Expat Essentials

Audrey Shankles: My Audrey is (a)broad extremely complete guide to renting in Germany, Pt. 2

(Editor’s note: This is Pt. 2 of Audrey Shankles’ guide to renting in Germany. See Pt. 1 here, which has all preliminary terms and definitions you need to begin. A version of this guide was first published on Audrey is (a)Broad. It’s reposted here with permission.)

This guide is aimed toward common rental agreements in apartment buildings in city centers (mostly Wiesbaden) from private landlords. However, there is some general information which should apply for every type of rental whether in an apartment building or a standalone house.(Also note Germans tend to use the word “house” to mean every kind of building, including shared multi-properties.)

MAKING IT LEGAL WITH THE CITY

Before you can make your Anmeldung happen, you need the Wohnungsbescheinigung from your landlord. Once you have this certificate and you’ve moved in to your new address, head to the appropriate Beamte in your region. There is no need for an Abmeldung from your old address if you change cities; this will be done for you automatically upon registration of your new address.

Don’t forget to Abmeldung upon leaving Germany! This is not done automatically when leaving the country.

I DON’T LIVE IN WIESBADEN

No problem, put in your PLZ (zip code) here to find the nearest Einwohnermeldeamt.  And if you’re not in 65185 for Wiesbaden, here is the list for outlying areas.

Better memorize that PLZ!

SET UP UTILITIES

Some you’ll do on your own, and some your landlord will do for you. If you are here under the Status of Forces Agreement with the military, visit the website of your post Utility Tax Avoidance program.

INTERNET

Internet is probably the easiest to setup, yet slowest to start. Expect a two-month waiting time at the minimum in and around Wiesbaden at the moment. To counteract this, you should call your provider of choice as soon as you have a signed lease and setup a connection appointment. There will probably be a one-time setup fee (between 50 euros and 100 euros). On average, bills are 35 euros per month around the country for mostly excellent speed (for example, we are getting 120mb down).

As in the United States, there are one or maybe two main providers responsible for the actual infrastructure, while a contracting company actually bills and maintains your connection for you. In Wiesbaden, O2 and Unity Media are the most common and personally we’ve been happy with Unity Media.

(Editor’s note: Unity Media has since been acquired by Vodafone.)

Sometimes, share buildings have only one provider and thus the choice is easy. The landlord will know who to contact to setup your contract. Telephone and internet can be bundled in Germany like they can in the States. I have not personally had a landline ever in my adult life, but some might prefer to keep one.

If you only need internet for a short time, look for Ohne Mindestvertragslaufzeit offers. These are short term contracts which can be
more expensive to offset the short usage. Like other contracts though, they often require a 3-month notice of cancellation.

SATELLITE & CABLE

Sometimes, satellite or cable connections are part of Nebenkosten, but require their own contracts for service. If there isn’t a dish on the building, you must ask for permission to install one and I have heard landlords are hesitant to do this in Altbau. I also have never had satellite or cable in my adult life, instead relying on streaming services. If you have a Chromecast or another streaming stick, I’ve found an excellent German news source for you.

Standalone buildings are easier to have cable and satellite connections wired to if they are not already wired. Sometimes contracts are even kept in place tenant to tenant and only require a change of name and bank account.

You should also be aware of the Rundfunkbeitrag, otherwise known as the “TV Tax,” which every household is liable for, not person. If two people are on the lease, it’s possible you will get two letters stating you are each responsible for the cost. If that happens, use this form to deregister from the list and note you are looking for Abmeldung when you fill it out. If you are registering a residence in your name for the first time, use this form. If you move, use this form. More general questions and overview (in English!) are here.

ELECTRICITY

Setting up electricity is probably the only utility you need to worry about in a shared building. Even if you forget to do this, there will still be power at your place when you move in and even if you forget for a few weeks afterwards, you should still have power but you’ll probably get a letter (or your landlord will get a letter) reminding you to set up your account. If you receive this letter and then set up your account, you will receive a bill for what you’ve consumed from the move in date (or the contract date, whichever comes first). The bill is then adjusted to be the same amount each month for 12 months (or the duration of the contract) and will come out of your bank account automatically.

