Common housing scams in Germany

This guide describes common apartment scams in Germany, and how to avoid them.

Scams by thieves

Landlord in another country

The landlord is not in Germany. To see the apartment, you must pay a deposit, and they will send you the key. The apartment does not exist. They will steal your deposit and disappear.3

Fake apartment viewing

Scammers rent someone’s apartment, and pretend to live there. They make you visit the apartment, sign a lease, pay a deposit and pay the rent. When you try to move in, they keys don’t work. The scammers stole your money and disappeared.14

This scam is very hard to avoid, because everything looks normal until you move in. You visit a real apartment, sign real documents and even get apartment keys.

Look for signs of a vacation apartment like a key safe. Use reverse image search to see if the apartment is listed as a vacation rental on other websites. Ask the neighbours who really lives there.

Identity theft

Scammers create fake apartment listings. When you apply for the apartment, they steal your documents. They use your documents to steal your identity or scam other people.6

Always censor and watermark your documents. Send your documents after you visit the apartment in person.

Scams by landlords and tenants

Furnished apartments

Landlords make more money with furnished apartments, so they are more and more of them.35 They are convenient, overpriced.

Rent control applies to furnished apartments too. Landlords can’t overcharge for furniture either. The cost of furniture (Möblierungszuschlag) must match the actual value of the furniture.44

Short-term leases

Most German leases are unlimited (unbefristet). They have no end date.33

Some apartments have short-term leases. When the lease ends, you must move out. You can rarely leave sooner or stay longer. Short-term leases allow landlords to raise the rent between tenants. It’s a way to evade rent control laws.

Temporary leases are often illegal, but there are exceptions:29

  • Temporary sublets
    People can sublet their room or apartment to you while they travel.
  • Room in the landlord’s house
    You live in the same house as the landlord, and your room is furnished by them.31
  • Planned personal use (Eigenbedarf)
    The landlord needs the apartment for themself or their family. The lease must say exactly why the lease is limited, who will move in and why. If it just says “personal use”, it’s not valid.32 Fake Eigenbedarf is another common scam. If they don’t use the apartment as described, you might be able to stay longer.36
  • Planned renovation
    The landlord wants to completely renovate the apartment. If the renovations don’t happen, you might be able to stay longer.
  • Hotels and holiday homes
    They can have a short-term lease.24 In Berlin, converting an apartment into short-term housing is illegal. If the holiday home is not registered, the short-time lease might be illegal.38

The lease must say exactly why it’s temporary.34 If there is no valid reason, the expiration date is not valid. The lease becomes unlimited.30

To extend a short-term lease, talk to a lawyer or a Mieterverein.37 Do it 4 months before your lease expires.39

Pay a bribe to get the apartment

To get the apartment, you must pay a bribe to the landlord or the previous tenant. Bribes are usually illegal, but they are more and more common.22

You should never pay the landlord, the previous tenant, the owner or the Hausverwaltung to get the apartment.17

Buy the furniture to get the flat

The previous tenant wants to sell their furniture to you. They usually ask for a ridiculous price. It’s a bribe to get the apartment. If you don’t buy the furniture, you don’t get the apartment.1

Overcharging for furniture is illegal. You can’t pay more than 150% of the items’ current value.11 For example, the previous tenant can’t sell you an old bed and a desk for 2,000€. If you paid too much, you can get your money back and keep the apartment.13 You might need a lawyer.23

Buying the furniture might not help you. The previous tenant does not choose who gets the apartment. The landlord might still choose someone else. Try to sign the lease without promising anything.

Agent fees

If you hire an agent (Makler) to help you find an apartment, they can charge a fee (Provision). The maximum fee is 2 times the cold rent, plus VAT.5

You must never pay an agent fee if…

  • You did not hire the agent4
  • or the agent is the landlord, the tenant, the owner or the administrator of the apartment17
  • or you only asked the agent about a listing on their website16
  • or you renew an existing lease18

If you paid a fee when you should not have, you have 3 years to request the money back.2

Service fees

You must never pay a fee to…

  • View an apartment20
  • Apply for an apartment
  • Sign an apartment contract (“service fee”)19

Don’t pay anything before you sign a lease. You must pay the rent and 1/3 of the deposit before the day your lease starts, never earlier.

