base rent before nebenkosten
- WM (Warmmiete) = cold rent plus all additional costs
- NK (Nebenkosten) = usually water, sewage, trash collection, Hausmeister service, etc.
- Prov. (Provision) = commission paid to the agent
- Nachmieter : someone that is looking for a new tenant after him/herself
- zzgl (zuzüglich) = excluding (internet or electricity for example)
- incl./inkl. (inklusive) = including
- EBK (Einbauküche) = kicthen with all necessary items
- TG (Tiefgarage) = underground garage
- Bad mit F (Bad mit Fenster) = bathroom with window
- Parkett = Hardwood floors
- Laminat = Fake hardwood floors made with synthetic composites
- Spülm. (Spülmaschine) = Dishwasher
- WaMa (Waschmaschine) = Washing machine
- möbl. (möbliert) = furnished
- Aufzug = elevator
- Blk. (Balkon) = balcony
- Terr. (Terrasse) =Terrace
- ISO (Isolierverglasung) = insulating glass
- Kabel (Kabelanschluss) = cable TV – Internet
- off. Kamin (offener Kamin) = fireplace
- F-Raum (Fahrradraum) = bike storage room
- AR (Abstellraum) = storage room
- Wanne = bath tub
- Du (Dusche) = shower
- . (renovierungsbedürftig) = needs renovation
- renovierte = renovated
- kpl. san (komplet saniert) = totally renovated
- AB / Altb. (Altbau) = older building (usually before 2nd world war, which is obviously rare in Berlin)
- NB ( Neubau) = new construction
- Bj. (Baujahr) = year of construction
- EB (Erstbezug) = first tenancy after renovation or new build
- Hell / Helles = light
- sonniges = sunny
- mod. (modern) = modern
- grosszugig geschnitten = the layout is generous. there is a lot of space
- HZ / Hzg. (Heizung) heating
- FW (Fermwärme) district heating piped-in from a local heating plant
- FB-Hzg. (Fußbodenheizung) = ETH (Etagenheizung) = in-floor / radiant heating
- GZ-Hzg. (Gaszentralheizung) = central gas heating
- E-Hzg. (Elektroheizung) = electric heating
- ÖZ-Hzg. (Ölzentralheizung) = central oil heating
- ZH (Zentralheizung) = central heating
- EG (Erdgeschoss) = ground floor
- 2 OG (2nd Obergeschoss) = Second floor
- 1. Etage = First floor (i.e., one above ground level)
- 2. Stock = Second floor
- UG (Untergeschoss) = basement floor
- VH (Vorderhaus) = front building
- HH (Hinterhaus) = back building
- PLZ (Postleitzahl) = Postal code
- Seitenstrasse = side street
- rhg (ruhig) = quiet
- Uni-Nähe (Universitätsnähe) = near university
- Umgeb. (Umgebung) = area, neighborhood
- . (Verkehrsanbindung) = access to public transportation
- Zentrum = city center
- NR (Nichtraucher) = non-smokers only
- WBS erford. (Wohnberechtigungsschein) = subsidized housing only rented to holders of a special permit (WBS)
- Tiere (Tierhaltung) = pets allowed
- ab sof. (ab sofort) = sofort frei = available immediately
- ab. 1 Mai = ab 1.5 = Apartment is available from 1st May
- bezugsf. (bezugsfrei) = No current tenants in the flat
Good luck in your search. I hope this overview was useful. Don’t hesitate to ask question in the comments so i can improve this guide on how to find a flat in Berlin. 🙂