In Wiesbaden, the most common supplier is ESWE Versorgungs so they will probably be the default supplier, even if the previous tenant had a contract with a different company. There are hundreds of energy suppliers in Germany, usually regional, and the price differences are probably minimal at best. The tricky parts revolve around contract duration. Mostly they run for a year at a time, which means if you renew and then a month later let them know you want to move out, you may have already tied yourself to another 12 months with them you can’t get out of. In the end, ESWE may be your only choice in Wiesbaden and other cities would have similar default, only one choice supplier.

Contact ESWE here.

WATER

Water is not a utility you need to worry about when renting. It is almost always 100-percent included in the Nebenkosten which means like electricity, this is a fixed cost month to month which is adjusted at the end of your lease year. If you owe more than consumed, or vice versa, your landlord will send you an invoice with the amount owed / due shortly after the lease year ends, sometimes up to two months depending on the municipal provider. Wastewater or sewage is bundled up in this cost.

Since Nebenkosten is considered part of the total rent price, you will most likely not see a separate transaction in your bank account every month for this service.

If you pay more than what you actually consumed at the end of your contract year, you will receive an invoice showing what they owe you and the company will transfer this to your bank account. The same process works in reverse, if you consume more than you pay for. You can also ask for an estimate based on what the previous tenant used before you sign the contract, and a lot of companies have calculators on their sites for your use.

TRASH

Trash should be treated the same as water costs. The landlord is responsible for the upkeep and replacement of the bins, the Hausmeister is in charge of setting the bins out (part of Nebenkosten).

In addition, if you are responsible for putting out your trash, use this schedule for Wiesbaden trash pickups.

Recycling, you may have heard, is kind of a big deal in Germany. Don’t screw it up.

Finally, here is an excellent, all-around comparison site to help make some decisions on speed, price, usage, whichever measurement you need for all utilities, including cell phone plans. It is in German, but hopefully the terminology list above will help with some of the translation.

Estimation of before and after tax costs of electricity per month in Wiesbaden

Mitte (as of 2018)

A NOTE ON CLIMATE CONTROL

Heating is required by law in every residential building and part of Nebenkosten, so your landlord may be able to give you a breakdown in your invoice of what was consumed and adjust for the next year going forward. An exception might be if your home is heated using oil or gas, in which case you can often make a contract with a delivery service who will bring these supplies to your home monthly.

If natural gas is used to heat the home, you may even have a natural gas stove, and this combined usage is in the Nebenkosten. What you will not find, I am 99 percent sure, is air conditioning. Summertime in Germany ranges from 1 month long in the south west to about 10 minutes in the north east. Therefore, Klima is not a feature you should have on your “can’t live without” list as it is going to become a “must live without” element.

There are portable air conditioning units, and I had one in Washington, D.C. because I lived in a pre-World War II shoebox. I brought it over here, but realized I do not feel comfortable plugging it in to a transformer and hoping it doesn’t overdo it on the cool down cycles. Stand alone and window units are available for purchase at places like Obi should you have an apartment or house which would fit one of these. To be honest, in Wiesbaden there are maybe two weeks which get really hot (and we are under a roof, so it feels extreme for us) but two weeks out of 52 is just not worth the extra energy consumption / waste in my opinion. Pools, cooler showers, ice hung in bags in front of fans are our go to methods (and TheCats sleep in the bathtub and bidet). 

Not billig

FURNISHINGS

Ikea is always great. There’s one near Wiesbaden, less than a 15-minute drive. But if you prefer to not put your furniture together yourself, there are some bigbox stores down on Biebricher Allee, such as XXXL and mömax who will deliver after ordering. Furniture orders can take between 6 and 8 weeks for delivery!