Some housing websites websites charge a platform fee or a booking fee. These might be illegal.40

Freelancers only

The landlord only accepts self-employed tenants. Part of the apartment is a commercial space (Teilgewerblich).

Rent control laws don’t apply to commercial spaces. The landlord is trying to raise your rent above the limit. This is illegal.21

The rent is too high

Berlin has rent control laws. Landlords can’t charge what they want. If you sue your landlord to lower your rent, they can’t kick you out. You pay less rent, but keep the apartment.

Eigenbedarf

Landlords need a valid reason to end your lease and kick you out. Personal use (Eigenbedarf) is a valid reason If landlord needs the apartment for their family or themselves, they can kick you out.41

Landlords often use fake Eigenbedarf to kick tenants out. Instead of moving in, they sell the empty apartment for a higher price, or raise the rent and find another tenant.42 This is illegal.

If this happens to you, get legal help.43 You can usually stop it, delay it, or get paid to move out.

Landlord does not return the deposit

After you move out, the landlord must return your deposit. It can take up to 6 months.

The landlord can only use your deposit to repair damage that you caused. It must pay for the exact cost of the damages. The landlord must give you an itemised invoice of the repairs. You can also do the repairs yourself. They can’t use the deposit to punish you or fine you.

How to get your deposit back

How to avoid scams

When you look for apartments

Signs of a scam:

  • ⚠️ The price is too good to be true9
  • ⚠️ The rent and Nebenkosten are round numbers like 800€ and 7512

Check if the apartment really exists. Use reverse image search to see if the photos are used on other websites. Use Google search to check if the listing text is used on other websites.

When you contact the landlord

Signs of a scam:

  • 🛑 The landlord is in another country
  • 🛑 The landlord is German, but speaks bad German
  • 🛑 The landlord has an English name, but speaks bad English
  • 🛑 The landlord sends you a scan of their passport28
  • ⚠️ The landlord’s account is only a few days old

Google the name, email address and IBAN of the landlord or Hausverwaltung. Check if they really exist, and if there are warnings about them. Look if they have a Facebook or LinkedIn profile. Google parts of their message. Check if they used the same message to scam other people.10

You can’t meet the landlord, only a friend or a relative. Video calls are not possible.

When you visit the apartment, check if the landlord really owns the apartment.

The names on the email, the doorbell, the mailbox and the website should be the same.26 Ask the neighbour who lives there.27 When you see the landlord in person, you can ask to see their ID.

When you visit the apartment

Signs of a scam:

  • 🛑 You can’t visit the apartment
  • 🛑 You must pay to visit the apartment
  • ⚠️ There is a key safe in the entrance. It might be scammers renting a vacation apartment.

Always see the apartment in person. If you are not in Germany, use a platform with verified landlords like Homelike, HousingAnywhere or Spotahome. They only pay the landlord after you move in. If the apartment is not as described, you get your money back.

Don’t pay anything before you see the apartment and sign a lease.

When you apply for the apartment

Watermark your documents. Make them unusable by identity thieves. – Watermark a PDF

Censor your documents. Remove bank account numbers, passport numbers and tax IDs from your documents. The safest way to censor a document is to print it, censor it with a pen, and scan it again.

When you sign the lease

Signs of a scam:

  • 🛑 The landlord asks you to pay as soon as you sign the lease25
  • ⚠️ The lease is in English

Ask Mieterverein or a lawyer to verify your lease. Red Tape Translation can translate and summarise your lease.

Where to get legal help

If your rent is too high, Conny, a lawyer or a Mieterverein can help you lower it. Your landlord can’t kick you out because you lowered your rent.

