Before you move into an apartment in Germany, you must give the landlord a deposit (Kaution). The landlord keeps that deposit until you move out. If you leave the apartment in good condition, you get the whole deposit back. If something must be repaired, the landlord uses your deposit to pay for the repairs.

In this guide, I tell you how the deposit works, and how to get your deposit back.

How much is the Kaution?

The Mietkaution is maximum 3 times the cold rent.2 Some appartments have a smaller deposit, but it’s almost always 3 times the cold rent.

Short-term rentals

The rules are the same for short-term apartments: maximum 3 times the cold rent,12 but it’s often less.

When to pay the Kaution

You must pay 1/3 of your deposit before your lease starts.2 You don’t need to pay immediately after you sign the lease. You can wait until the day before you move in.

Some landlords don’t know this, and want the deposit sooner. They can’t force you to pay sooner. If you already signed a contract, they can’t do anything.

How to move into an apartment – explains the order of things

If you don’t have enough money

The Kaution is a lot of money. You don’t lose that money, but you can’t touch it until you move out. If you don’t have enough money, you have other options.

Pay in instalments

You can pay your deposit in 3 instalments:2

  • 1/3 before your lease starts
  • 1/3 before the end of the first month
  • and 1/3 before the end of the second month.2

The landlord can’t force you to pay the Kaution all at once.3

Pay with a Mietaval

If you don’t have enough money for the deposit, you can open a Mietaval. The bank guarantees the deposit for you, and you pay a small fee to the bank every month.

Get help from the Jobcenter

If you receive ALG I or Bürgergeld, the Jobcenter can pay your deposit.4

If you don’t have a bank account

You have many options:

  • Pay the deposit with cash. Always ask for a receipt.
  • Make a SEPA transfer from a bank in another EU country.
  • Use Wise to transfer money from a bank in another country.

I used Wise many times. It has low fees and it’s easy to use.

You should still open a German bank account, because you will need it for other things. There are expat-friendly banks that don’t require a registered address.

Where your Kaution goes

Your deposit will go in a savings account called a Mietkautionskonto. The landlord can’t use your deposit money for other things. If your Kaution earns interest, it goes to you, not to the landlord.2

You can agree with the landlord to invest the money somewhere else.

How to get your Kaution back

When do I get my Kaution back?

Usually, less than 6 months after you move out.5 The landlord must return your Kaution in a reasonable time.6 There is no legal limit, but 6 months is normal.7 It should not take more than 6 months without a good reason.

The landlord usually keeps your Kaution until they know how much utilities (Nebenkosten) you used. Sometimes, you used more water and heating than expected, and you must pay more. The utilities bill is adjusted once per year, with the Nebenkostenabrechnung.

After you get the utilities bill (Nebenkostenabrechnung), and everything in the Übergabeprotokoll is repaired, the landlord must give your deposit back. They have no other reason to keep your deposit.7

If your rent is reduced while you live somewhere, you will get part of your Kaution back. That’s because the Kaution can’t be more than 3 times the cold rent (Kaltmiete).7

Will I get all of my Kaution back?

This depends on the condition of the apartment. If the landlord has to make repairs, they will use your deposit to pay for them. They can’t make you pay to fix normal wear and tear.8 They can’t make you pay for damage that was already there when you moved in.13

If you don’t return all the keys, the landlord can make you pay for missing keys. If you lost some keys, the landlord can sometimes change all the locks in the building, and make you pay for it. This can be very expensive. They can use your Kaution to pay for it. If you have liability insurance, it will pay for this.14 That’s why you should have liability insurance.

What happens when you lose apartment keys ➞

When you give back the apartment keys (the Wohnungsübergabe), you fill a handover document (Übergabeprotokoll). In this document, you describe the condition of the apartment, and what needs to be repaired.

After you move out, the landlord has 6 months to find what must be repaired.16 After 6 months, they can’t find more things to repair.

When you move out, always fill an Übergabeprotokoll. The landlord can’t charge you for problems that are not in this document.15

The landlord can only use your deposit to make repairs or pay your debts.9 They can’t keep your Kaution to punish you. If they make repairs, they must give you a detailed invoice with the cost of repairs.10 They must show receipts for everything.11 They can’t charge you for things they do not repair.11

If your landlord won’t return your Kaution

If your landlord won’t return your deposit, you can get help from your tenant association or a lawyer. Your legal insurance might cover the cost of a lawyer.

Need help?

Where to find help ➞ Apartment questions

What’s next?

How to move out of an apartment ➞

How to move into an apartment ➞

Sources and footnotes

  2. §551 BGB 

  3. §551 BGB,, 







  10., (archived) 






  16., §548 BGB