If boutiques and upscale are your thing, check out the shops along Wilhelmstraße. These are high quality and generally unique pieces.
There is also a made-to-order wood furniture store in Stadtmitte.

Last thoughts


The idea of owning a home isn’t the great dream to cap off a successful life here; most Germans rent, some 60 percent or more on average, and usually from private landlords. Being a lifelong renter is a great deal in Germany. The why’s vary from costs (salaries are quite low in Germany, and compared to housing costs home ownership isn’t possible for a lot of people), to the penchant of avoiding debt and risk.

The tenant has more rights than the landlord, so being evicted or having to pay for renovations is nearly unheard of. In some jurisdictions, apartments or houses which belong to housing associations must be updated and redone, both interior and exterior, every 5-to-10 years. These costs are not passed to the tenant and so one can leave on vacation for the mandatory three weeks in the summer and come back to a freshly painted and upgraded house, at no cost. 

Finally, most landlords see a barely break even or even operate on a loss in the first five years of a new tenant, due to mortgage rates and rent prices being unequal, lopsided or even opposite of how most American cities would realize them. This being said, German renters have a great deal going on here and landlords are generally happy with the situation as well.

We are fortunate in that we did not have to paint when we moved out of our old flat as we explained we had no intention of painting or putting up damaging pictures. I think this struck our landlord as a bit odd; why wouldn’t someone personalize a home immediately upon moving in? But I would find it odd to do any painting in a rental or put up anything semi-permanent.

Renting is also a great way to relieve stress when living in a foreign country. Repairs and necessary upkeep are the landlord’s responsibility, all that is required of you is a phone call or email stating the problem or request. Plus, purchasing a home in place you have just moved to is a whole different kind of adventure, not one I would advise, but not one I would discourage if you’re looking for those adrenaline rushes of “what have I done?” to spice things up.

What’s not great about renting depends on how you feel about renting in general. In the States, sometimes if you really wanted to you could make small changes to the apartment or house with the landlord’s approval to keep the changes when you move out.

Do not expect the same here.

Landlords and new tenants expect white walls and (usually) empty kitchens upon move in. While you may not meet any resistance when it comes to changes to walls (not knocking them down or building them obviously), floors should remain untouched, light fixtures (yes, you may need to bring your own light fixtures) and window treatments taken down when moving out.

So if you’re a person who likes DIY home improvement projects, Germany is not the rental market for you.

Bringing pets is a mixed case scenario as well, more often than not the rental ad will show the Nach Vereinbarung next to the “Haustiere” section. Small dogs and cats (or fish) are most likely to be welcome; dogs larger than 10 kilograms might be more of a problem. Plus, certain breeds are generally not welcome at all.

SCHUFA

Luckily we have not run across needing a Schufa report (a credit report), but they are created automatically upon Anmeldung, or setting up a bank account.

Unlike the U.S., one starts with a perfect score which is then diminished when late payments or collections are made. If a rental ad requires a Schufa report, and you are new and fresh in Germany, try to explain the situation to the landlord and hope they waive the requirement. I have found they “often” do. If they don’t, this is probably not a hill to die on and you should move one. When moving to your next flat, you will have a nice record to show your next potential landlord and all is set.


YOU’RE READY TO HOUSE HUNT!


Best wishes on your move! If you have any questions, including looking for a realtor or specific POC, I’d be happy to help, in comments or in email via terry@dispatcheseurope.com

About the author:

Audrey Shankles is an American who moved to Germany, and who writes about how that’s going at www.a-broad.com. She comes from the Washington DC region in the United States and has been in Germany for more than five years. While she misses the Nats, the Caps and brunches along the Potomac, she’s fallen in love with the Rheingau, 3 euro beers, and taking the train everywhere. 

Audrey has held a multitude of jobs and explored numerous careers and fancies herself a “person who does things with people she likes.” When writing, she focuses on helping people understand their appliances and recipes in German, posts her personal thoughts about living abroad and her failures at integrating into German society.

See all of Audrey’s Dispatches posts here.

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