Rental Struggle – What to do if you don’t have SCHUFA (German Credit Score) or References
Last updated: 17 April 2020 / by Jack Harper
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.
When you move to another country, finding the right place to call home is essential for your well-being. In Germany, most of the population rents, so you will find there is an excellent range of properties to pick from.
The problem arises, however, with the lack of credit references, known as SCHUFA in Germany.
With no way of verifying your credit history, it can be difficult to secure a rental lease.
The good news is that there are some ways around this, and this guide will explain what are your options.
What is SCHUFA?
If you are arriving from Europe or the US, you will probably be familiar with the credit agency Experian. In Germany, SCHUFA performs a very similar role.
Founded in 1927, its full name is “Schutzorganisation für Allgemeine Kreditsicherung” and can be roughly translated as “General Protection Credit Association”.
Every German resident has a SCHUFA record, and it’s used for a wide range of transactions in the country. Navigating your way through society without a strong SCHUFA record is much more difficult, as everyone will be asking to see it.
On arriving in Germany to stay for purposes other than short-term tourism, you will be required to register with the local Bürgeramt. This is a legal obligation known as anmeldung ,and it must be updated each time you move.
When you first register, your SCHUFA will be created, but it will be blank. As you start to carry out financial transactions, your score will steadily build, and you’ll begin to find it easier to prove your creditworthiness.
While this whole process is very efficient and works well, it’s not easy at the start. A blank SCHUFA can mean many doors remain closed, leaving you forced to seek alternative options.
When you rent a property, your prospective landlord will ask to see a number of different documents, including your SCHUFA. If you’re new to the country and haven’t built yours up yet, this means you may struggle to meet their criteria and lose out.
There are options for housing without a SCHUFA, and we’re going to explain what those are next.
The German Rentals Market
There are both furnished and unfurnished apartments available in Germany, but almost everyone goes for the latter. It’s much more common to find unfurnished accommodation and it’s typically more affordable too. Rental contracts generally are much longer in Germany and landlords have fewer rights to evict.
If they want you out of their property, they will either have to resort to the courts or provide a legitimate reason to give you notice, such as carrying out essential repairs – but even this can be challenged if you don’t think they are truthful.
As such, many Germans stay in their rental properties for the long term and have much greater rights than you’ll find elsewhere.
For example, it’s not uncommon for German tenants to be able to decorate the property however they want, providing it’s returned to a neutral color scheme when they leave.
It’s therefore not surprising that landlords want to be very certain that they are offering a lease to a suitable candidate and to seek assurances that the tenancy won’t be problematic.
To access an unfurnished apartment, a SCHUFA is considered essential, and without one, you could find it nearly impossible to be offered a lease.
The alternative is furnished apartments.
Furnished apartments are often styled as holiday accommodation and typically intended to be used for a much shorter period of time.
As such, you won’t usually have to tie yourself into a lengthy contract; anything from 6-24 months can be found.
Bear in mind that these leases are often binding, and you may not be able to leave sooner if your circumstances change. Although some may allow you to give three months’ notice and leave, many of these types of leases require you to pay for the full term, even if it’s no longer needed.
Furnished apartments are known as warmmiete (warm rent) in Germany, and this means the terms are fully inclusive.
The cost not only covers the basic rent, it also includes your utilities such as water, gas and electricity. In some cases, it may even cover your TV and internet, although this is less likely.
Nebenkosten should also be included in your warmmiete which may cover:
- Abwasser – sewage and wastewater
- Beleuchtung – communal lighting
- Fahrstuhl – lift maintenance
- Gartenpflege – maintenance of gardens and outdoor spaces
- Grundsteuer – local taxes
- Hausreinigung – janitorial costs
- Schornsteinreinigung – chimney sweeping (where applicable)
- Straßenreinigung – rubbish collection and maintenance of pathways/surfaces
You will be able to see exactly what’s included in your warmmiete if you check the contract.
Although having a single charge for all your outgoings may seem attractive, it’s usually a much more expensive way to pay for your costs. An unfurnished apartment with individual expenses arranged separately typically works out much cheaper.
However, unlike an unfurnished apartment, if you don’t have SCHUFA, a furnished let is accessible.
It’s a risk for the landlord, renting out a property without the reassurance of SCHUFA, and so the rental is offered with a premium included in the price.
During your time in this type of apartment, you’ll have to pay more for the privilege, but you will be building up your SCHUFA score. This enables you to move on when you’re ready, with full access to the property market, as you’ll have a credit score available for landlords to check.
Agencies that provide furnished apartments
Here are some of the sites that provide warmmiete accommodation in the top 10 cities in Germany:
Frankfurt am Main
If the letting agent doesn’t mention being able to offer accommodation without a SCHUFA, just ask them. Even if they don’t advertise the fact, many are able to provide leases with especially if you’re ready to pay the rent several months in advance.
One essential for renting a furnished apartment is home contents insurance. This will provide critical protection in the event of accidental mishaps. In Germany, everyone is expected to take responsibility for damages incurred as home contents insurance will provide you with some protection against a potentially high repair bill.
Flat sharing in Germany
There is an alternative to renting furnished accommodation when you’re new to Germany, and that’s flat-sharing. This is far more commonplace in Germany than in some other countries, and it can be a great way to make new friends too.
Flat sharing is more affordable than renting an apartment on your own, and can be an excellent low-cost option while you’re building up your SCHUFA for an unfurnished place.
Of course, some people enjoy the sociable aspect of having flat mates and choose to live in this type of accommodation much longer than strictly necessary!
To make flats sharing a success, it’s a good idea to look for a house where the tenants are at a similar stage of their life to you.
For example, if you’re an older professional, you could find it too noisy sharing with young students.
Flatshares aren’t just used for student housing though, many people who are looking for cheap apartments plump for this option. There are all types of flatshares available, so you’ll be able to find one that matches your own needs, wherever you’re planning on settling in Germany.
Before signing on the dotted line, you should also check the house rules. This is particularly important if you’re a smoker or have a pet, as these are not always permitted.
Whether you’re looking to rent a room in Berlin, Stuttgart, Munich or Leipzig, you’ll find there are flatshares available all over Germany. The ads are titled WG (wohngemeinschaft) and are often included as an option in property portals. Here are some sites which offer flatshares:
Once you’ve found your flatshare and are preparing to move in, make sure you have your private liability insurance arranged. This isn’t a legal obligation, but in Germany, it’s considered socially essential.
Any kind of damage you cause is viewed as your responsibility to compensate for, so if you don’t have any coverage you could find that a disagreement with your flatmates becomes expensive!
Rent an Apartment or Flatshare Without a SCHUFA
A SCHUFA makes life much easier and will allow you a greater range of options when you are finding somewhere to live.
However, as this guide proves, it’s entirely possible to find a lovely place to live in Germany, even if you haven’t built up your SCHUFA just yet.
From cheap apartments in Berlin to flatshares in Essen, there is plenty of accommodation that’s accessible, even if you’ve only just registered.