Apartments in Germany – Room Counting, ‘Coding Words’ and Other Specifics
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Last updated: 17 April 2020 / Sam Williams
A note about COVID-19: This guide is based on the general rules, but there may be some temporary restrictions in place due to the presence of the COVID-19 virus. We are keeping the situation under close review and will update our guidance as necessary.
The German market has its own unique way of describing properties and uses specific codes in property ads. To be able to search for the right home, you will need to be able to understand these codes!
More than eight out of ten Germans in cities such as Berlin opt to rent, so you will need to be quick to snap up the home you want.
To help you move rapidly on a hot property, our guide explains how the rental market works and those all-important codes and abbreviations you will need.
Unlike in other countries, it is normal for rental leases to be for very extended periods in Germany. There is typically an initial two-year term before it becomes unlimited, or sometimes it is endless from the start. This means there has no need to renegotiate rental leases every six months and no worry about being suddenly kicked out.
Landlords have fewer rights in Germany and cannot evict their tenants for no good reason. They must either go through the courts to evict you or else give you three months’ notice for what is a legally acceptable reason (such as essential repairs).
Tenants can leave whenever they want but must provide the landlord with three months’ notice.
It is possible to find shorter rental contracts, but these are usually restricted to holiday lets, serviced apartments or sub-lets. Rent on short-term contracts is typically higher and in some cases, you may be tied in, unable to give three months notice until an initial period has expired. This period could be anything from 6-24 months, and you would be legally obliged to pay the rent for the full lease even if you had moved elsewhere.
It is important to check the terms of your contract very carefully when you’re renting. Be sure that you understand what you agree to and what your obligations will be.
In Berlin and other German cities, you will typically find rental apartments that are provided unfurnished. With no carpets, white goods, or light fittings, it’s up to the tenant to provide everything.
Different laws apply depending on where you are; in Berlin, there must be at least an oven and a sink. But in other states, the only mandatory provisions are outlets for water, electricity and gas.
You will need to check what will be there when you move in. Put simply, unfurnished usually means completely unfurnished in every room.
It has not just the interior furnishings you will need to organize with this type of rental; it will also be up to you to sort out your utilities too.
You will need to open accounts with the different utility providers and arrange for services to start.
Although it is extra work at the start, if you plan on staying in Germany for a while, an unfurnished rental is often preferable. You won’t need to put up with someone else’s choice of furniture. Also, it usually’s permissible to paint or decorate your rental apartment.
Another option is flat-sharing.
In cities such as Berlin, this is a very viable option. With lots of demand and high costs, flat-sharing is very commonplace.
Flatshares are known as Wohnungsgemeinschaft in German, typically shorted to WG. As well as saving you money, a flatshare could also be an easy way to meet people in your new country.
Like the rentals market, there is fierce competition for flatshares, so you’ll need to be quick off the mark. Speaking German is a bonus, but if you only speak English, you should not find it too much of a barrier.
Not everyone wants to enjoy the social benefits of a flatshare; some will simply want a place to live with minimal social interaction. These are often referred to as “Zweck WG,” so if you are hoping to meet new friends and enjoy hanging out together, pass those.
Understanding the Lingo
Before you set out on your search, you will need to make sure you understand exactly what’s being offered.
If you have come from a country where it’s customary to describe the property by the number of bedrooms, you’ll find that German is different.
For example, a one-room apartment is not a flat with one bedroom, but a studio apartment instead.
Kitchens, hallways, toilets and bathrooms do not count towards the total number of rooms provided as these are a necessary part of the accommodation.
A two bed-room property might be described as vier zimmer (four rooms): two bedrooms, a living room and a dining room.
