How to find an apartment in Berlin

How to find an apartment in Berlin

Finding a place to live is the first step of moving to Berlin. It's also the hardest step. Finding a good apartment can take months. Here are tricks to find an apartment as fast as possible.

Once you have found an apartment, you must move out of your old apartment, and move into your new apartment.

How to prepare?

Berlin's housing market is very competitive. If you want to improve your chances, you must come prepared. Here is what you need to have.

Where to look for apartments?

Your Hausverwaltung

If you already have an apartment in Berlin, ask your Hausverwaltung if they have other apartments available1. They often prefer to rent to someone they already trust. They might even have apartments that are not yet listed.

General apartment search

Classified ads

Housing companies

Facebook groups

Short term and furnished apartments

WGs, flat sharing and roommates

Specific needs

What should you know?

Agent fees: Since 2015, you should never have to pay an agent fee (Maklergebühr or Provision) when renting an apartment, unless you hired the agent1, 2.

Appliances: Pay attention to which appliances are included. You might need to buy a fridge, a stove or a washing machine. There might not be enough space for a normal washing machine. Check if the stove is gas or electric.

Crime: Berlin is a generally safe city, but some areas are more dangerous than others. For example, it's more dangerous to live right next to the stations highlighted on this crime map (Kottbusser Tor, Görlitzer Bahnhof, Hermannplatz, Alexanderplatz). Even then, it's not very dangerous.

Deposit: In Germany, most apartments require a deposit (Kaution). The deposit is usually 3 times the cold rent (Kaltmiete). The money is kept in a special savings account. You get your deposit back when you leave the apartment. If there are repairs to make, the landlord will use your deposit to pay for them. This guide explains how deposits work in Germany.

Flat sharing: the German term for a shared apartment is a WG, for Wohngemeinschaft.

Floors: In North America, the first floor is the ground floor. In Germany, the first floor is above the ground floor (Erdgeschoss).

Hausverwaltung: When you have a problem with your apartment, you will deal with the Hausverwaltung. Some are really good, and some are really bad. Before you choose an apartment, look for reviews of its Hausverwaltung.

Kaltmiete and Warmmiete: In Germany, there is the cold rent (Kaltmiete) and the warm rent (Warmmiete). The warm rent is the cold rent plus the utilities (Nebenkosten). It's what you will pay at the end of the month.

Kitchen not included: Many apartments come without a furnished kitchen. The kitchen will be completely empty: no kitchen counter, no kitchen sink. This is what it looks like. You can usually buy the kitchen from the previous tenant, or get your own from a furniture store like IKEA. You can also look for apartments with a kitchen (mit Küche, EBK or Einbauküche). People often sell their kitchen for way too much, because they know you are desperate to get the apartment.

Look outside the Ring: Don't limit your search to Kreuzberg, Prenzlauer Berg, Neukölln and Friedrichshain. There are cheaper neighbourhoods that are still interesting and well-connected. Don't be afraid to live outside the Ringbahn, it's not that far. Use Mapnificient to find areas with a reasonable commute.

Nebenkosten: The Nebenkosten is what you pay for the utilities. This usually includes central heating, hot water, trash collection and city taxes, but it doesn't include the GEZ. These costs are added to the cold rent (Kaltmiete). The cold rent plus the Nebenkosten is called the warm rent (Warmmiete). The Nebenkosten are not a fixed cost, they are estimated1. It is recalculated once per year. If you paid too much, you will get a refund. If you didn't pay enough, you will get an invoice. For instance, I had to pay 250€ more at the end of 2017.

Noise: There are two sources of noise you should worry about: flights from Tegel and ambulances. If you live around Tegel, it's hard to sleep with your windows open. If you live on a large street like Friedrichstraße, the sound of ambulances and traffic can also keep you up at night. Use this noise map of Berlin to see how loud an area is. There are some "party areas" in Berlin that get really loud and crowded during the summer, particularly the U1 between Kottbusser Tor and Warschauer Straße.

Permission from the landlord: You can't rent a room or an apartment without the permission of the landlord1. Some tenants illegally sublet their apartment, or rent rooms AirBnB. If they get caught, the landlord can end their lease immediately1 and kick them out 3 months later1. You are not supposed to register your address without the landlord's permission.

Public transport: Use Mapnificient to find areas with a short commute. Most places inside the Ringbahn are easy to reach with public transport. Berlin's public transport network is divided into 3 zones1: A, B and C. Zone A is the area inside the Ringbahn. Zone B is the area outside the Ringbahn. Zone C is the area outside of Berlin, in Brandenburg.

State-subsidised apartments: Some apartments are listed as WBS erforderlich. These apartments are subsidised by the state, and are only accessible to tenants with a Wohnberechtigungsschein1.

Scams: There are many fake apartment listings on the sites mentioned above. Scammers take advantage of desperate apartment hunters by requiring deposits for apartments that don't exist. This guide and this guide will help you spot apartment rental scams.

Temporary leases: Temporary leases are generally invalid. They are very common in Berlin, but it doesn't mean they are valid.

TV tax: Everyone in Germany must pay the GEZ, also known as the Rundfunkbeitrag. You only pay this tax once per apartment, and it costs 17.50€ per month. If you share the apartment with other people, you can split the cost. In some special cases, you can pay a little less. This guide explains how the TV tax works.

Quadrameters: The size of German apartments and rooms is measured in square meters (Quadrameter, or qm). A square meter is 10.8 square feet, so a 50 square meter apartment is 540 square feet.

Value Added Tax: If you rent a furnished apartment for less than 6 months and 1 day, you must pay a 7% tax with your rent1.

Wohnungsgeberbestätigung: When you move in, you get a Wohnungsgeberbestätigung from the landlord or from the main tenant. This document confirms that you live there. You can't do your Anmeldung without it. The landlord can't refuse to give you this document. The landlord can't refuse to let you register.

How to improve your chances?

Finding an apartment in Berlin can be extremely demanding. The Berlin rental market is extremely competitive, so you need to work hard to find a place.

Be a perfect candidate: Landlords prefer tenants with a stable job and a high income. Ideally, your income should be at least 3 times the rent.

Call and write: Landlords don't have time to answer emails, so if you find an apartment you like, call immediately. Write a message too. Some people prefer to read messages than to answer the phone. Speak and write in German to improve your chances.

Come prepared: When you visit an apartment, having all the documents with you can improve your chances1. You can even fill the application form in advance, just in case.

Don't have pets: Many landlords prefer tenants without pets. It's harder to find an apartment if you have a pet1.

Write a cover letter: Write a simple cover letter in German explaining who you are and what you are looking for. This will separate your application from the rest1.

Useful flat hunting vocabulary

These are terms that are useful to know when you start looking for an apartment in Berlin.

What's next?

Once you have found a place to live in Berlin, you are ready to move out of your old apartment, and to move into your new apartment. You will need to register your address at the Bürgeramt, find a good liability insurance (Haftpflichtversicherung), get your internet connected, and find a power company and a few other things.

Related guides: Moving into a new apartment in Germany, moving out of an apartment in Germany