How does the housing market in Berlin work?
The housing market in Berlin is based on protected rentals, which gives major securities to tenants. Tenant protection laws, along with the difficult housing stress in Berlin, make the task of finding an apartment to be super complex. Along with the high demand and low supply, most new expats in Berlin might experience more difficulties and challenges in comparison to the average German person, since you do not work in Berlin/ Germany for such a long time, do not speak German well, and usually cannot provide the house owners or property management company with all the required documents.
How do we start searching?
You can search for apartments online. There are several web-portals, with which you could define your search-parameters, such as size, price, district, and so on, and get a list of apartments which might suit your needs. In some of those postings you will already find a date for apartment viewings, to which you could just show up. In case that there is no date suggested, you can send in an inquiry. Some of your inquiries will be answered, and you will be able to attend the viewing.
I have some viewings scheduled. How should I prepare for them?
In order to get an apartment, you will need to show three documents which prove your financial stability: (1) your last three payslips, (2) a confirmation from your old landlord, which states that you do not have any debts (in German: Mietschuldenfreiheitbescheinigung), and (3) SCHUFA. Apart from that, you will be asked for a (4) passport copy and will most likely need to fill out an (5) application form.
We recommend you create organized and nice-looking folders with all your documents, which you could submit during the apartment viewing. Additionally, you should prepare a tidy PDF file with all your documents, since some landlords agree to receive documents online.
What is SCHUFA?
SCHUFA is an external company which collects data about your payment behaviour in Germany. Usually, you must sign a consent form while setting up a bank account, which allows your bank to forward your data to SCHUFA. This means, that your data starts getting collected when you set up your bank account: if you make all your payments on time, positive information will be gathered. However, if you get into debt and do not make your payments, negative information will be gathered. From our experience, one negative entry is enough in order to damage your SCHUFA report, which might make it difficult for you to find a flat, take a loan or make certain contracts (such as a private health insurance contract).
With regards to finding an apartment, SCHUFA is your first impression on the landlord, since it provides them with the required information regarding your payment behaviour in Germany. If you have only recently moved to Germany, and just now set up a bank account, your SCHUFA might not contain any information. However, you should use it anyways, since it is better to have no information rather than negative information. You can order it online, or alternatively get it in some of the post bank branches, such as the one in Schönhauser Allee or the one in Frankfurter Allee. Please be aware of the opening hours, since there are usually special hours to having your SCHUFA printed. The payment for the service will be directly debited from your bank account.
I cannot get those documents. What should I do?
You can try applying for apartments without the required documents, but you will probably get rejected. Another option is to search for short- or long-term sublets, or search for medium term furbished apartments.
As far as the bank is concerned, you might not be able to get a credit card immediately after setting up an account (assuming that you chose a conservative bank and not an online bank), since the bank does not know you yet. You will probably have to wait for a couple of months, until the bank will get the impression that you have a stable income and make all your payments.
Wait a minute! It wasn’t so difficult…Should I be worried?
There are many scams on the different apartment searching websites. One cannot describe them perfectly, since they constantly change. The most common scam is the one in which you will get a reply in English very quickly after you sent in your inquiry. The so-called “landlord” will claim to have bought the apartment for their children or themselves and that they do not live in Berlin anymore. Another common scam happens during apartment viewings, and the only way to know it is a scam is through being careful and using your intuition.
In general, you can recognize apartment scams if the apartment is super cheap, or if you will be asked to wire money before getting the keys, usually while using a well-known service for money wiring, such as Western Union or AirBNB. You can avoid such scams by being careful, for example: viewing the apartment before you sign the contract, refusing to wire money before having a signed contract and house keys, and so on.
We got an apartment contract! But…We don’t know what it says. What should we do?
It is super important to know the content of the contracts you sign and to get a general understanding of the norms and standard in the world of rentals in Berlin. Many lawyers offer reading and opinion services for rental contracts.
My rental contract says I should have some insurance…What is that?
One of the most common requirements in rental contracts is having a personal liability insurance (Haftpflichtversicherung). Please feel free to look in our article on this topic.
In short, personal liability insurance (Hafrpflichtversicherung) protects you in cases of damages that you make to others. According to your policy, it will protect you in case that you lose your keys (which might cost a small fortune in case of a general key), from water damages from your washing machine, from breaking other people´s computers or glasses, and so on.
Since it is a standard insurance in Germany, everyone has it, and people do not hesitate before filing a lawsuit against you in case of damage. Due to the super low costs, this insurance is a must-have.
You can purchase this insurance from most insurance companies, over online portals and from all insurance brokers. It is super important to review the policy, in order to make sure that you are getting the deal which suits you most.
Feel free to check our partner's offer, and get this super important insurance simply, digitally and in English.