Time has taken its toll on Berlin’s once famous affordable housing market. Like many other up and coming cities before (Paris in the 60’s, San Francisco in the 80’s, Brooklyn since the 90’s), the German capital’s attractive lifestyle has brought many newcomers wanting to have a piece of the pie too.
This has a triggered a sharp increase on the demand side in a city where landlords use to struggle to even find tenants ever since the end the beginning of the cold war. As result, rents have steadily been going up at rate that often goes faster than the average income. This is very concerning when in average, people spend 35% to 40% of their income on rent alone in Germany.
This impacts locals and expats alike but the good news are that there are ways to decrease your rent when the conditions are right. This takes a bit of courage and a bit of knowledge to pull off, but it is possible to fight back! Landlords will try to deny, to impress or to pressure you. However, the following ways to decrease your rent in Germany are perfectly legal. So put on your on best David suit, it’s time to fight again Goliath!
Disclaimer 1: In this post, i use landlords and Hausvewaltung interchangeably.
Disclaimer 2: You don’t live in Berlin? No problem! All the tips i’m writing about here are also applicable Germany wide (except point 4 which works mostly for bigger cities.).
Disclaimer 3: It’s a long read, but it’s worth it to save some €€€.
1 – Defects – Mängeln
We all want to live in a clean, comfortable and warm place. But an apartment or house is wearing down with time. It’s up to the landlord to make sure it’s still a fitting place to live for tenants. Some landlords are however adopting a more “laissez-faire” approach in order to maximize the money they receives from you.
The logic? Less money invested in the up keep means a better return on investment for the landlord
However, the law (§§ 535 ff. BGB) clearly states that the landlord must maintain the place proper & defect-free. If any defects are notified by the tenant to the landlord (in writing), the landlord must take action to resolve the situation. You can also require the rent to be decreased until this has been solved.
Defects such as these ones qualify; damage resulting from humidity (like marks on walls or ceiling), mildew, bad air flow, malfunctioning heating or hot-water tank, clogged pipes, windows that let cold air in, undrinkable water supply.
Please note that before the law, these defects must durably impact your life negatively to qualify as well. Pro-tip: there is probably a “Kleine Reparaturen” clause in your contract that states that you should pay for minor repairs, albeit not beyond a certain amount per year (usually around 120€). Minor defects that can be solved on this “budget” don’t qualify to lower your rent in Germany.
Also things that concern your immediate surrounding in the building can be recognized as defects; malfunctioning lift, unusable cellar lot, unusable parking space, durable bad smells or loud noises from the neighbors (harder to prove).
You can find a full-list of defect that can lead to decrease your rent on here (in German)
2 – Renovations
Many of us have maybe moved into beautiful but rather old buildings. They eventually need to be pampered. When landlords do maintain and renovate the apartment or the building where you live, it can also be recognized as a nuisance to the tenant. Facade, staircase, roof renovations can for example mean that a scaffolding is set-up, noise is generated and dust is infiltrating your flat. This can be cause for rent reductions measure too, but only if you moved in before the renovations started without any knowledge that they would happen.
3 – Neighboring nuisance – construction site
The value of your place is also measured by its immediate environment. When this environment is being transformed and impacted negatively, you can also use this as a reason to decrease your rent in Germany. A new building is built across your bedroom window, a new tram line is going past your front door, urban heating pipes are being set-up; when your place is near a construction site and you moved in before it started, you can be entitled to negotiate with your landlord.
The same goes for other on-going noise nuisance like a near-by bar/club and their loud guests, a school and loud kids, a commercial center and their loud ingoing/outgoing delivery trucks.
4 – Mietpreisbremse – Rent control in Germany
You may not have heard of it before but since June 2015, a new law tries to fight against the overly fast increase of rent prices in major German cities. This rent control Germany has set up is preventing landlords to increase their prices too much compared to the official price indicator (Mietspiegel). Under certain conditions, it effectively makes a fair amount of contracts illegal, especially newer ones.
The trick is: it is up to tenants to enforce that law!
It’s your responsibility to take that contract from that file in the back of the drawer and confront with your landlord about this. Pretty scary right? It’s not easy to turn tables when landlords have the upper hand usually. However, be reassured; merely checking if your contract complies with the law is not a reason for your landlord to throw you out or anything. It is not a valid reason for contract termination. So it doesn’t hurt to check.
Some lawyers have specialized themselves in that and now even companies too. These companies will check your contract and negotiate with your landlord on your behalf at no costs at all. They get to keep a cut of the reimbursed amount if the case is successful. If the case is not successful, then you don’t pay anything. Why not giving it a go then, especially since Berlin’s district court has recently ruled that it might be against the constitution, do it while it lasts!
Do it while it lasts!
I think i have a shot at lowering my rent, how can i proceed?
Try on your own
This option is obviously not the easiest one. You need good negotiation, legal and language skills to pull this off. It’s not impossible but might you do mistakes along the road as well. On top of it all, you need to have time to do it; we are often talking about efforts over several months. Also don’t forget; being coercitive with your landlord is stressful (especially if you meet some resistance., if you are not taken seriously, etc.)
If you are up for it, you can find templates on the Internet to help you caliber the shot. Some examples include:
- This one for flat defects (from ImmobilienScout)
- This one for renovations works or defects (from Mietminderungstabelle)
- That one for rent control in Germany (from Test.de)
The idea is that you download the templates and edit them to fit your situation with description of defects, or renovation works, etc. (Use at your own risk. I can’t be held liable for any wrong doings).
Call a Mieterverein (a tenants’ association)
If you are already a member of a Mieterverein or plan to be, this is definitely part of their missions. They will have all the resources needed to challenge your landlord the right way with experienced legal assistance. It will cost you a membership fee and a little cooperation on your end to provide the right elements. If you don’t know where to start, you can always look for a local branch on this website.
Beware however, some tenants’ association will require you to commit to a membership; you cannot use their service as a one time thing.
Use a lawyer
Germans love their lawyers (and Steuerberaters too! :)). This is no exception for lowering your rent because of defects or applying rent control in Germany. Find a lawyer that have experience and authority in “Mietrecht” (tenancy law) to send a nice letter on your behalf. This is more costly than doing it yourself or using a Mieterverein, but it’s quite efficient because you buy the lawyer’s time to chase after your landlord.
The tricky part when hiring a lawyer is that you have to be sure that the amount you can save every month will pay off the bill he/she will send you when it’s all over. Worse even: if it doesn’t work out (and it sometimes does), you still have to pay.
Hire specialized companies.
As mentioned earlier, a lesser-known option is to have your contract checked by specialized companies which will handle all the negotiation at no cost for you, earning a fee only if you successfully win against your landlord. Part of what you saved is then ending in these companies’ pockets, as a payment. This is an interesting option that leaves little risk to you. One big plus is that they often offer their services completely in English.
It works a bit like companies like Flightright that obtain reparation in your behalf if your flight has been untimely cancelled or delayed within the E.U.
So what about that not so legal way you talked about?
**cough cough** did anyone say “squatting” ? **cough cough**. Just kidding; if you were thinking about doing that, just know that squatting is illegal in Germany.
So there we have it. Hope you found it informative. Please note that i can’t be held liable for any mishaps due to information based on this post. It is only giving a broad scope, not replacing proper legal expertise. Good luck anyway. Don’t hesitate to share your experience in the comments if you ever tried one of these.