How to lower your rent

When you pay the rent and deposit

Signs of a scam:

  • 🛑 The landlord asks you to pay with Paypal, Western Union, MoneyGram, cryptocurrencies or cash
  • 🛑 The landlord asks you to pay as soon as you sign the lease25
  • 🛑 The landlord asks you to finish the booking on a different website
  • ⚠️ The landlord’s bank is in another country

Always pay rent by bank transfer. Bank transfers to other countries are suspicious; the landlord’s IBAN should start with “DE”.15 Use Wise to make bank transfers from another country. If you pay in cash, ask for a receipt. Never pay with Paypal, Western Union or other payment services.8

Never pay in advance. Don’t pay before you visit the apartment, sign the lease and get the keys.7 You have until the day you move in to pay the rent and 1/3 of the deposit. Your landlord can’t kick you out because you pay at the last minute.

Never pay a fee to visit an apartment or sign a lease. These fees are always illegal. Some short-term housing platforms have a booking fee.

How to pay the rent and deposit

When you move in

Take a lot of pictures. It might help you get your deposit back.

How to move into an apartment

When you move out

Landlords might try to steal your deposit. Always sign an Übergabeprotokoll. Don’t pay for anything that is not on this document. Ask for an itemised invoice of the repairs.

How to get your deposit back

How to move out of an apartment

How to report scams

When you find a scam, report it to the website. The scammers did not get you, but they might get someone else.

You can also report scams to the police.

Need help?

Where to ask apartment questions

Sources and footnotes
  1. Capital.de (2021), mietercoach.de, rtl.de, faz.net, Reddit 

  2. Berliner Mieterverein, anwalt-arbeitsrecht-dresden.de 

  3. Hamburg police, Europäisches Verbraucherzentrum, Verbraucherzentrale, nomadandinlove.com, verbraucherzentrale.de 

  4. §2 Abs. 1a WoVermRG, Finanztip, Berliner Mieterverein, kampmeyer.com 

  5. Berliner Mieterverein, kampmeyer.com, §3 Abs. 2 WoVermRG 

  6. reddit.com/r/berlin 

  7. iamexpat.de, Test.de, reddit.com/r/germany 

  8. reddit.com/r/germany 

  9. reddit.com/r/germany, reddit.com/r/germany 

  10. reddit.com/r/germany 

  11. mieterbund.de, promietrecht.de, Finanztip, HousingAnywhere (2024), Haus.de (2023) 

  12. Graham Pugh, apartment search expert (March 2024), nomadandinlove.com 

  13. promietrecht.de 

  14. Reddit, Reddit, Reddit, Europäisches Verbraucherzentrum 

  15. Verbraucherzentrale 

  16. Verivox 

  17. §2 Abs. 2 WoVermittG, Berliner Mieterverein, anwaltssuche.de, anwalt-arbeitsrecht-dresden.de 

  18. Berliner Mieterverein, taz.de 

  19. Finanztip 

  20. Finanztip 

  21. Berliner Mieterverein 

  22. Merkur (2023) 

  23. Capital.de (2021) 

  24. promietrecht.de, §549 Abs. 2 BGB 

  25. verbraucherzentrale.de, Sabine Schrader (March 2024) 

  26. Graham Pugh, apartment search expert (March 2024) 

  27. Reddit (2023) 

  28. Reddit 

  29. §575 BGB, Berliner Mieterverein 

  30. Finanztip, Berliner Mieterverein 

  31. Finanztip (2023), §575 Abs. 2 BGB 

  32. ikb-law.blog (2018), raschlosser.com (2022), kostenlose-urteile.de 

  33. Berliner Mieterverein 

  34. ikb-law.blog (2018) 

  35. Stern.de (2023) 

  36. Berliner Mietergemeinschaft 

  37. Berliner Mietergemeinschaft 

  38. ikb-law.blog (2018), Berlin.de 

  39. Berliner Mieterverein 

  40. Berliner Mieterverein, Court ruling (2010), Reddit (2024) 

  41. §573 BGB 

  42. rbb24 (April 2024), rbb24 (August 2023), Reddit (2023) 

  43. Berliner Mieterverein 

  44. Berliner Mieterverein (2020)