Here are some of the key terms you will need to understand the ads:
Location and main description
1. Etage = First floor (i.e., one above ground level)
2 OG (2nd obergeschoss) = second floor
AB / Altb. (altbau) = older building, typically dating before WWII (which is rare in Berlin)
ab sof. (ab sofort) = available immediately
bezugsf. (bezugsfrei) = no current tenants
BJ (baujahr) = year of construction
dachgeschoss (DG) – attic flat
EB (erstbezug) = first tenancy after renovation or new build
EG (erdgeschoss) = ground floor
Hell / Helles = light
kpl. san (komplet saniert) = completely renovated
mehrfamilienhaus (MFH) – multi-occupant building
möbl. (möbliert) = furnished
möbliertes Zimmer (möbl. Zi) – furnished room
NB (neubau) = new construction
NR (nichtraucher) = non-smokers only
rhg (ruhig) = quiet
PLZ (postleitzahl) = post code
ren.-bed. (renovierungsbedürftig) = in need of renovation
renovierte = renovated
seitenstrasse = side-street
sonniges = sunny
tiere (tierhaltung) = pets allowed
UG (untergeschoss) = basement floor
umgeb. (umgebung) = area or neighbourhood
uni-Nähe (universitätsnähe) = near university
Verk.-Anb. (verkehrsanbindung) = access to public transport
wohngemeinschaft (WG) – flatshare
zentrum = city centre
AR (abstellraum) = store room
aufzug = elevator
bad (badzimmer) = bathroom
blk. (balkon) = balcony
du (dusche) = shower
F-Raum (Fahrradraum) = bike storage or bike room
GZ-Hzg. (Gaszentralheizung) = gas central heating
Heizung – heating
ISO (Isolierverglasung) = double glazing
nfl. (nutzfläche) = usable space
off. Kamin (offener Kamin) = open fireplace
ÖZ-Hzg. (Ölzentralheizung) = oil central heating
parkett = hard wood floors
qm or m2 (quadratmeter)= square meters**
Spülm. (spülmaschine) = dishwasher
SZ (schlafzimmer) = bedroom
terr. (terrasse) = terrace
TG (tiefgarage) = underground garage
wanne = bath tub
wohnfläche (wfl) = living space
Zentralheizung – central heating
zi (zimmer) = room(s), without counting bathroom & kitchen
miete = Rent
incl./inkl. (inklusive) = including
jährl. (jährlich) = yearly
Jahresmiete = yearly rent
KT or Kaution = deposit
KM (kaltmiete) = the basic rent without added running costs
mietschuldenfreiheitsbescheinigung = certificate from past landlord
MP (mietpreis) = rental price
mtl. (monatlich) = monthly
nachmieter = a new tenant to take on the lease (being sought by existing tenant)
nebenkosten (NK) = typically water, sewage, rubbish collection etc.
provision = agent’s commission
WM (warmmiete) = basic rent plus all additional costs
zuzüglich (zzgl) = excluding (electricity or internet for example
It is common to see a string of these abbreviations, which can look very confusing at first, almost like a code!
However, once you start to get to grips with the abbreviations most frequently used, it is relatively easy to figure out the main features of each property.
**The amount of space you need will depend on how you like to spend your time at home, and your own personal preference. As a very rough rule of thumb, you should allow at least 12 square meters for every person in the household over 6 years of age.
Getting the Right Apartment
It is not all in the hand of the prospective tenants; if you find an apartment you like, you will need to be accepted by the landlord. They may be overwhelmed with lots of applications, so it is essential to show that you’re the best fit.
The landlord will want to see that you are trustworthy and will pay the rent on time. Evicting tenants in Germany is a complicated process, so it is critical to your landlord to pick the right tenant from the start.
One of the ways they will do this is by checking your credentials.
This means looking at your income, but more importantly, your SCHUFA.
SCHUFA is the credit check in Germany, which you will gradually acquire during your time in the country. The record is created when you first complete your Anmeldung (residence registration). Then your score will increase as you start to create accounts and pay them on time. (If you are familiar with Experian, it works similarly.)
A strong SCHUFA means that you can go through any of the regular channels to find accommodation. There are many estate agents and property portals that can help you to find an apartment or house.
If you have just arrived in Germany, you won’t have had to build up your SCHUFA score. This does not mean you have bad credit, but there’s nothing to reassure the prospective landlord that you are trustworthy and will pay on time.
It can be tricky, but the good news is some property sites will allow you to rent, even if you do not yet have your SCHUFA built up. There is usually an extra expense here, but it will give you the necessary time to get the credit score you need for mainstream apartment rentals.
Insurance is a vital part of German society, and renting an apartment is no different.
Showing your landlord that you have private liability insurance may count in your favor, as it protects them in case of accidental structural damage.
You should also consider home contents insurance for your own benefit. The home content insurance protects your home contents and furnishings, such as your electronic devices, furniture and carpets, against damage from mishaps.
Once you are successful in renting an apartment, you will not be able to relax and take it easy just yet. Most people opt for unfurnished apartments, and that means you will need to sort out your utilities and services.
Along with your water, gas and electricity, this also means your internet connection and TV.
Get the Perfect Place to Live
You should now be able to decode the property rental lingo like a pro and understand what is on offer in the German market.
Go ahead and find a new home now – check the Best Sites To Find an Apartment in Germany!